Nelson woman who stole $8k worth of supermarket items says ‘maternal instinct kicked in’

By Tracy Neal, Open Justice multimedia journalist,  New Zealand Herald.

Ebony Rapana was living in emergency accommodation, the pantry was empty and her children were hungry so “maternal instinct kicked in”, and she stole more than $8000 worth of supermarket items.

Despite no longer being in that situation, having found a home to rent, she now has to pay the money back and serve four months of community detention.

Rapana covered her face and fled the dock in the Nelson District Court on Friday, moments after Judge Tony Zohrab granted the right for media to take photos in court. She had just been sentenced on nine shoplifting charges she admitted in April.

She said she was desperate at the time and she had shared what she took with others who were in the same position.

Four charges were for theft of goods worth over $1000. In total, she stole items worth $8278 from several Countdown stores over 10 months from July 2022.

Rapana’s most expensive outing was in July 2022, when she walked out of a central Nelson Countdown supermarket with a trolley-load of goods including health and beauty products, meat and confectionary worth almost $1300.

She was seen on CCTV walking the trolley out of the store.

Police said Rapana’s method was to place low-value items on top of the trolley and walk out.

On 9 August 2022, she returned to Countdown, loaded a trolley and once more tried to conceal items by placing low-value items on top. On that occasion, the theft of goods totalled $639.

A few days later she was back at the same store, where she loaded a trolley and walked through the checkout, making no attempt to pay for the items, worth $1132.

She returned on 31 August, this time stealing items worth $1050.

On 30 December 2022, she entered Countdown Trafalgar Park, loaded a trolley and went through the checkout without paying for items worth $1279.

Her trip to the supermarket on 24 March 2023 resulted in the theft of goods worth $619.

On two trips to Countdown in April last year she stole goods totalling $1276, and on 8 May she returned and left with a trolley load valued at $986.

Defence lawyer Kris Main said Rapana had since been trying to be a productive member of society and was an active member of a church and her children’s school.

She had been remorseful over her actions, and while restorative justice was an option explored, it did not go ahead.

Woolworths NZ, formerly known as Countdown, told NZME in April the company had experienced a 326 percent increase in thefts from its stores over the past six years. At the same time, there had been an 806 percent rise in security incidents and a 303 percent increase in physical assaults.

The company declined to say how Rapana was able to offend so repeatedly from its stores, but it had “a number of safety and security measures being rolled out” to make stores safer for team members and customers.

Woolworths NZ said it knew that strong relationships with the police, community groups and other retailers were critical to addressing the problem, and this was something it continued to build.

It was recently reported that the supermarket chain was investing $45 million in security upgrades to tackle the sharp rise in shoplifting and aggression. These included trolley lock systems, push-to-talk radios and double-entry gates.

Woolworths operates more than 190 stores, serving about three million customers every week.

Judge Zohrab acknowledged that Rapana regretted her actions and was worried about “blowback” from media coverage and the impact on her children.

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