Teen gang: ‘I’m going to f**king punch you in the head’
When shop assistant Tabata Beck went to talk to a group of young teenagers trying on T-shirts, she had no idea she was about to become part of an alleged violent crime spree.
What happened next left the part-time model bruised and shocked, while the extent of the young group's alleged vicious crimes has horrified northern NSW locals and police.
The five alleged gang members, all wards of the state in Queensland, have been hit with 21 charges after a whirlwind of theft, assaults and car chases.
And it all started when the gang - three boys aged 12, 14 and 16 and two girls aged 13 and 14 - allegedly stole tie-dyed T-shirts, bracelets and bags from the Rainbow Shop in Byron Bay on February 24.
"They were putting on wrist bands and T-shirts and headbands on and I asked if I could help and they just walked out of the shop," Ms Beck told The Sunday Telegraph.
"I followed and approached one of the girls wearing a money belt she had taken and said: 'You can't steal, you have to pay'.
"She said: "I'm going to f**king punch you in the head, you dog'.
"I was being calm, but then she punched me in the left side of the head, I was hanging onto the bag, so she then punched me in the right side of the head and I let go and they ran off."
Tweed Byron Police District Crime Manager Detective Inspector Brendon Cullen said police will "allege they stole motor vehicles in Queensland and came down to Northern NSW where the group participated in robbery offences in Byron Bay and Tweed Heads and possibly Coffs Harbour, which they haven't been charged with but more than likely will be."
After The Rainbow Shop, Det Insp Cullen said the teens allegedly walked into the Woolworths 200m down the road, still wearing the stolen T-shirts.
"At Woolworths they threatened an employee with a knife but they were wearing the tie-dyed T-shirts and it was one of the things that helped us identify them," he said.
The gang then travelled to Tweed Heads in an allegedly stolen Kia.
"On Wednesday the 26th the turned up at Big W at Tweed City and stole various items and confronted an employee and one of the offenders has used a knife to strike at the employee, causing a minor laceration," Det Insp Cullen said.
"That night, on the 26th or early on the 27th a place was broken into at Kingscliff and a black Audi was stolen.
"On Friday the 28th police from Operation Marauder in the Kingscliff area came across the black Audi and activated their sirens to pull the car over and it took off at speed on the M1 motorway and a short time later it crashed and landed on its roof and two young people were arrested in that car."
Inside the allegedly stolen Audi was a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old male passenger who were arrested and allegedly told police where to find the other three.
"On Saturday we located the others at a campsite in Kingscliff where we found previously stolen camping gear from the Big W store," Det Insp Cullen said.
The five were charged with a total of 21 offences.
These include robbery armed with offensive weapon, larceny and shop lifting.
"They don't have parents, they are currently in the care of the Minister for Child Safety and Services in Queensland, they are without homes and disadvantaged in that respect and see crime as an easy ends to a means," Det Insp Cullen said.
Byron Bay Chief Inspector Matt Kehoe said the young age of the teens was a concern.
"It is disturbing that they are really young," he said.
"You do get spurts where young kids get together and they can tear places apart in a very short period of time, but age-wise, I think 12 is the youngest.
"If the services are in place for kids like this, there is a strong chance they will fall through cracks and end up in the juvenile justice system and they will only get worse there I guess."