Auckland gang, gun violence: Police investigate shooting of two Head Hunters

Two men taken to hospital with gunshot wounds are connected to the Head Hunters gang, the Herald can reveal, in the latest attack in a spate of gun violence across Auckland in recent weeks.

A patched member of the motorcycle gang was taken to Auckland City Hospital around 11.30pm on Wednesday with a “minor gunshot wound”, just three hours after a Head Hunters prospect was shot on an industrial street in Mt Wellington.

Workers at a nearby warehouse on Carbine Rd rushed to give the man first aid and called 111 for help. Both men, the patched member and the prospect, were discharged from hospital on Thursday without co-operating with police.

Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Anderson, of the Auckland City CIB, said the police investigation was at an early stage but believe those involved have links to the Head Hunters gang.

“Police are still making a number of inquiries to establish what happened but want to reassure the Mount Wellington community this does not appear to be a random incident,”Anderson said.

“Police now believe this incident may be linked to another incident where a man with links to the gang presented at Auckland Hospital with a minor gunshot wound injury that evening.”

The shooting comes as the conflict between two other gangs, the Rebels and the King Cobras, keeps escalating and a few months after the Head Hunters were embroiled in a violent feud with the Mongols motorcycle gang.

Simmering tensions boiled over in April with the Mongols, whose senior members were deported from Australia, suspected of firing a semi-automatic firearm at the Head Hunters’ pad in Mt Wellington.

A few days later, a member of the Head Hunters allegedly fired a pistol at a Mongol in the crowded lobby of the five-star Sofitel hotel on Auckland’s waterfront.

The open warfare led to a major police investigation which arrested members of both gangs on charges related to suspected arson and shootings.

This week, the shootings which sent the Head Hunter member and associate to hospital came on the same evening of a separate gang shooting, in which an innocent woman in her 60s had a lucky escape when bullets fired at her neighbour’s house struck her home instead.

The intended target on Wednesday night’s attack is an associate of the Rebels motorcycle gang, which is in a tit-for-tat turf war with the King Cobras.

Homes, cars and businesses have been targeted in drive-by shootings or firebombing with Molotov cocktails. There have been at least 12 confirmed attacks since the start of May.

Two members of the King Cobras were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds last week, but police do not believe the double shooting was part of the feud with the Rebels.

Last week, police urged the leaders of both gangs to hold peace talks and end the conflict before someone gets seriously injured or killed.

The advice clearly fell on deaf ears and police said the innocent woman caught in the crossfire was “extremely lucky” to avoid being struck by the bullets sprayed into her Manurewa home.

A spokeswoman said police were not aware of any truce talks.

“We are hopeful that they will do the right thing and resolve the tension between them peacefully; however, in the meantime, police will be actively targeting members of both gangs and holding them to account for their actions.”

Detectives are not certain what started the conflict, but the Herald understands tensions were inflamed by a social media post by a senior Rebel, which staked a claim to Māngere, a suburb the King Cobras consider to be their territory.

Around the same time, a King Cobra “patched over” – or switched allegiances – to the Rebels, which is a rare move considered highly insulting in the criminal underworld where loyalty is highly valued.

Founded in Ponsonby in the 1950s, the King Cobras is one of the oldest patched gangs in New Zealand.

The Rebels was the first Australian motorcycle gang to establish a presence in New Zealand, in late 2010, but in recent years has been bolstered by senior members deported from Australia.

It has been joined by other outlaw motorcycle gangs, such as the Comancheros and Mongols, and although these deportees comprise a relatively small proportion of the thousands of so-called “501s”, nicknamed after the section of the immigration law used to remove them from Australia, dozens of them stamped their mark in New Zealand’s criminal world.

Organised crime detectives believe the new gangs have a disproportionate influence because of their international connections, sophisticated counter-surveillance tactics and aggressive use of firearms.

New Zealand criminals have always carried firearms, but the arrival of the Australian groups has led to an escalation where rival groups are more likely to shoot at one another.

“We see that as a very undesirable shift in our criminal landscape,” Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told the Herald in announcing Operation Tauwhiro in February to target firearms in the hands of criminals.

“While this is predominantly an issue between gangs and organised crime groups, people are dying and that’s not okay. And, understandably, that causes fear in our communities. People should not have to live in an environment with this level of violence around them.”

Although these crimes often go unreported unless the violence spills into the public, or the consequences are fatal, hospital data shows 350 people in Auckland have been treated for gunshot wounds in the past five years.

The proliferation in firearms also increases the risk for frontline police. Constable Matthew Hunt was fatally shot in West Auckland last year, the first police officer to be killed on duty for a decade.

A Waikato colleague was also recently shot by gang members in another routine traffic stop.

The most recent attack, combined with police needing to confront other armed and dangerous individuals in Auckland and Hamilton, has reignited the debate on whether police should be routinely armed.

Police Association president Chris Cahill has called for more frontline police to carry firearms, and the return of the Armed Response Teams, although these moves have been ruled out by Police Minister Poto Williams.

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