Gang headstone ban: Residents scared to talk out due to ‘fear for their lives’

Some residents of a town beset by gang problems chose not to give submissions supporting a proposed ban on gang insignia from headstones in its council-run cemetery out of “fear for their lives”, its mayor says.

Wairoa District Council officials will decide as early as next week whether to introduce a bylaw change backed by mayor Craig Little banning the erection of any further headstones in Wairoa Cemetery featuring gang or any type of “offensive” material.

Three large headstones already feature Mongrel Mob insignia in the cemetery; with their presence leading to complaints to the council, which sparked the mooted bylaw change.

Forty-nine submissions were made to the council over the proposal, but just six people decided to speak at a hearing at the Wairoa War Memorial Hall. That group included those opposed to the potential ban; including the mother of one of the dead Mongrel Mobsters whose headstone features a large engraved gang insignia.

Little said those who publicly made a stand against anti-social behaviour and gang symbols during the submission process were incredibly brave.

But others were too afraid to speak out openly due to fears for their safety.

“I would love to have had a lot more submissions … but it did not happen,” Little told the Herald.

“It was incredibly hard [for some to make submissions] … a lot of them were anonymous submissions because they have a little bit of fear for their lives.

“It should not be like that. People should be able to have their say in safety … people felt threatened and that should never happen.”

The Herald first revealed the mooted bylaw crackdown on gang symbolism at the cemetery in February.

Little said if he had his way all three double-sided headstones that feature large gang insignia would be removed from the council-run cemetery.

All three were erected in 2015. They include the headstones for a P-fuelled driver and a patched colleague, who died when the car they were travelling in crashed down a gorge as they travelled to a gang party.

Little says they’re “offensive” and cause distress to others who are visiting loved ones buried nearby. But the council has since confirmed that if the bylaw change is accepted, it will not be retrospective.

He said the day of submissions was a “pretty hard day”, saying some who opposed the mooted ban were very vigorous in the way they made their points.

“We go through deliberations now, and going forward I think we will have a lot more control of the cemetery,” he said.

“One of the biggest things that came out of it was the behaviour of people up at that cemetery. When people come to see their loved ones they get quite intimidated by bad behaviour up there … that has to stop. It is not acceptable.”

Little said prior to the submissions being heard he had met with leaders of the Wairoa-based Mongrel Mob chapter who were also concerned about some of the behaviour of gang members at the cemetery.

“They don’t want that bad behaviour at the cemetery because they have loved ones up there too,” he said.

Those who made submissions against the proposed ban on headstones featuring gang insignia include Maude Stone, the mother of Terry Shane Stone whose headstone is one of three which sparked the controversy.

Stone, 31, was one of three Mongrel Mob members to die when the car they were travelling in on the way to a gang party in Hawke’s Bay crashed 125 metres down a gorge and into the Mohaka River in November 2015.

Stone and driver 53-year-old Ronald Rigby – who was later found to have methamphetamine in his system – are now buried at Wairoa Cemetery.

In March, Maude Stone told the Herald she had followed the headstone regulations when her son was buried in 2015, labelled the mayor’s stand as insensitive and also said if families of others buried at the cemetery found the gang logos upsetting, they should relocate their loved ones so they don’t have to look at them.

“Okay, people go there and see their family [members] … but why are they looking at my son’s headstone? Why are you looking at it? Just look at your own,” Stone said.

“If they’re not happy with it, let them move … move their family members away from that area where he is and then there won’t be a problem.

“People go and visit their families, yes there [are Mongrel Mob headstones] there, but they are not hurting anyone. If you don’t want to look at his [Terry’s headstone], don’t look at it … walk past it.”

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