Lismore Garden Centre owner David Manby, with son Oliver, was robbed last week along with the Summerland Garden Centre in Ballina a few days later.
Lismore Garden Centre owner David Manby, with son Oliver, was robbed last week along with the Summerland Garden Centre in Ballina a few days later.

Suspected crime couple

Two nurseries in Lismore and Ballina have had cash stolen from their registers in the last week and the owners believe it could be a couple working in tandem to pull off robberies.

Last Thursday around 2pm at the Lismore Garden Centre in South Lismore a woman in her mid-50s entered the shop asking if they stocked lavender, shortly after a middle-aged man was seen leaving. When salesperson Cameron Johns told her where to look out the back she asked if he could show her the different species. With no other customers to serve, he grabbed the key from the till and went to assist.

The lady left the nursery without buying anything and it wasn't until owner David Manby went to do another transaction that he realised wads of $50 and $20 notes were gone - $680 in total.

"I ran outside to see if I could see anyone and all I saw was a lady getting in the passenger seat of a maroon 4WD with a fellow sitting in the driver's seat," David said.

David explained that all tills have a release button in case of power failure and the offender must have known where it was in order to pull off the theft so quickly. When David got a call from Tracey Wright at Summerland Garden Centre, whose till was robbed of about $300 on Sunday, he began to worry it was the same couple.

"We thought we should warn people in case they are targetting small businesses… One way to ensure the till is safe is to lock the draw of the cash register and not just the till itself," David said. "We've put in a security system and installed cameras behind the counters at great cost. We're not going to risk it again - you can't insure money in the till."

Things took a bizarre turn for David the next day when he went to warn the ladies from the op shop next door in Union Street about the robbery. They produced a handwritten note they had found that morning stuck on the building, presumably meant for the nursery. It read: "It's hard cause although we know we're stealing from them, we're addicted to the lifestyle & although we would love to quit it might just take a while cause we're addicted to it!! But every day that goes by we'll give a thousand good reasons why it takes a touch more effort to conjure a smile, so gather your wits, acknowledge the time to quit & prepare yourself for a miracle mile, which starts with a great big smile - at the end of a consumer lifestyle. xo"

David said he was baffled by the note.

"It's all very weird," he said.

Tracey from Summerland Garden Centre said a middle-aged couple has been in her shop for at least an hour on Sunday without buying anything and she had noticed a maroon 4WD parked outside. She said she only left the till for a few minutes when she ran next door to close the blinds on her neighbour's shop as it began to rain.

"After talking to David my gut feeling is it was that couple," she said. "It's pretty tough for David and me competing with the big boys and this is the last thing we need.

"Nurseries are a soft target because you have to go outside, so you're everything - the horticulturalist, the salesperson, the maintenance person. Whoever they are they obviously know what they're doing with a cash register. I worked at another nursery and we've seen this sort of thing before…

"It's a tough industry as it is without creeps like that crawling around the place."

Police have been informed of both incidents.

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