Four teenagers, including a 16-year-old boy, have been charged over Thursday’s violent home invasions that prompted the lockdown of two schools in Melbourne’s east.
The home invasions occurred soon after an alleged crime gang mentor, who is accused of planning violent hold-ups in inner-Melbourne, faced court.
Mahmoud Taha, 19, is charged with being the “principal offender” in two armed robberies, although he wasn’t present when two teenagers stormed jewellery stores in Coburg and Melbourne’s CBD on July 7.
Taha is accused of mentoring the younger teenage thieves, before commissioning them to carry out the violent heists.
He is also charged with three other armed robbery offences, as well as two counts of handling stolen goods, four counts of stealing a motor vehicle, three counts of burglary and numerous traffic offences.
On Thursday morning, Wantirna College and Regency Park Primary School were locked down for about an hour, as police descended on Melbourne’s south-east, searching for five teenage burglars.
The bandits had stormed two properties – one in Park Orchards at 7.55am and another at Almondsbury Court in Blackburn at 9.50am – while the occupants were home.
The Park Orchards victim was allegedly driven to an ATM where he was forced to withdraw cash and hand it over to five youths.
Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp told radio station 3AW the incident at Park Orchards was terrifying.
“I’d suggest it’s bad enough that your home is broken into and you’re confronted with someone looking for keys or other property and then to be taken away from your home I can only appreciate how much more terrifying that actually is,” he said.
The five offenders then allegedly burgled an unoccupied home a short time later on Creek Road in Mitcham. Police said the thieves gained access to the property via an unlocked garage, before allegedly stealing a laptop and other items.
A Ford sedan, believed to have been stolen from Fairwood Rise in Officer about 6.30am, was later found abandoned in Wantirna South.
Three men, aged 18, from Frankston, Pakenham and Dandenong North, were arrested on Thursday afternoon and charged with kidnapping, aggravated burglary, false imprisonment, robbery and other offences.
They were remanded to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday morning.
A 16-year-old Springvale South boy was also charged and remanded to face the Children’s Court at a later date.
Police are confident they will find the fifth offender.
Eastern region crime squad detective Sergeant Sean Audley said a combined effort from the Police Air Wing, the dog squad and uniformed police led to the teenagers’ arrests.
“We have plans and resources in place to quickly respond to this type of offending,” he said.
Victoria Police escalated its response to aggravated burglaries and carjacking across the state in May with the roll out of Operation Cosmas.
“Investigators within each region were allocated additional resources [for] the operation which aims to prevent, deter and investigate aggravated burglaries and carjackings,” a police spokeswoman said.
“Day and night patrols are being conducted at high risk locations to prevent offences taking place.”
Detectives with the operation have made more more than 120 arrests.