Gang rep Denis O'Reilly accuses Simon Bridges of stirring fear over Tauranga Hospital fight claims

A Black Power representative is lashing out at National MP Simon Bridges, accusing him of fearmongering over claims of gang violence at Tauranga Hospital.

Tauranga MP Bridges is doubling down on claims he witnessed a brutal gang fight outside the city's hospital, despite police saying the altercation was minor and not gang-related.

"I've been at Tauranga hospital this afternoon visiting my elderly father. Patched gang members had taken over the entrance and someone was being badly beaten up in the car park in a gang fight," he said on Saturday.

In a subsequent Facebook post on Monday, Bridges said he'd been contacted by a well-placed community member who advised him of what took place.

"They have told me that on Saturday evening a gang member was operated on for a life-threatening stabbing that reportedly happened in the car park," Bridges wrote. "They believe what I saw would have been part of surrounding events.  

"None of this is either hospital staff or the police's fault. It's the Government that must find solutions."

But lifetime Black Power member Denis O'Reilly is accusing Bridges of stereotyping gang members to cause fear and hysteria.

"It looks like he's confused… he's doing this for a political purpose and that's to whip up apprehension amongst the general public who are the people least likely to be affected by gang violence," O'Reilly told Newshub. "It confuses the good work that the New Zealand police might be doing in, for instance, tackling international organised crime."

O'Reilly questioned Bridges' intentions and said he should know better.

"Simon's not helping in any way whatsoever - he's just trying to whip up public apprehension for political purposes."

But Bridges has also accused the police of downplaying what he witnessed.

"If they want to downplay patched gang members at the hospital and fighting in the car park, it shows where things are at," he commented on Facebook.

Denis O'Reilly.
Denis O'Reilly. Photo credit: The AM Show

"I'd note that when we came out quite sometime after, there were still a bunch dressed in red. 

"Locals should be unconditionally safe when out in public, whether, at the shops, the park or the hospital," Bridges added.

The Bay of Plenty District Health Board also described the incident as "minor".

"We are not aware of any situation where gang members allegedly took over the hospital reception area and so far no staff on duty yesterday, including our security team who are based at the hospital entrance, have been able to validate this," the DHB said in a statement on Sunday. 

"However, we have instigated an investigation and would ask any members of the public who may have witnessed the reported incidents to please contact us and let us know what they observed by email to:

"Meanwhile we can assure the public that our security team will be maintaining [a] presence at the hospital entrance as normal."

Bridges, the National Party's Justice spokesperson, often speaks out about gang violence and earlier this year clashed with police commissioner Andrew Coster - calling him a "wokester" and criticising his "softly, softly approach".

Bridges and Coster sparred throughout a Select Committee meeting in February, with Bridges at one point asking the commissioner whether police "still arrest criminals in New Zealand?" 

Coster defended the police's response to gangs, saying it's appropriate.

"Last year we seized more firearms, we recovered and restrained more assets from organised crime and we laid more charges for dealing, importation and the manufacture of methamphetamine and other drugs than we did in the year before even with the disruption of COVID."