Gunmen raid Oakham House

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By Hamida Ghafour

Oakham hose is beefing up security after an employee was tied up in her office by four gunmen in a daring afternoon robery this ast summer.

Pat Bennett, who looks after catering and room bookings for the centre, was robbed at gunpoint and threatened with death on Aug. 19, when four men walked into Oakham House posing as construction workers.

Since the incident, the student centre’s management has decided to spend about $5,000 to install a video surveillance camera and four panic uttons in offices, said Dale McNichol, managing director of Oakham House.

The quipment is expeted to be installed in the next couple weeks.

Oakham will now be patrolled by security officers every hour.

This is the third time in the past two years that Oakham House has been robbed.

Last September, more than $4,000 was stolen from a main floor office.

Again sometime last year, ombudsperson Liz Hoffman’s office was broken into, and an unspecified amount of jewellery and camera equipment was stolen.

No suspects have been caught in any incidents.

“I’m concerned about my staff’s safety,” McNichol said. “Realistically, if someone decided to rob a place, they can. The idea of a panic button means a woman won’t be trapped alone.”

Around 2:30 p.m. tht day, Bennett was alone in her second floor office when four men – two of them armed with handguns, three of them masked – walked in and demanded she open the safe.

When Bennett said she didn’t know the safe combination, a silver handgun was pointed at her and ‘one of them said shoot the bitch,'” said mcNichol, who was also working in Oakham that day, but was out of the office during the robbery.

One of the armed men forced Bennett to sit down. he bound her mouth, hands and feet with duct tape.

Her waist was also taped to the chair.

About $400 was stolen from her purse before the men fled, six minutes later, in a getaway car parked in the laneway beside Oakham Houe.

Bennett managed to get the tape off her mouth and hands and began yelling for help.

Ryerson ombudsperson Liz Hoffman who heard her cries and rushed in to find Bennett in shock.

Hoffman declined to comment on what she saw when she walked into Bennett’s office.

But McNichol said it was a miracle no one was hurt.

“What if they¬†didn’t¬†believe [that she couldn’t open the safe]? What if security guards had walked in at that moment?” he asked. “They would’ve been shot.”

Bennett declined to be interviewed by The Eyeopener. McNichol said she is still in shock.

“We want to a class reunion [a while ago] where no had any idea of what happened,” he said. “Someone said, just joking around. ‘Pat someone should tape your mouth shut.’ Pat went white, spilled her drink, got up and left.”

Although no suspects have been caught, McNichol suspects the men must have had knowledge of how Oakham is laid out because Bennett’s office isn’t visible from the street.

But neither he nor Janet Mays, head of equity, harassment, and safety at Ryerson, would speculate on who could have done it.

Still, anyone who is familiar with Oakham House would know there is no money there during the summer because there is no business, said campus grops administrator Leatrice Spevack, who works down the hall from Bennett.

Oakham House is hard to secure because of its revolving door atmosphere.

In a downtown area fraught with crime, anyone can walk in from any number of the doors in the building, Spevack said.

“I want my student groups to have easy access to me,” she said.”But what sort of danger am I putting myself in?”

Spevack has tried locking her office door and making visitors announce thmselves, but that proved too cumbersome.

Despite the robbery, the campus and its students are still safe, Mays said.

“Ive been director since 1993 and this is the first time we’ve had an open robbery like this. That’s unusual,” she said. “We’re as safe as any other campus. I think people need to remember that.”

The suspects re described as male, all between 19 and 20 years of age. They all had slim builds and two were carrying silver handguns. Their car was described as a dark Chevy Cavalier.

Anyone with information is asked to call Ryerson security at 979-5001.

Toronto police are also investigating.

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