Hostage admits to needing "long time before I trust anyone"

A WOMAN who was held hostage by a trio of armed thieves said she thought her life was over in the moments before she broke free at a Coffs Coast service station.

The 44-year-old, whose name has been withheld, was living at Brisbane when Toormina's Nellie Bennet, Sophia Cavanagh and another female asked her for a lift to a nearby shopping centre.

She knew one of the women was an unwelcome acquaintance of another person who was living in the house, but reluctantly accepted "just to get them out".

At first it seemed like the right decision but when they arrived at the shopping centre car park, one of the women produced a knife.

The driver was stripped of her phone, wallet and keys, bound and driven south for what would be the most terrifying four hours of her life.

As she lay in the back seat, her thoughts turned from outright fear to anger.

When she had heard two of the women say they were going "to do a runner" once they reached Toormina, she knew she would have her only chance to escape.

"I thought 'I am not going to survive this if I stay in here," the woman said

"With the other two gone it was just two of us left and I knew it was either going to be me or her so I went for it, we struggled for a bit but I got out and I just ran."

The woman went to a nearby unit block and called to a resident for help.

Police were called and less than two weeks later, all three thieves had been arrested.

Cavanagh and Bennet maintained their innocence and the victim was forced to face her captors once again.

When the trial began in the Coffs Harbour District Court two weeks ago, the woman was "sick with nerves" but with the help of investigating police officer, Detective Senior Sergeant Peter O'Reilly, she got through and left feeling like she had taken her first step towards recovery.

This week, a jury found Cavanagh and Bennet guilty of two offences - detain person while in company and aggravated robbery.

The woman said that the moment she heard the news, she felt herself "grow a little bit stronger".

"I will never drive without my car doors locked and it's going to be a long time before I trust anyone again," she said

"But for now, I am just grateful to the police and the prosecution and very glad that it's finally over".

The unnamed female pleaded guilty to her part in the crime and was dealt with in separate proceedings.

Cavanagh and Bennet will front a sentencing hearing on March 27.

Topics:  coffs clarence local area command coffs harbour district court kidnap toormina

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