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Tadworth dealer Ian Caldwell turned detective when he noted similarities between a theft at his shop and a series of thefts in nearby Dorking. He notified the police, who were unaware of the possible links, and contacted the Antiques Trade Gazette with his findings.

The Antiques Trade Gazette immediately published a report (see 'Thefts from antique shops across Surrey may be linked', below) alerting the trade to the string of thefts which had taken place in Surrey over the last four months. As a direct result of that report, Petworth dealer Linda Burke-White contacted Mr Caldwell to say that two men matching the descriptions he gave (see 'Thefts...', below) are suspected of carrying out five similar thefts in Petworth, Sussex. Mr Caldwell’s detective work has now brought to light links between similar crimes in Westerham in Kent, Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and the Metropolitan area.

Detective Sergeant Rowley of Bognor CID told the Antiques Trade Gazette that the police are concerned about the effect that these walk-in, shoplifting-style thefts are having on dealers. They have had a number of reported sightings, witness reports and a couple of CCTV recordings. At the time of going to press, police from the affected areas were meeting to establish how many of the crimes are connected and to co-ordinate their investigations.

Two male suspects crop up repeatedly in victims’ and witnesses’ descriptions, and the tactics they have used in many of the thefts are constant: one poses as a customer to check out the premises and returns later, followed by an accomplice, who also appears to be alone. But then one distracts the person in charge of the shop while the other walks out with the goods.

The sequence of events described to the Antiques Trade Gazette by Apollo Galleries of Westerham in Kent is characteristic. A couple of months ago Apollo was visited by a slim, young white man with short dark hair and a London accent, asking about a card table. He was carrying a mobile phone which was switched on.

When he realised the front door of the shop was kept locked, the man muttered something into his phone, his interest suddenly waned and he left. Soon afterwards a thick-set man, also white and with short, blonde hair and a mobile phone, came into the shop and seemed surprised to find nobody else there. Nothing was stolen that day, but several weeks later, on Friday February 25, two men rushed into Apollo, stole two bronzes and escaped in a vehicle reported stolen from Dagenham. They abandoned the vehicle after being chased by police. They then stole a second car from the nearby village of Oxted, which they were also forced to abandon. The two stolen bronzes were left on the back seat.

The most recent incident took place on Tuesday February 29. Another Petworth antiques dealer, who wishes to remain nameless, interrupted a would-be thief, who walked straight into the shop and had his gloved hands on two bronzes. This man is described as being white, 5ft 10in tall, with clipped, short black hair, a clean-shaven oval face and a London accent. He was wearing a white baseball cap, two-thirds length raincoat, black jogging-style trousers and black suede skateboarding style trainers with a white trim. He left, but muttered to the dealer that he would be returning.

Information to Bognor Crime Management Centre on 0845 6070999, crime reference number W12/475/00.