Steal-to-order gangs targeting Seaton shops

PUBLISHED: 07:01 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:58 28 October 2019

Liza Phillips, a partner in 4-Seasons, with a mannequin wearing a coat similar to some of those stolen during the first burglary. Picture: CHRIS CARSON

Liza Phillips, a partner in 4-Seasons, with a mannequin wearing a coat similar to some of those stolen during the first burglary. Picture: CHRIS CARSON

Archant

Bogus shoppers are casing Seaton stores ready for steal-to-order villains to break in and take only the most expensive items, traders are warning.

Owners of two businesses in the Co-op car park are convinced that highly organised gangs of thieves are operating in the town, targeting high value goods with a ready market.

And they are urging fellow traders to be aware of the need to beef up security.

Thousands of pounds worth of top-of-the-range clothing was taken in two night-time burglaries at 4-Seasons, while a £4,500 electric bicycle was taken in a late night ram-raid at neighbouring Cyclelife East Devon.

In the first break-in at 4-Seasons, last year, thieves forced open the front door and took dozens of high value coats valued at around £16,000.

This Easter they stuck again. Cutting through a window support to gain entry and steal around 100 high value Tilley hats worth thousands.

Owner Janet Phillips is convinced they knew exactly what they were after.

She believes the gangs send in fake shoppers during the day who look around and pinpoint where the most expensive items are.

She said: "Some people come in and wander around and I say 'can I help you?' and they say 'thanks just looking'.

"These days I treat everyone with caution. It has made us extremely suspicious.

"This is absolutely devastating to a small business like ours. Even with insurance you never get it all back - you can't accurately assess the loss because of various factors."

Mrs Phillips' message to fellow shopkeepers is: "Be aware! Look out for suspicious activity - people going around the shop and looking through the windows."

At Cyclelife next door Ian Bruton is convinced local gangs are to blame for the break-ins.

Ram-raiders drove a 4x4 through his front door and took the most expensive electric bike.

"It's steal to order - it's drug money," he said. "I think it is 40 or 50 -year-old people doing the research and then younger ones doing the break ins.

"They are all local I believe."

Mr Bruton said he no longer keeps very high value bikes in stock - instead he supplies them to order.

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