Steal-to-order gangs targeting Seaton shops

Liza Phillips, a partner in 4-Seasons, with a mannequin wearing a coat similar to some of those stol

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 - Credit: 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.

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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.

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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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