Police have launched a television appeal to track down a gang suspected of a string of high-value thefts from Bristol shops.
A four-man gang targeted three shops in the city on January 15, 2022 – a newsagents on Gloucester Road, a McColl’s convenience store in Bedminster and a supermarket in Easton. The thefts were featured on an episode of BBC’s Crimewatch Live today (March 22), which recreated the scene of one of the thefts at the busy convenience store in Bedminster.
In the episode the shop’s supervisor, Louis Clarke, told how he had been on shift with another colleague at around 3.20pm on January 15, 2022. The store’s CCTV showed two men entering the shop, followed by two more – all with their faces covered and wearing hats.
The gang members used tactics to distract Louis and his colleague, while one of the men, wearing a baseball cap, made his way into the back office and where more CCTV footage showed him searching around.
Louis found the behaviour of one of the men, wearing a black mask, quite peculiar. He told Crimewatch: “He had his phone out in the chiller which I thought was quite odd, so I said ‘can I help you’? and I remember he said he was confused about what was included in the meal deal and so I just said ‘well there’s a poster right here that says sandwich, snack, drink’.”
The man in the office eventually found the keys to the safe but, not being able to access a compartment, he went back out onto the shop floor to get help, returning to the office with the man in the black mask – as well as a sledgehammer.
Louis almost caught the thieves as he needed to go to the office but was called away by two other members of the gang, who claimed the man in the black mask had left something in the shop. Louis said: “He needed to find his phone because he’d lost it and believed he’d lost it in the store. I looked around for about 10-15 minutes.”
Meanwhile the two gang members in the back office had broken into the secure safe compartment and made off with everything they could find – more than £1,814. It was only 15 minutes later when a neighbour came into the shop that Louis and his colleague realised what had happened.
Louis said: “He came in and asked if we had been robbed because three gentlemen had jumped into a Mercedes and raced off. I saw that the safe was in the middle of the floor, tipped over with the door smashed off, which was a massive massive shock.”
Less than half an hour earlier the gang had hit another small shop in Horfield, distracting the cashier while one of the men entered the stock room and stole more than £3,000 worth of cigarettes and a stash of scratch cards. Then, later that night at around 10.50pm in Easton, CCTV footage captured the same Mercedes forcing its way through a set of steel gates so they could break into a closed supermarket.
They used the same sledgehammer to smash through a back window and carry out a safe containing £800 on a trolley they had brought with them, before disappearing in the Mercedes. Louis spoke of the impact his encounter has had on him, saying: “I’m a lot more cautious. I’ve been very wary of every single customer that comes into the store.
“You kind of just think that everybody’s a thief and everybody will be a thief. We don’t know what could have happened – it is just a great escape I guess because something bad could have happened to either one of us.”
DC Helen Shaw from Avon and Somerset Police described the locations of the robberies, saying: “The first happened on Gloucester Road in Bristol to a small private newsagents. They then moved on to McColl’s in Bedminster and later that evening they went to a supermarket in the Eastville area, just by the M32.
“We believe that they’re not local. They seem to be a very organised crime group. They know what they’re doing – while the three distract the shop owner, the other one goes to the rear of the premises and steals whatever.
“We know the number plate of the car has been cloned from a car in the West Midlands, same style and same year – C200, 2008 – so we know the plate’s come from the West Midlands.” She also said the gang could “potentially” be from the West Midlands area, too.
“We know they were in South Wales a day before and we’ve had similar incidents in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Gloucester and Devon and Cornwall.”
She noted that one of the men had a distinguishable red detailed jacket that could be familiar to someone watching the appeal at home and asked that anyone who thinks they might know any of the four men pictured in the CCTV footage to contact the police.
She also urged anyone who may not have realised they have been robbed in this way until watching this appeal, to get in touch too.
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