A brazen gang of criminals armed with crowbars has broken into 26 pubs and retail premises across the Corby borough in just four weeks.
The group of burglars is targeting the borough’s pubs in order to steal takings from fruit machines. Shops have been ransacked by thieves targeting their stock.
Furious business owners who have contacted the Northants Telegraph say that the crime gang is acting indiscriminately, sometimes targeting two or three businesses each night.
They say they do not believe the police have acted quickly enough and that they have passed on the identities of the burglars to police but that no arrests have been made.
Details of the astonishing crime wave were revealed by concerned councillors at a meeting of the Corby Crime and Disorder Committee on Wednesday who urged police to act.
It is also thought that a further two businesses were targeted last night (Wednesday) after the meeting - bringing the total of properties targeted to 28.
Some of the premises believed to have been targeted include the Shire Horse, Kingfisher, Corby Conservative Club, Beefeater, Chequered Flag, Hair Geeks, Vapers Place and the Spread Eagle and Village Stores at Cottingham.
Councillor Mary Butcher said: “I have been approached by many landlords over the past few weeks. They’re breaking into property, into pubs and businesses, they’re going for fruit machines to get the money out.
“Some of these pubs have people living above them.
“It’s an organised crime gang from Corby.”
Rob Wainde, who has run the Spread Eagle in Cottingham since April, was upstairs when he was alerted by a noise in the pub. He came downstairs with his dog and disturbed the burglars who ran off before he saw them.
He said: “They must have heard me coming down.
“They actually picked up the knife up from the side when they heard me coming.
“It was awful.
“They popped the window and let themselves in.
“They took money from the fruit machine and the staff tips - a total of £308.
Then this Tuesday (October 2), Rob also witnessed the neighbouring Village Stores being burgled. He said: “I was awake at 4.28am and heard them and rang the police within 10 seconds but was put through to the wrong force.
“I then had to give all the details again to Northamptonshire Police which took six minutes.
“They were long gone by then.”
Collection tins for the Air Ambulance and Lakelands were stolen from the shop as well as the empty till.
Andy Lapsley, who runs the Shire Horse pub in Willow Brook Road, Corby, said his pub was burgled three weeks ago: “We were done on the same night as the Kingfisher.
“We were upstairs because we live there.
“I got up in the morning to let the cleaner in and she went into the back bar and found we’d been broken into.
“It’s the second time it’s happened to us.
“It’s the same people. We have identified them from CCTV and we have been given names.
“One of the problems is that when a licensed premises is broken into it’s treated as a commercial burglary but there are often people living upstairs.”
Andy’s partner Lesley Ferguson said: “I’ve got a disabled son upstairs.
“They came in the back of the building. The crowbar was about 5ft. They left it here as we must have been the last one they did that night.
“They were in and out in three minutes and got away with £300.
“They’ve done the Beefeater, the Spread Eagle at Cottingham, the Conservative Club three times. They seem to be averaging three a night.”
Hair Geeks in Wood Street, Corby, was broken into twice in four days during September with the thieves stealing wigs and hairpieces. Owner Mel Jamera said: “I opened the shop and was shocked to see police officers on the shop floor.
“Both break-ins have had a huge impact on the business. We spent six years building up on our stock and within a few hours that has was all gone. The expense to replenish that is immense; not to mention damage to the building which again is going to cost thousands of pounds.
“It is a common misconception that hair extensions and wigs are superficial. I beg to differ. Tell that to the woman who is going through chemotherapy and the only thing that makes her smile is the idea that she can look like herself because of the wig she is wearing.
“Tell that to the teenager with alopecia who gets constantly bullied because of patches on her head. Wearing a wig will make them stop.
“Those two are actual stories of people who had wigs on order that were taken from the shop.
“Psychologically it has been devastating for us. Someone has seen it fit to come and violate our space and its perhaps going to take a while to get back to normal.
“The positive thing thats come from all of this is the realisation that we have a lot of community support and people who are rooting for us.
“While we knew Corby is generally a supportive community, it’s when trouble comes to your doorstep that you really see what that support means to you.
“The messages we have received from our customers and the support we have received from our new neighbours has helped us feel like we are part of a big family. We have so many people looking out for us.”
Yvonne Duncan of The Kingfisher in Fotheringhay Road said her pub had been targeted twice. She said: “I was broken into about 3 months ago the first time. We had no follow ups from police and no conviction. We secured the area the thief was getting in at our own cost and changed locks and door padlocks.
“Then again we where broken into again recently. They broke in the same way and we have CCTV evidence.
“The tools used in our burglary were same as the Shire Horse.
“Again nothing followed up, not enough evidence. We have given names, dates, times, car reg but nothing.
“We live and work hard in our business but now live in constant fear that someone will be hurt. There is a lack of police in Corby and this needs addressing ASAP.
“No one seems to be really interested in our situation. It’s now been 29 break-ins and the thief is still at large.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Corby Police Sergeant Jon Hodgson said: “In the past four weeks there’s been a steep increase in pubs and businesses being targeted for their slot machines.
“It’s had quite an impact on people and businesses.
“There’s quite a lot of suspects.
“We’re thinking of a group or two groups operating in licensed premises and targeting commercial buildings such as shops.
“We do have suspects.
“There are people who know who are doing it so we do appeal for information.
“It’s a massive increase and we need to get these people arrested.”
Northamptonshire Police have now given the investigation a new impetus by providing local businesses with proactive crime prevention leaflets and have assigned a CID inspector and sergeant to the cases.
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the force issued a statement from Sergeant Jon Hodgson. He said: “There have been over 20 break-ins over the past four weeks at licensed premises and commercial premises in this area of Corby and this has rightly caused concern among the community here.
“These shops are people’s livelihoods and homes and we do not underestimate how distressing it is for them to be burgled by offenders who think that stealing from hardworking people is an acceptable way to make money.
“I want to assure the community here that we are following a number of lines of enquiry and working very hard with our colleagues in Crime and Intelligence to track down the offenders responsible for these break-ins in order to bring them to justice.
“We are also working with the affected shop owners around crime prevention to ensure that anyone looking to break into their premises again is thwarted, caught and arrested.
“I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who may have information about this series of burglaries or anyone who may have witnessed any suspicious behaviour in the area.
“Anyone who does have any information should call us on 101 or if they would prefer to remain anonymous, Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.”