A RUGBY-tackling mystery hero and a life-size pottery Great Dane helped scupper a daylight smash-and-grab raid targeting a rhino horn libation cup.
The foiled robbery during a viewing at
Gorringes of Lewes, East Sussex, at 10.45am on Friday, March 16,
was the latest in a series of raids across the country targeting
rhino horn fuelled by the huge prices that it has been fetching
owing to Far Eastern demand.
At Gorringes, staff and customers
stepped in to save the day - but the pair of would-be robbers, who
had jumped over the ceramics counter, apparently seized the wrong
item anyway. Along with a cloisonné bird, they took a bamboo
libation cup instead of the rhino horn example, which was locked
away in a strongroom ahead of the March 21-22 sale.
Clifford Lansberry of Gorringes, who
believes the raid was planned, said a customer in his sixties was
the first to intervene.
"He saw them and realised what they
were up to. He waited for them and as they ran along he shoved a
life-size pottery Great Dane in front of them, which didn't have a
great effect, but then he latched on to one of them with a sort of
rugby-type tackle around the waist and was dragged halfway down the
stairs. He was then shaken off, but he had a really good go at
catching up with them."
Gorringes porter Murray Brickell was
then able to tackle and pin down the same would-be robber, while Mr
Lansberry and valuer Roger Mead caught another suspect after a
chase through a nearby churchyard.
Driver's assistant Jess Stonell
spotted a suspected getaway driver in the firm's car park and
stopped them from leaving.
Mr Lansberry thinks that two other men
seen downstairs in the saleroom acting suspiciously may have also
Gorringes have suffered break-ins
before, he added, as have many Sussex salerooms over the past year,
but he thinks those may all have been connected to the same
"This seems to have been a different
incident that's entirely rhino-related," he told ATG. "We were
certainly alert to the risk of a break-in but were not expecting
anything along these lines."
The Lewes raid was the latest in a
series of raids linked to the illegal rhino horn medicine trade. A
stuffed rhino head mount was taken from Sworders auction house in
Stansted Mountfitchet in February 2011 and a rhino head was seized
from a museum in Haslemere, Surrey, in May, while similar thefts
also took place in Belgium in June and July.
Mr Lansberry now wants to alert other
auctioneers to the dangers.
"The jewellery department might worry
about a smash and grab, but you don't expect it as much on the
oriental side, but obviously with the money involved these days...
doing that in the middle of a viewing day is shocking."
Having said that, the
government-imposed immediate and total ban on the commercial export
of rhino horn from the UK earlier this month, as reported on last
week's front page, is likely to have a highly significant impact on
future sales... and, in turn, could well reduce the attraction of
rhino horn to the criminal fraternity.
As for the mystery hero, Clifford
said: "He had some bruises but is otherwise ok as far as we're
aware. He didn't stick about afterwards, just disappeared; a slight
pause and he was off."
The three arrested at the scene and
later charged with robbery were all male. Two were aged 17, the
third 32. They appeared at Brighton Magistrates' Court on March 17,
where the teenagers were bailed and the man remanded in custody.
They are all due to appear before Lewes Crown Court on March
Police have released CCTV footage of a
fourth man they believe was involved in the incident. If you have
information call 101 quoting serial 474 of 16/3 or Crimestoppers
anonymously on 0800 555 111.