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The possible link came to light after one of the victims, Tadworth dealer Ian Caldwell, noticed similarities between the incident at his shop and four similar thefts at antique shops in nearby Dorking.

On Monday February 7, thieves got away with two antiques tables worth about £3500 from Ian Caldwell Antiques in Tadworth, Surrey. Mr Caldwell was locked in the office above his shop by two men, who took away the key, together with two unusual tables and loaded them into the back of a green Range Rover-style vehicle. One of the tables is an Edwardian mahogany half-round card table with the unusual feature of a central back leg which pulls out with a telescopic action to support the top, and the top is stamped with MAPLES. The other is a 19th century German walnut work table, the interior fitted with a satin birch tray that lifts out, with a sliding work basket below, and the feet mounted on small brass castors.

Mr Caldwell climbed out of an upper window and saw the thieves' car as it pulled away, but he was unable to see the registration plate. He told the Antiques Trade Gazette he strongly suspected that one of the thieves was a man who came into his shop about an hour before the theft. This man is described as being white, about 27 years old, just under six foot tall, of slight build, with short, very dark brown hair and a cockney accent.

After hearing of a string of similar thefts in November last year in West Street, Dorking, Mr Caldwell contacted the dealers concerned. He was amazed by the similarity between the events they described and his own experience.

Patrick Thomas of Antique Clocks, chairman of the West Street Association and another victim, described a second man: white, of larger build than the first, in his 40s, with very short, blonde hair. The normal method the thieves employ is for one man to distract the dealer while the other removes goods from the shop.

The items taken from Dorking include quite a big, heavy card table from Harman's Antiques and a tripod table from Gallery 11. When the thieves stole a £3000 clock from Mr Thomas's shop, the assistant gave chase and saw the thief escape in a white B-reg BMW, which, it transpired, is also connected with a number of earlier incidents in the Greater London area.

Last month the same gang is thought to have returned to West Street and stolen a writing slope from House of Bulow Antiques when the dealer had his back turned. They drove off in a blue Volvo estate car.

Each of the thefts has taken place midweek in broad daylight. So far no violence has been used but, as Epsom police pointed out: “If someone were to try to prevent the theft taking place, we don't know how the thieves might react. I'd like to get the perpetrators before someone is hurt.”

Anyone with any information regarding the incidents should contact PC Sketchley of Epsom police (020 8649 3703) and PC Emeny of Dorking police(01306 874022).