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When the Carlton Fine Art & Antique Centre in West Yorkshire was raided overnight on August 21-22, owner Malcolm Gray was astonished at how much planning and effort had gone into it by the thieves (or thief) - including crossing the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in their rudimentary craft afterwards.

"Once they got out they used this boat made out of three planks and polythene sheeting, like a coracle, to get across the canal - they sunk that but we found it; you could see it just under the water," said Malcolm, a former policeman.

The thieves took £40,000-50,000 of jewellery from cabinets, largely made up of rings but with a few more valuable items such as a diamond bracelet and a pendant worth about £2500 each.

They had obviously put a lot of thought into the break-in at Salts Mill, Saltaire, seeing as the antiques centre is on the second floor and to get to the window which they broke to gain entry meant crossing the canal on a gantry using one ladder from the side without a towpath, then a painter's ladder on the other side, scrambling across a roof and climbing up air conditioning units to squeeze through a tiny window.

Lone Thief

"It was obviously all planned; they had been in here because they'd sussed it out already," said Malcolm. "It must have been a very slight person to have climbed through the 12 x 17in window. They also had to keep very quiet because there were people working below our floor that night.

"There was only one set of footsteps on the roof so it could be just one man but he cut himself on the window so we have DNA traces. The results are not back yet, so we may catch them, but this break-in was a shock at the very least - we thought we were impregnable."

Malcolm used to run the Victoria Antique Centre in Saltaire after leaving the police. He retired from there in 2004 but opened the Carlton centre at Salts Mill when the Victoria closed in 2005.

They are in the same 1853 building as the gallery showing one of the largest collections of David Hockney's work, and were based on the third floor but had to move when access was needed to opera sets.

However, the second floor has a lot more room and being in the same premises as the Hockney gallery certainly helps in terms of footfall, Malcolm said.

  •  If you have any information about the theft contact West Yorkshire police on the non-emergency number 101 and quote the crime reference number of 13130347001. It was being investigated by Shipley neighbourhood policing team.