Episode 5 Thief Trackers


Episode 5

Reality series following stolen possessions. The team find out about building site burglars who stole thousands of pounds worth of heavy plant machinery.


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Transcript


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More than 3,500 incidents of theft are reported every day in the UK.

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But what happens to our belongings when they're stolen?

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Thief Trackers shows how they are taken and where they go.

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Excuse me, mate. Excuse me.

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Hiding trackers inside items like cameras,

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smartphones, and bicycles to trace the thief's every move.

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There he is. There he is, there he is.

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The crooks think they've got away with it,

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but we've got them under surveillance.

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No, man.

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Using undercover footage, CCTV and tracking technology,

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we'll uncover the unseen journey our belongings take

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when they are stolen.

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And we'll shine a light on how easy we make it

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for thieves to plunder our prized possessions.

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Today, the Thief Trackers are on the trail of a stolen tablet.

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Hello, mate.

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Tracing it 1,300 miles across Europe.

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Plus, building site burglars make off with £25,000 worth

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of heavy plant machinery, unaware their every move was being tracked.

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Every item of plant on site has a tracker system.

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It started to move along London Road towards the M60.

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I was just hoping that we could get the mini digger back.

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And a community comes together to track down a cruel bag snatcher.

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An elderly lady was mugged yesterday.

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Then I looked at the bag, it was gone.

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I was traumatised.

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My bag gone and all my very personal items.

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In this digital age,

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many of us carry personal electronics around with us

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as a matter of routine.

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But these valuable items make an attractive target for thieves.

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Tablet computers are in the top five most popular items stolen.

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Any town or city across the country with a high concentration of people

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is vulnerable to street crime.

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Today, Thief Trackers are in the West End of London,

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which has the highest crime rate in the city.

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Helping Thief Trackers with our investigation

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is former Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Hill.

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She has over 30 years' experience tackling crime on the streets

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of the capital.

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When you have so many people in crowded places,

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there are far more opportunities for the thief.

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And that's why when you are in a crowded space,

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you need to really keep your wits about you and keep your property

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safe and close to you. Most thieves are opportunists

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and if they see an opportunity, they're going to take it.

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We fitted this tablet with a GPS tracker.

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If it's stolen, we can follow the signal on a smartphone or tablet

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and track down the thieves.

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Following the thieves' every move is the Thief Trackers undercover team.

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For their safety, you won't see them,

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but you'll hear their voices...

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Get the tracker up. If we're going to do this, we're doing it now.

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..as they follow the thieves' every move.

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The team set up our hidden cameras outside a cafe in a very busy area,

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popular with locals, workers and tourists alike.

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Our undercover team member settles in with the tablet near her,

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on the table. The tracker in the tablet is live.

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Time to watch and wait.

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It's quite busy with a lot of passers-by.

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Our thief tracker deliberately isn't paying attention to the tablet.

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Like so many of us, she is distracted by her phone.

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This lady just wants a chair.

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Far from being suspicious, she is a real-life Good Samaritan,

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as we'll see later.

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This helpful passer-by alerts our thief tracker.

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It is good to see that some people are public spirited.

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Now this man is looking suspicious.

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He's seen the tablet and appears to be hanging around.

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It's possible he's waiting for a moment to strike.

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The tablet is snatched, but someone else has grabbed it

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whilst our team member is again distracted.

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Before the thief trackers head off in pursuit, in a flash,

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the thief passes the tablet to the man who was standing nearby.

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It seems they are working as a team.

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The brazen accomplice then stands back where he was

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with the tablet hidden under his jacket,

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just a few feet from where it was stolen.

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The undercover team get ready to track our man,

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but it seems they are not the only ones who witnessed the crime.

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The woman who earlier borrowed the chair saw the thief

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pass the tablet on.

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Not thinking of her own safety,

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she confronts the accomplice and retrieves our tablet.

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Sue Hill says a lot of thieves work in organised teams.

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In this scenario, we know there were three.

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They appeared to be together. But there could have been more.

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There could have been people watching.

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So you never know. They normally don't operate on their own.

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What they do is they steal the item, as we saw,

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pass it on to someone else, but if the person who took the item

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is identified, the item has already gone.

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And they'll say, what are you talking about? I never had it.

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What's interesting in this scenario is when the guy has got the item,

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he goes back and he stands by the table.

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Now, I think he has done that thinking, well,

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if someone has seen who took it, his friend in the pack,

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if the police did get called,

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it would be very easy for him to slide the iPad back on the table

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and walk away, saying, I've just seen this.

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Thankfully, the tablet was returned

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due to a vigilant member of the public.

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I think what the woman did, it was kind of spontaneous,

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she saw someone taking it, thought, "I'm not having that,"

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and went off and that is really, really brave.

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But then again, if he had turned on her or the other individuals

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in his team turned on her, then you never know what he might have done.

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My advice would always be, call 999, let the cops do the job for you.

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To avoid suspicion, the team move and set up surveillance again

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at a different cafe.

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Night falls. Often thieves will use the cover of darkness

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to make their move.

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Someone stops near the table and checks out the tablet.

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He could be perfectly innocent.

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He's hanging around, possibly waiting for someone.

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He moves off.

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Not long after, the same guy returns and he's acting rather suspiciously.

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But he goes again.

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The pavement becomes busier as the night wears on.

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But there isn't any interest in the tablet.

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Then, in a split second, the tablet is snatched.

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A moment's distraction as our team member glances at her phone

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and the tablet is gone.

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The Thief Trackers are ready to go but they are not the only one

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who saw the thief in action.

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-Thanks very much.

-No worries.

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Later, the undercover team track the stolen tablet across London.

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The logistical nature of construction

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means that a lot of machinery is left on site overnight

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until the job is finished.

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As heavy plant machines cost from £15,000 to over £100,000,

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it's no surprise they've become a target for organised crime,

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with around £70 million worth of plant machinery stolen each year.

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Machines like the mini excavator are key to businesses

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such as Gary Goldrick's groundworks company.

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Basically, we go on to a building site, put the road

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and the sewers in, we then dig the foundations and the drains.

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While the scaffolding goes up and they build the houses,

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we then come back and do the drives, topsoil and flagging.

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Having any of their heavy plant machinery stolen

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would be disastrous to Gary's business.

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Mini diggers are vital for our line of work.

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Basically, if a mini digger goes,

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our work stops, all the lads' work stops.

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So they are very important for us.

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To combat the crooks, Gary has had his equipment fitted

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with the latest hi-tech tracking devices.

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Every item of plant on site has a tracker system.

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It's the best line of defence, really,

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to stop your machines getting stolen.

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Although that doesn't stop the thieves from trying.

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With the site closed for the evening,

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men dressed as builders entered.

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Aware that companies are taking steps to keep tabs

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on their property, many thieves will now search machinery for trackers.

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Having found nothing, the crooks made off with Gary's mini digger,

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unaware that they had activated the tracker's motion alarm.

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The signal was immediately picked up by his tracking company.

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It alerted, because it was being loaded onto a trailer,

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which is one of the alerts that our system is designed to trigger,

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if it's being moved without ignition.

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The tracker allows them to trace the digger's movements on a map

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using a GPS signal.

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Our team picked this up and immediately contacted the owner

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to confirm that it shouldn't be on the move.

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The first question they asked me was,

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"Have you got a mini digger on the move?"

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Sometimes, I'll forget to ring the Scorpion to say

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"I'm moving a machine from one site to the next."

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And within about five minutes of that machine leaving the site,

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they ring me up and say, "Your machine is on the move."

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And on the odd occasion, I'll say, "No, it's being stolen."

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Which happened in this case.

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It started to move along London Road, towards the M60.

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Our team were on the line, with the police,

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giving regular updates as to where the vehicle was,

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which road it was travelling along.

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There's an awful lot of plant stolen throughout the country all year

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round. I was just hoping that we could get the mini digger back.

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According to the tracking data,

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the thieves hadn't got too far with their heavy load.

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The mini digger was now on the move on the M60, near Bradbury.

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Approximately two and a half to three miles

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from where it was initially stolen.

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In this particular case, it wasn't the sort of thing that could travel

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very quickly or give chase down backstreets.

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It was obviously a big heavy thing,

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so it wasn't too difficult for the police to catch it.

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With almost three tonnes of digger on a trailer,

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the crooks weren't going to make a fast and furious getaway

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and soon enough, the police had them in their sights.

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The police, actually, with instructions and directions

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from our monitoring team, caught up with the vehicle on the M60

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as it was approaching junction 21.

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In under an hour, the crooks were stopped in their tracks

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and caught red-handed.

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But still tried to brazenly talk their way out.

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The thieves were actually adamant that this digger belonged to them.

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The thief's initial reaction to the police

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was that it was his mini digger

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and that he shouldn't have been arrested.

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At this moment, the police then rang me, told me what had gone on,

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and asked if I had any documentation of proof of purchase.

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So I then went to the office, got the documentation,

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and then went out to Chatham Police Station.

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The thieves didn't have a leg to stand on

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and once Gary's documents checked out, they were bang to rights.

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And not just for stealing the digger.

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There was an added bonus in this particular case.

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In that the transit van that was towing the trailer

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on which the digger had been loaded was also stolen

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and actually had false plates.

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Basically, the guy was bang to rights.

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So another thief was identified and taken off the streets.

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The tracker did its job and the digger is back in action on site.

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As far as Gary is concerned, it's money well spent.

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To avoid this happening,

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I would recommend that every item of plant on site has a tracker system.

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If a mini digger hasn't got a tracker on it,

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then you are in the lap of the gods to see if it's actually retrieved.

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Earlier on, Thief Trackers' undercover team had a tablet stolen

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from outside a cafe.

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The crook made a fast getaway.

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But the team can track his whereabouts

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and they are soon right on his trail.

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The GPS signal shows it's close by.

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They check the footage to make sure they target the right person.

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The signal shows the thief is on the move but the undercover team

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are hot on his heels.

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The crook makes his way through the busy streets of London's West End.

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But the Thief Trackers can keep right on his tail

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following the GPS signal on their smartphones.

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And it seems this criminal knows his business,

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taking a meandering route through the streets in case he is followed.

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The team are right behind him, but can't spot him in the crowds.

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So they track him until they can single him out.

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The tracking data shows the thief is speeding up.

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It is possible he's now found some transport.

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As the thief heads northward at speed,

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the team need to find their own transport.

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They trail the tablet snatcher and it looks like he's heading towards

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Euston train station.

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With links to Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland,

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it's possible the thief, or perhaps someone he's passed it on to,

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could be making their way north.

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However, the signal comes to a stop.

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OK, we're almost there.

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-Do you think he's in there?

-I think so.

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Thank you, mate.

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With no further movement on the signal, the team scout the area.

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It is possible the tablet is now somewhere in this hotel.

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And by now, it could have changed hands.

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I don't know.

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Just don't know.

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The team stake out the area,

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in case the thief or whoever has our stolen property makes a move.

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A few days pass and there is no sign of movement.

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The tracking data is showing the tablet is still somewhere in,

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or around the hotel.

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However, the thief trackers suddenly get a new lead

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when the location of the tablet dramatically changes.

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The tracking data now shows the tablet has moved

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from its position in Central London...

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..to over 1,300 miles away across Europe

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in the city of Deva, Western Romania.

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It has a population of around 60,000,

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one of whom is now in possession of our stolen tablet.

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So, we got in touch with our European thief tracker

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and she headed to the location to see if she could find the tablet

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and track down whoever has it.

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Our data shows the tablet is somewhere

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on this quiet residential street,

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not the sort of place you'd find a backstreet snatch thief.

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More than likely, it's now in the hands of an innocent party

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who has bought it locally.

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Our thief tracker decides to put posters up and flyer the area

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to let them know that they have bought stolen property

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and to get in touch.

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Back in London, our crime expert, Sue Hill,

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analyses the initial theft.

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The reason they weave around,

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probably looking for another team member,

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a member of their team to pass the item on to,

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and then what they do is they try to avoid capture, CCTV,

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they know where the CCTV cameras are.

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They are trying to avoid someone

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if they think someone is following them.

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And they will move around and bob and weave just to get away.

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It's so easy with the amount of buses that are in inner cities

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and cabs to jump on and get away very quickly to avoid capture.

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Having tracked the tablet to a hotel,

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it's more than likely it had already been passed on or sold.

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It's astonishing that in a short space of time,

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our tablet is stolen in Central London and finds itself

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at the other end of Europe, in Romania.

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High-value portable goods such as iPods and iPhones regularly end up

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in different parts of the world.

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It's not unusual that this iPad has ended up in a suburban area,

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because probably by that time,

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that item has been through several hands and somebody's bought it

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in good faith. The moral of the story is,

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you need to keep your very high-value small portable items

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when you are out and about very close to you.

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You can prevent this crime happening.

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As we grow older,

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it's the memories that we keep in our hearts that we value the most,

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not the material possessions we accumulate.

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83-year-old Breeda has lived in Ballincollig, Cork,

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since she was 20 and she cherishes her memories of days gone by.

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I had a lovely life. Very contented.

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I did meet my husband in Cork.

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My sister, she introduced me to him.

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So from then on he became my boyfriend...

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..and my husband.

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He was a salesman.

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He wrote me letters every week when he was away.

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He had so much to say to me.

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And so much love in it.

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And he would send me one special letter and I had it

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and that would be 60 years nearly the letter was in my...

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I carry it with me.

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And I took that letter everywhere we'd been.

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As well as the special letter from her late husband,

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Breeda kept memories of her family with her too.

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Because my family are very dear to my heart.

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So I took them in my bag.

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They were a great comfort to me.

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And I felt very safe when I had them with me.

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So she took her photos and love letter with her wherever she went.

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To lose them would be devastating.

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But one day, disaster struck.

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My kind neighbour suggested we go for a drive.

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I was feeling under the weather.

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So we came to Ballincollig, Dunnes Stores.

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Because there was one item that I wanted -

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a small saucepan, to make porridge.

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I looked up and I did see my item up there.

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Before I picked it up,

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I put my bag on the floor and when I looked at the bag, it was gone.

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And the other items that I had bought were gone.

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They were all gone.

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She frantically searched for her bag, but it was nowhere to be seen.

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Breeda was distraught.

0:22:380:22:40

Not because of the bag, but what it contained,

0:22:400:22:43

her family photos and her treasured love letter.

0:22:430:22:46

I was traumatised.

0:22:460:22:47

With my bag gone and all my very personal items.

0:22:490:22:52

And the security looked around.

0:22:530:22:55

And they couldn't find anything.

0:22:560:22:57

There was no trace of her bag and its precious contents,

0:22:590:23:02

so the police were called.

0:23:020:23:04

Brian Henderson was the policeman on duty.

0:23:040:23:07

He set about trying to track the stolen bag down straightaway.

0:23:070:23:10

I could tell how much this handbag and the letters in the handbag

0:23:100:23:13

had meant to her, and it did kind of motivate me

0:23:130:23:16

to try and get it back for her as quickly as I could.

0:23:160:23:19

I immediately contacted the security in the shopping centre.

0:23:190:23:24

I requested a copy of the CCTV.

0:23:240:23:26

And the footage proved to be vital.

0:23:260:23:28

One particular woman raised suspicions.

0:23:280:23:31

She can be seen walking into the store.

0:23:310:23:33

They had actually tracked her movements

0:23:330:23:34

from when she entered the shop, they had all the separate clips

0:23:340:23:37

of her movements in the shop.

0:23:370:23:39

The heartless bag snatcher is then seen casually walking away,

0:23:390:23:42

holding Breeda's bag.

0:23:420:23:44

Immediately left the shopping centre via the front door

0:23:450:23:48

and travelled back to her car in the car park.

0:23:480:23:50

They had also managed to identify her vehicle,

0:23:500:23:54

which she had used to leave the rear exit of the shopping centre.

0:23:540:23:59

But, unfortunately, because of the sun reflecting off the license plate

0:23:590:24:02

of the car, it was preventing us from viewing the registration plate.

0:24:020:24:05

It would have been a big help to have that.

0:24:050:24:07

The tenacious cop wasn't beaten.

0:24:070:24:10

It did have unique identifiers on the car,

0:24:100:24:12

the stickers on the back windscreen,

0:24:120:24:14

which helped us to eliminate any other similar cars

0:24:140:24:16

that we might come across.

0:24:160:24:18

While the police tried to track down the callous thief,

0:24:180:24:21

Breeda's friends rallied round.

0:24:210:24:23

Amongst them, Emer Cassidy.

0:24:230:24:26

Straightaway, we just set about seeing what we could do

0:24:260:24:28

and who we could contact and as luck would have it,

0:24:280:24:32

I knew a girl called Emer O'Hea Martin,

0:24:320:24:34

and she was a producer on Red FM.

0:24:340:24:36

For me, there was something different

0:24:370:24:39

about this particular story.

0:24:390:24:41

The romantic element was there, you know, that this lady, Breeda,

0:24:410:24:44

who was 82, had carried a love letter from her partner

0:24:440:24:48

all these years, for 60 years, so I thought that was incredibly sweet

0:24:480:24:51

and then, of course, it was incredibly tragic

0:24:510:24:54

that someone had robbed an 82-year-old woman

0:24:540:24:57

and also taken this, her prized possession.

0:24:570:24:59

Emer was terrific altogether.

0:24:590:25:02

She did it on the radio the following morning.

0:25:020:25:04

-Good morning.

-Hi, Neil.

0:25:050:25:06

Thank you very much for talking to me this morning.

0:25:060:25:08

This is a sad story in itself.

0:25:080:25:10

It involves an elderly lady who was mugged yesterday

0:25:100:25:13

in Dunnes in Ballincollig.

0:25:130:25:15

There was a number of very sentimental items in the handbag,

0:25:150:25:19

including a letter from her late husband who has passed away,

0:25:190:25:22

over 26 years ago.

0:25:220:25:23

It was a letter when they started going out together and it is of huge

0:25:230:25:26

sentimental value to her.

0:25:260:25:28

We would just really be delighted if we could get the bag back.

0:25:280:25:31

There's a very good chance that bag has just been discarded,

0:25:310:25:34

not far from there, you know?

0:25:340:25:35

That's right. That's what we feel.

0:25:350:25:38

The presumption was that the thief might have just taken the bag

0:25:380:25:40

and then maybe thrown the bag in a bin, or something like that,

0:25:400:25:43

nearby. So there was actually people having heard the radio just walking

0:25:430:25:47

round Ballincollig to try and find it,

0:25:470:25:49

which was incredibly sweet as well.

0:25:490:25:51

And whilst the community scoured the area,

0:25:510:25:53

trying to track down Breeda's bag, and its invaluable cargo,

0:25:530:25:57

Brian continued with his investigation.

0:25:570:25:59

After I had the picture of the suspect's vehicle...

0:25:590:26:02

..I decided to carry out a search of the number of estates

0:26:040:26:07

that run along the back roads by the shopping centre.

0:26:070:26:09

I was working on an assumption, more than anything,

0:26:090:26:11

that the person was living locally.

0:26:110:26:13

So, I began patrolling the estates.

0:26:160:26:18

Tracking down this vehicle

0:26:200:26:21

really would be looking for a needle in a haystack.

0:26:210:26:24

But Brian wasn't deterred.

0:26:260:26:28

Luckily, it paid off.

0:26:330:26:34

I came across a vehicle that matched the vehicle

0:26:340:26:36

that I had in my CCTV still.

0:26:360:26:38

I did a reg check on it and I was able to locate the owner's address.

0:26:380:26:42

When we called to the suspect's house, on opening the door,

0:26:470:26:50

you could tell she was shocked that we were there.

0:26:500:26:52

We began asking her questions

0:26:520:26:54

in relation to the theft of the handbag.

0:26:540:26:56

She was nervous.

0:26:580:26:59

But she immediately produced the handbag from down behind the seat.

0:26:590:27:03

She did admit to the theft.

0:27:030:27:05

She stated she had no reason for why she took it,

0:27:050:27:07

it was a spontaneous...

0:27:070:27:08

..spontaneous thing, that she had never done it before.

0:27:080:27:11

Brian had the happy task of reuniting Breeda with her bag

0:27:120:27:16

and its valuable contents.

0:27:160:27:18

The bag was returned.

0:27:180:27:20

And all my items were in it.

0:27:210:27:22

So I was delighted.

0:27:240:27:26

I cried.

0:27:260:27:28

And the overwhelming support she had received from people

0:27:280:27:30

trying to track her bag down

0:27:300:27:32

restored Breeda's faith in human nature.

0:27:320:27:35

Oh, it was terrific.

0:27:350:27:37

The community. They were just outstanding, like,

0:27:370:27:39

I had telephone calls, cards, congratulating me on my bag back.

0:27:390:27:44

I was a bit popular all right.

0:27:440:27:46

I think Breeda became a bit of a celebrity in the post office

0:27:480:27:52

and in the hairdressers and all her local neighbours and everything.

0:27:520:27:57

People were so thrilled.

0:27:570:27:58

It really proved that, you know,

0:27:580:28:00

when a community comes together like that, good things can happen.

0:28:000:28:03

And, you know, it was lovely to be part of.

0:28:030:28:05

It was a great ending to a story,

0:28:050:28:08

which I thought wouldn't happen, like, I thought it was gone.

0:28:080:28:11

The team are on the trail of a stolen tablet, tracking it across Europe. They also find out about building site burglars who made off with thousands of pounds worth of heavy plant machinery unaware their every move was being tracked, and they hear how a community came together to track down a cruel bag snatcher.