London mall tightens security after brazen theft

A London mall tightened security yesterday in the wake of a brazen night-time theft by cat burglars who punched through the roof and stripped two stores of designer and brand name merchandise.

White Oaks mall general manager Jim Hewer expressed dismay about breaches that went undetected early Thursday when the mall was closed.

Rooftop break-ins are rare for shopping malls, he said.

"It's not something you expect. You hear about them from time to time, here and there. It's happened here before but not for years."

The White Oaks roof, which covers about 72,000 square metres, is a vista of peaks, valleys, angles and juts, not a straight expanse, he said.

London police are still investigating the caper.

Somehow, early Thursday, thieves got on the roof, cut holes to gain entry and cleaned out inventories at the Sunglass Hut near the food court and Watch It! in the southwest corridor of the mall.

To do so, they had to descend about eight metres from the roof to shop floors through suspended ceilings.

"It appears these break-ins were planned and the stores were targeted," said Hewer. "You'd have to know something about the mall to do that."

The burglars stole stock from stores with no alarm systems, he said.

"We have several jewelry stores (9) in the mall and they have alarms, but these businesses didn't."

The Sunglass Hut sells designer shades for an average price of $150, and Watch It! sells brand name watches, typically in the $200 to $300 range.

Under the mall's classification system, they're both listed as "fashion accessory stores."

There's a big difference between the value of merchandise in Watch It! and the jewelry shops, said Shawn Gibson, co-owner of the store with his mother, Gillian.

"We have about $100,000 worth of inventory; theirs is probably worth $500,000. We don't have the same need for an alarm system" and it hasn't been required by the mall or for insurance, he said.

No store would seem to be more secure than one inside a mall that's supposed to be guarded by security around the clock, every day, he added.

It was business as usual for the Sunglass Hut yesterday, but not at Watch It!

"We don't have the stock to open this weekend," said Shawn Gibson, reporting an estimated inventory loss of $60,000. "We're hoping to open as soon as we can next week."

The thieves had skills and planning ability, said Hewer.

They needed some way to get on the roof and down into the stores and tools to cut rooftop sheet metal "without making a lot of noise," he said.

They picked stores without alarm systems and left goods untouched in the front shelves, so the windows would look normal to security guards making rounds.

The thefts were discovered when staff opened the stores for business Thursday.