Six cafes and restaurants on a single road in Leeds have been burgled in less than three weeks as a one-man crime spree continues.
CCTV cameras, alarms and the risk of traffic passing by on the main road in Oakwood have done nothing to deter the burglar, who has broken into each of the premises by forcing open doors or windows in the middle of the night.
Business owners said that further break-ins seemed inevitable and the running joke on the parade of independent business in Roundhay Road had become where and when – not if – the man would strike next.
The series of offences began on February 2 with a burglary at Rico’s Restaurant during which the man escaped with as little as £20 from the till.
Owner Heather Bozzo said she received a call shortly before 4.10am from her alarm company to tell her that the system had been triggered.
“They came in through a window,” she said. “We’ve had the least damage of everyone, so I’ve been lucky. It seems to be all the catering businesses.”
Four days later, it was the turn of Soosi Mediterranean Grill, where CCTV cameras recorded the whole incident.
Footage shows the man casually smoking a cigarette outside before approaching and forcing the door open within a few minutes.
Mostafa Dizchi, who owns the Persian restaurant, said: “Each place he goes in, he knows what tools he has to use. On mine, he took a screwdriver; another one, he had a crowbar for the wooden frame.”
The burglar spent under a minute inside searching for items, before taking a small amount of cash and a digital camera.
Mr Dizchi said: “I had 50p, 20p and 10p pieces that he didn’t touch, just the £1 and £2 coins. He must not drink alcohol because any place, he doesn’t take it.”
Two businesses were targeted on February 9, with both having the float from their tills or charity boxes taken.
Mohammed Sajid, of Nawaab Khan, said a colleague had arrived at work that morning to find the door forced open.
“They took our charity box and the till with the coins in,” he said. “We’re lucky because there was another box with £45 in and they didn’t see it.”
A few doors down at District Deli, the glass in the front door was smashed as the burglar force his way in.
The business has since ceased trading due to personal circumstances but owner Will Pugh is still running nearby Hessian.
He said his impression was that police allocate limited resources to commercial burglaries involving only small sums, but a neighbourhood officer had picked up on the connection between the break-ins and was “really on top of it” now.
“We had an alarm, CCTV and it’s on the main road and that doesn’t seem to have deterred the burglar,” he said.
“Whoever he is, he’s desperate. Some of the break-ins are quite calculated and some are more desperate, like jumping through the glass of the door. It’s every two or three nights.”
True to form, the burglar returned again on February 12 when it was the turn of Tasty Kitchen and Cafe.
CCTV footage shows the man spending a few minutes trying to break the glass in the door before forcing it open.
Rebecca Bolster, who has run the business there for the past eight years, said she had been aware of the spate of break-ins.
“We had started to take the float out of the till, just as a precautionary measure,” she said. “He’s gone straight to where the till would be if it were in situ.”
Finding the till gone, he forced the door into a storage room and took a laptop and small safe.
“It’s now at the point of ‘who will it be next?” she said. “It’s not whether it going to happen, it’s when. It’s not funny but it’s become a bit of a joke. Hopefully they’ll get him soon.”
A joke along those very lines had been shared on Sunday between Mr Dizchi and the owner of Cervo Restaurant, which had yet to targeted.
The next day Bahram Motevasselzadeh found himself having to board up the door to his business after the burglar smashed the glass at around 6.15am.
Again the man spent less than a minute inside, before taking an iPhone, a tablet and the entire till when he was unable to open the drawer.
“He just keeps coming back,” Mr Motevasselzadeh. “He goes for the till – £20 or £30. You don’t commit a crime like this, damaging someone’s place to take £20. He’s desperate.”
Like all the other business that spoke about the impact of the break-ins, Cervo will not be claiming on its insurance as they feel it is not worth paying the excess and seeing their premiums rise.
Instead, they will find the funds for the repairs and hope that their turn does not come around again before the man is caught.
Mr Motevasselzadeh added: “It has affected me. It’s made me feel like as easy as that I can get my place robbed at 6am.”
Police said all reports of crime are taken very seriously as they appealed for anyone with information to get in touch.
Chief Inspector Sally Fryer, of Leeds District Police, confirmed they were investigating and linking a series of commercial premises in the Roundhay Road area since the beginning of the month but put the total number at five.
She said: “I would like to reassure the public that we take all reports of crimes very seriously and are currently carrying out enquiries into all the incidents.
“We recognise the impact retail crime can have on local businesses and are carrying out high visibility patrols to reassure people in the area.”
Anyone with any information about these burglaries is asked to contact PC 4055 Slater at Leeds District Police on 101, quoting crime reference 13190059806.
Information can be passed anonymously to the independent Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.