AN eight-year-old boy was among a gang of jewellery thieves who raided an antiques shop in Ulverston yesterday.
Five men and their young accomplice stole £3,000 worth of gold jewellery from the Isis shop on Market Place.
Sharp-eyed owner Pam Livermore stopped the gang — described as eastern European — from escaping with more after spotting the gang’s tiny “Artful Dodger” with his hands in a display cabinet.
The loot included five gold rings and gold bracelets.
Mrs Livermore said: “It was scary. I couldn’t approach them because there were so many of them and I was on my own.
“They were talking a foreign language and I asked them where they were from and they told me they were Polish, but I’m not sure whether I believe them.
“The men were trying to distract me by looking at the gold chains, then I noticed the boy had his hand in a cabinet.
“They left and we’ve now discovered they took about £3,000 of gold jewellery. It’s a shock to have something like this happen. I’m very upset today, but we will be opening the shop.”
Police — who suspect the group may gave travelled up from Morecambe — are appealing for witnesses to the theft, which took place at 12.15pm yesterday.
They believe the six may be serial jewellery thieves and are linking the crime to similar incidents in Grange, Whitehaven and Mary-port.
An Ulverston police spokesman said: “We believe there could be a link between these incidents because of the modus operandi and in each case jewellery was stolen.
“Today we will be speaking to officers who have dealt with the other cases.
“We believe the gang to be of eastern European origin and the child to be around eight years old.
“No further description is available at this stage.”
The men are described as dark skinned and aged between 34 and 45.
Anyone with any information can contact Ulverston police on 0845 3300 247.
REAL LIFE ARTFUL DODGER ON CCTV
THIS is the real-life Artful Dodger who is being used to steal thousands of pounds worth of gold in South Cumbria.
The gang of ruthless jewellery raiders employ the eight-year-old in a similar role to the juvenile thief in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
The four adult accomplices distract store staff while the boy helps himself to goods.
But police are confident they will nail the "Dodger" and his gang after they were caught on CCTV during an unsuccessful attempt to steal from Johnston’s Jewellers in Grange.
This raid was followed by the theft of £3,500 worth of gold rings and bracelets from an Ulverston antiques shop.
Johnston’s owner Gary Johnston told the Evening Mail: "We had three members of staff watching them so I think they realised they weren’t going to get away with anything from us.
"I’m relieved my staff were so vigilant. When I heard about the Ulverston theft I was shocked. You don’t like to hear about such things happening. I got in touch with the police straight away and handed over our CCTV tapes.
"We have good security here. Our valuables are kept locked away and we have the CCTV camera."
Police are now warning businesses in Furness and South Lakeland to be on their guard after at least five jewellers and banks in Morecambe, Seascale, Whitehaven and Workington, as well as Grange and Ulverston, were targeted. The biggest haul came from Pam Livermore’s
Isis antiques shop in Market Place, Ulverston, on Wednesday.
Mrs Livermore, who runs the shop with her husband Terry, said the morning after the raid: "It’s such a shock for something like this to happen. The men were speak ing a language I didn’t understand and distracting me by rifling through the gold chains.
"Then I noticed the kid with his hands in the bracelet cabinet and they escaped."
Police on Friday confirmed they are linking all the incidents.
A police spokeswoman said: "The group were filmed on CCTV cameras acting suspiciously at Johnston’s Jewellers in Grange shortly after a theft in Ulverston.
"The footage shows a boy of about seven to eight accompanied by four adult males believed to be of eastern European origin who are now being sought in connection with at least five incidents throughout the county.
"At about 12.15pm, £3,500-worth of gold rings and bracelets was taken from Isis antique shop.
"Two hours later the group are alleged to have fraudulently obtained £360 from a high street bank in Seascale."
The young boy was last seen wearing a distinctive woolly hat with a peak and a black jacket with red piping.
The men have all been described as being aged between 30 and 45, having dark hair, wearing black leather jackets and track suit bottoms.
One of the men is slightly older, with a receding hairline.
Anyone who can identify the group or has any information regarding the incidents should contact DC Liz Wheatman on 0845 33 00 247.
In a separate incident three other eastern Europeans pulled a scam in Barrow’s Tesco store on Friday.
They produced approximately £260 and asked a cashier to change it into notes of a different denomination.
When that had been done they asked for it changing again, this time for different notes, as part of a nationwide scam called Ringing the Changes.
The staff member became confused and the three left having taken about £20.
The three all had dark skin and dark hair. They were around 5ft 3in tall, spoke broken English and are aged in their mid-20s to early 30s.
Shops, banks and customers are urged to be vigilant.
Anyone with information should contact Cumbria Police on 0845 33 00 247.