In the Media

Weather: looters target storm-hit shops devastated by severe flooding

PUBLISHED September 26, 2012

Police condemned the "despicable" acts after shops near Newcastle, left empty in waters up to six feet in height, were raided.

Owners of one evacuated store say they have lost merchandise worth tens of thousands of pounds while other businesses fear they have also lost stock as a result of criminals.

Authorities have been forced to step up patrols as fears mounted that looting could become widespread amid the chaos.

Today, shop owners were rescuing goods from their properties and placing stock in protective plastic bags.

The disclosures came as communities across the North began a clean-up operation today after flooding left a trail of destruction in Cumbria, Co Durham, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and Teeside.

Residents were today warned of more flooding after the most intense September storm for more than 30 years left 400 homes and businesses flooded and caused widespread travel chaos.

Shop owners in the village of Newburn expressed their shock today after thieves made off with up to £30,000 worth of bikes.

The flood-hit KB Cycles was targeted in the early hours of Tuesday after thieves smashed their way through a first floor window.

Keith Bradley, its owner for more than 25 years, said he was devastated by the thefts.

"The police told me there was no way anyone could get in and that the building was safe last night," he said.

"They've taken high value cycles which retail for around £1,500 to £2,000 each. I'm going to employ my own security guard to protect the shop tonight.

"The pressure of the floodwater has raised the car park below and the tarmac has risen up by about 8ft or so."

He added: "The thieves have just got up on the car park, where they can reach a roller shutter, and then climbed up from there and popped a window to get in."

The building is located close to where a modern block of town houses was evacuated amid fears it could collapse while piles of bricks and silt as well as gushing water have left parts of the area cut off.

Today, many residents were homeless as authorities battled to save the building from falling over.

The huge amounts of mud and debris left by the floods has rendered the area surrounding the shops unrecognisable.

Some business owners said their premises were now under 6ft of water with still no end to the torrent that is pouring down the street. Tarmac and pavements have been torn up and cars have been left completely buried.

Residents have also had to use ladders to bridge their way across the islands of mud that have been created by the severe weather. Local authorities have started the clear-up, with a digger being brought in to start clearing away the rubble.

Julie Watson, who runs AJ Bridal Wear next to the bike shop, said looters got access to the area despite the devastation on the roads.

''They have stolen bikes from Keith, we know that because of all the empty boxes," she said.

''We haven't been allowed in yet so we don't know if the bridal dresses have been taken, if they have been damaged. We just don't know.

"On top of all the devastation, they do something like that, it's disgusting. I can't get into my shop to find out if anything has been stolen because there is about six feet of silt against the entrance."

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said nine bikes had been recovered and one arrested person was helping with inquiries. No other break-ins have been reported.

Acting Chief Superintendent Dave Byrne, of Newcastle Area Command, added: "The safety of business owners and residents is paramount and it is despicable if people are thinking of taking advantage of the bad weather and using it as an opportunity to break in to properties.

"We have increased patrols in Newburn, however, as always, it is important that people remember to take their own steps to ensure the security of their premises and belongings and make sure they securely lock doors and windows and use alarms where they have them.

"Two people have been arrested on suspicion of burglary and are helping with our inquiries. In addition, nine bikes have been recovered."

He added: "Regular police patrols will continue to be carried out in the area and I would urge anyone who has any concerns to speak to officers or contact police on 101."