Hammer gang hits Hilton hotel jewellery store

Durban – Armed with 10-pound hammers and crowbars, a gang of bandits smashed their way through a jewellery store window at the Hilton Hotel in Durban on Sunday morning and fled with R20 million in gold and diamonds.

The gang members, who all wore balaclavas and gloves, held up a security guard at gunpoint while they carried out their brazen smash and grab raid at the exclusive Osiniq Jewels store shortly before 4am.

The gang, which police sources said acted with military precision, escaped in a silver-grey Mercedes.

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Situated on the ground floor in the five-star Hilton Hotel, Osiniq Jewels is known for its exclusive top-of-the-range jewels sold primarily to international guests.

Both police and Hilton Hotel General Manager, Markus Fritz, confirmed the incident.

Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said at least seven men entered through the entrance of the hotel at about 3.50am.

“The men proceeded to break through the glass, using hammers, and made off with jewellery,” he said.

Osiniq Jewels is one of the largest stockists of fresh-water and cultured pearls in the country and is known to specialise in tanzanite, platinum-set diamonds and high-end watches.

Officers spent much of on Sunday morning searching for clues and fingerprints.

Zwane also said police were investigating a case of business robbery. There were no arrests.

On Sunday when the Daily News visited the store, it had been barricaded with white board. When a Daily News reporter enquired with staff about the boarding, the reporter was told that the “store was undergoing renovations”.

This is the third such attack in a space of four weeks by men using the same modus operandi in Durban.

In the first robbery, on December 2, four hammer-wielding men managed to smash through a Matthews Meyiwa (Stamford Hill) Road jewellery store window, making off with 10 trays of rings and earrings.

Just more than a week later on December 8, at the La Lucia Mall, more than 50 Tag Heuer watches were taken during a brazen robbery. In this incident, robbers used hammers to smash through the glass. The watches were valued at thousands of rands.

Police have noted an increase in the number of jewellery store heists by men using hammers. Zwane could not confirm if police were on the lookout for a “hammer gang”, similar to the syndicate that wreaked havoc in the city in 2004.

It is believed that some members of the syndicate lived in Johannesburg and would come to Durban to commit crimes before returning to Johannesburg.

Zwane declined to comment further on the possibility of perhaps a copy-cat syndicate.

He did however, urge jewellery store owners to be alert.

“We have noticed a rise in jewellery store robberies and as such, we are urging owners to beef up their business security,” he said.

Jewellery stores have become soft targets for criminals, said Chris van Rensberg, chairman of the Jewellery Council of SA. He attributed the spate of robberies to little cohesion between the police and judicial system and the shortage of manpower within the police to bring criminals to book. Van Rensberg said they would now look at ways to prevent robberies at jewellery stores.

“The jewellery stores are notified of crime trends but there is very little we can do besides not having jewellery on display.

“We become soft targets when it becomes difficult for robbers to attack cash-in-transit vehicles. We believe the stolen jewellery is making its way into the hands of second-hand dealers,” Van Rensberg said.

Source: Daily News

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