Saturday 21 October 2017

Foiling jewel thieves 'a community effort'

Shane Hickey

A JEWELLER who foiled a €130,000 armed robbery has told how rage at seeing his staff tied up at his shop spurred him to chase the raiders down a street.

Gerry Browne described how the incident was "completely off the radar" and out of character for the town of Portlaoise.

Five people helped Mr Browne -- including a motorist who stopped to assist -- to pin down one of the two robbers who had stolen some €130,000 worth of diamonds from his family jewellery business.

The raiders, one armed with a hammer and the other with an imitation handgun, entered Browne's jewellers on Main Street, Portlaoise, on Wednesday morning and tied up two female staff members, one of whom is four months' pregnant.

They began smashing display cases and loaded the jewellery into a bag. However, Mr Browne -- who was working in the back office -- heard the commotion and left the building via a side door to confront them at the front of the shop.

Yesterday, he said his anger was stoked when he saw that his two members of staff had been tied up. "When I saw the girls tied up, I was fuming. After that, it was just instinct really. When you see someone running out with your goods you are not going to let them go if you can help it," he said.

The raider armed with the imitation handgun escaped but Mr Browne, who is 52 and a former GAA player, chased the other man and caught him about 20 metres from the shop.

His brother-in-law, Phil Duggan, who runs The Square Meal restaurant across the road, came out with chef Paddy Harrison to help. They were joined by two more men from the nearby Blue Sky Mortgages -- Kevin Fitzpatrick, a former Laois footballer, and Shane Conroy.

"A man was driving down the street, saw what was happening and got out of his car and he came and helped us. It was a real community effort," he said.

The family jewellers has been in Portlaoise for 45 years but this is the first time that such a serious robbery has taken place.

"We have had thieving, someone stealing a watch, but this was completely off the radar," Mr Browne said.

Most of the stolen jewellery was recovered. A 25-year-old Polish national was brought to Portlaoise garda station where he is still being held under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State act.

Irish Independent

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