Monday 5 December 2016

Police take hour to respond to elderly women's theft of McQueen poster from new hotel

Claire McNeilly

Published 19/10/2016 | 09:45

It took police over an hour to respond to the theft of a valuable artwork from the Bullitt Hotel in Belfast, even though a station is located across the street, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

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It is also understood that when officers did arrive, they were from a different station several miles away.

Two pension-age women are being sought in connection with the removal of a specially commissioned 6ft x 4ft portrait of Hollywood star Steve McQueen from the newly opened business, named after one of the late actor's most famous movies.

The audacious heist ultimately failed because the striking black and white piece of art, worth approximately £15,000, was too big to fit in the ageing suspects' getaway car, which was parked nearby.

The unique portrait, by Slovakian artist Kamil Vojnar - a friend of hotel owner Bill Wolsey - has now been mounted to a wall in the Ann Street premises, which is diagonally opposite Musgrave PSNI station.

Mr Wolsey, whose portfolio of local businesses includes the five-star Merchant Hotel, said he was awaiting news of the culprits' fate.

"I would like to sit down and ask them, could they not have planned their getaway a bit better?" he added.

"Secondly, I think they need to sit down and ask themselves how proud their granddaughter or a daughter will feel about what they did."

Mr Wolsey, who was at home at the time, explained he had watched CCTV footage of the incident, which happened just after 8pm on Sunday, only two days after the four-star establishment was opened to the public.

Standing in front of the artwork of McQueen - which was later recovered, having incurred some damage, beside Tedfords restaurant on nearby Donegall Quay - Mr Wolsey revealed that it has been securely attached to deter other potential offenders. "We hung it up on Friday night," he said. "I didn't want to nail it to the wall like the other pictures because it is a specially commissioned piece of artwork. But as you can see, that has changed and it's a shame."

CCTV cameras captured the two females - who police said were in their late 60s, with shoulder-length blonde hair, and wearing glasses - initially checking out the hotel foyer before approaching their target. One gave her walking stick and handbag to her accomplice, who opened the cloak she was wearing to prevent hotel staff from noticing her partner in crime removing the massive portrait.

They can then be seen leaving the hotel through a fire exit and slowly dragging the expensive artwork up Victoria Street, past Musgrave Police Station on Ann Street towards Donegall Quay, where they abandoned it.

A spokesman for the PSNI said last night the investigation into the botched theft was ongoing.

"On Sunday evening, police in Belfast were dealing with a large number of incidents and calls were prioritised according to risk to life and vulnerability," he added. "Unfortunately, on this occasion, police were unable to attend the call in as timely a fashion as they would have liked.

"Details provided in the initial report enabled police enquiries to start and these are ongoing. An investigation was commenced immediately upon the arrival of police and the portrait was recovered in 40 minutes."

The PSNI has asked anyone who can help to contact Lisburn Road police, quoting reference number 1256 of October 16, 2016.

Belfast Telegraph

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