Security firm Vespasian vows to do 'whatever it can' to protect Portsmouth firms from professional lockdown thieves

CRIMINALS are arming themselves with angle grinders in a bid to break into closed shops during the coronavirus lockdown, the head of a city security firm has warned.

Tuesday, 14th April 2020, 6:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 8:38 pm
Vespasian Security guarding a site in Portsmouth during the lockdown.

Oliver Gardiner, managing director of Southsea-based Vespasian Security, vowed to do ‘everything he can’ to protect empty stores across Portsmouth.

It comes as the company hired dozens more staff and stepped up its patrols city-wide in an effort to deter late-night crooks.

Speaking to The News, Mr Gardiner said organised gangs were trying to profit from the health crisis, which has already left businesses across the city reeling financially.

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Vespasian Security guarding a site in Portsmouth during the lockdown.

On Monday, April 6, one of Vespasian Security’s mobile teams – who were guarding sites in Southsea – assisted police in hunting for a gang of burglars who had attempted to ransack the O2 mobile phone shop in Palmerston Road.

‘We have seen an increase in professional theft since the lockdown,’ Mr Gardiner said. ‘People are operating late at night in vehicles without lights.

‘One of our mobile teams saw a group of guys, all dressed in black at 4am with an angle grinder in Palmerston Road.

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Oliver Gardiner, managing director of Southsea-based Vespasian Security, said there had been a rise in the number of professional thefts across the city, with burglars targeting empty shops and sites closed during the coronavirus lockdown

‘We helped carry out an area search with police. We believe a similar incident happened in North End a couple of nights ago which also involved an angle grinder.’

Hampshire police confirmed the incident in Southsea and said the two men ‘left the area when the building alarm sounded’. But it could not confirm if a similar crime took place in North End.

Mr Gardiner, who has run his family-owned business for about 14 years, also claimed he was aware of multiple homes and studios in Hilsea having been burgled recently.

‘People who are habitual drug users often steal from supermarkets. But because they’re now being so closely monitored for social distancing it’s far more difficult for them to steal.

A Vespasian Security officer guards an NHS site during the coronavirus crisis

‘So they’re falling back on domestic and property burglaries,’ he said.

Hampshire Constabulary said it didn’t have any data yet to hand to suggest a rise in professional theft.

However, earlier this month The News reported on a spate of daylight burglaries in properties across Waterlooville and Clanfield.

Since the lockdown began last month, Mr Gardiner said he has seen a huge surge in people applying to become security officers.

‘We have had something like 120 applicants in the last nine days and we have recruited more than 30 per cent of that.

‘We’re running 1,100 shifts every four days. We’re about 100 per cent larger in terms of hours worked per week.’

Mr Gardiner said many of those coming forward had been furloughed from their jobs, while others he claimed had a sense of ‘patriotic’ duty and wanted to give something back to the community.

As well as looking after empty properties like pubs, shops and business hubs, Vespasian has also been drafted in to help protect four NHS sites.

But despite the increase in work, Mr Gardiner said it was still the police who were the ones keeping the streets safe.

Praising officers, he added: ‘We’re not securing the streets of Portsmouth. That’s certainly the police.

‘They’re the best thing since sliced bread and do an amazing job.

‘But we’re certainly doing everything we can.’

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