The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

Criminal law: Sweet shop owners catch thief in 'Rhubarb and Custard' trap

The owners of a Buckinghamshire sweet shop turned detectives by setting up hidden cameras and booby traps designed to catch the thief that had been stealing from their tills at night time.

Jane and Neil Hutton, owners of Beehive Treats in Marlow, decided to set up surveillance on their shop when they realised that someone had been stealing from the float in their tills at night.

They placed hidden cameras in between the old-fashioned jars of sweets and staked out their shop at night to see who entered.

On the hidden-camera footage, the Huttons identified their employee, 20-year-old Oliver Longstaff, entering the shop and stealing from the till.

Intent on catching the young man in the act and turning him in to the police, the Huttons decided to set up 'Operation Rhubarb and Custard': a serious of booby traps inside the shops that would lead to Mr Longstaff's capture.

The couple strategically placed objects such as bin bags, cleaning products and cans of cream soda to trip up the thief and make noise to alert the Huttons, in case they fell asleep on their watch.

They then blacked-out the shop's windows, dressed in black and lay in wait for the thief.

When he arrived and stole the money, the Huttons emerged from their hiding-place and pushed Mr Longstaff into the shop's storeroom, locking the door behind him.

Mr Hutton said of his booby traps: "At every stage there were little traps, things that would tell us exactly where he was and what he was doing.
"First the Victorian shop bell rang as someone came in and then there was the sound of the Windowlene bottle being knocked over by the first till.

"Next came the rustling of someone fighting through full bin bags in the dark and then, and this was not in the plan, the sounds of the loo being used and flushed. We had to desperately stop ourselves from laughing.

"Next he tripped over the cans of cream soda placed to distract him as he approached our hiding place."

Mr Longstaff, an aspiring actor, had been stealing from the shop in order to pay off gambling debts of £550. He pleaded guilty to burglary and was given a 12-month supervision order.

He was also made to do 40 hours of unpaid work and to pay £85 court costs and £158 to Beehive Treats.

On top of the court-ordered punishments, Mr Longstaff's family banned him from a holiday, took away the offer of a new car and grounded him.

Handing out Mr Longstaff's sentence, Magistrate Sandra Connor said: "You are young and we believe it is your youth and lack of experience leading you along. None the less, you betrayed your family and your employer's trust."

Related links:
Read more on the story (The Telegraph)
Read about how to protect yourself from burglary (FindLaw)
Find local criminal solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)