'Ex-soldier' raiding Home Counties houses at gunpoint

Media caption,
Susan Morris suffered a broken jaw and other injuries during the raid on her home

A highly professional burglar with a military background is behind a series of violent house raids across south-east England, police believe.

Armed with a sawn-off shotgun, the man stakes out expensive Home Counties properties and has taken jewellery, watches and heirlooms worth about £1m.

He knows the exact layout of the properties and location of safes by the time he strikes, Surrey Police say.

Officers believe he may be ex-military and possesses "specialist skills".

A police forces in Berkshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex are investigating a series of raids between November 2014 and October 2017.

Officers believe the burglar stakes out his targets for some time before launching an attack- a method which has led newspapers to dub him the Night Watcher.

'Ability to overpower'

Det Insp Dee Fielding, who is leading the investigation, said the man strikes approximately every six months and is not "an opportunist burglar".

"This is absolutely not an amateur," she said.

"He stakes out these houses over a number of days, sometimes for a couple of weeks. We can see that on CCTV he is hiding in gardens - he's looking at houses to establish what the routines are of those within the premises."

"The skills that he's using includes carrying a firearm. He uses cable-ties to tie up the occupants of the house. When he enters a house where he knows he is going to be outnumbered he still has the confidence and the ability to overpower those people.

Whereas most people would need two hands to use a cable tie, Det Insp Fielding said, the suspect is able to tie people up using one hand even while they are struggling.

"We believe, based on this, that he may be ex-military or certainly has specialist skills from some sort of [similar] background."

Burglaries: Where and when

  • 12 November 2014 - Kingswood, Surrey
  • 21 January 2015 - Maidenhead area, Berkshire
  • 13 January 2016 - Chichester area, Sussex
  • 22 November 2016 - Sevenoaks area, Kent
  • January 2017 - Maidstone area, Kent
  • 24 April 2017 - Virginia Water area, Surrey
  • 26 October 2017 - Kingswood, Surrey

On each occasion, the man has used "unnecessary levels of violence", police said.

One victim, Susan Morris, 61, said: "He knew exactly how hard to hit me. He hit me three times on my face, it was very painful, I couldn't believe the blows kept coming."

Mrs Morris said during the raid at her home in Kingswood, Surrey, in October, the man pointed a gun in her back, hit her head against a wall and dragged her across the floor by her hair.

All the while he kept demanding more jewellery.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Susan Morris was found by her husband Stephen tied up with cables and hiding in a bedroom

Mrs Morris said at one point she could not get a ring and bracelet off, and added: "I actually thought 'he's going to cut my finger off'."

When her husband returned home from work, he found her still tied up with cables and hiding in a bedroom.

Describing the man, she said: "I would say he spoke well, he had no accent, he didn't have bad grammar, he's an intelligent man, he knows how to assess the situation and carry this out."

Image source, Surrey Police
Image caption,
Police issued grainy CCTV stills of the man during an armed raid of a house in Maidenhead

Police believe the man may be ex-military because of his levels of preparation and his "well-spoken, intelligent" language and manner but they have said he could be a current member of the armed forces or law enforcement.

Officers say he operates alone, speaks little, threatens to kill people and their dogs and is "incredibly decisive".

After DNA from the burglar was found at one crime scene, officers requested and were denied access to the Ministry of Defence's DNA database.

The MoD said its DNA records were only shared with police if military personnel were under suspicion or convicted of a crime.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "We are working with the police in their investigation.

"We are unable to share DNA taken from personnel before they are deployed on military operations as it is restricted under data protection.

"If service personnel are convicted of a crime or are under suspicion, DNA records are shared with the police."

Image source, Surrey Police
Image caption,
Surrey Police said the burglar focuses on jewellery
Image source, Surrey Police
Image caption,
Valuables worth more than £1m have been taken from each property

Who is the Night Watcher?

Police say they are looking for a man who:

  • Is white
  • Has a stocky/muscular build
  • Is about 6ft (1.8m) tall
  • Speaks with a South of England accent
  • Might be away from home regularly for extended periods of time
  • Has income that is disproportionate to their job or means
  • Has specialist knowledge and skills
  • May seem to have money disproportionate to their job
  • Might be travelling or away for long periods of time

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