The theft of an estimated £50,000 worth of artwork from a gallery in Belfast has been described as a highly-sophisticated crime.
The thieves who stole between 80 and 100 pieces by Belfast artist Terry Bradley from a gallery on Chichester Street sprayed bleach afterwards to remove DNA evidence, according to Mr Bradley’s wife Ashley.
She said the robbers appeared to have been “very professional” and left no fingerprints.
A phone call by someone claiming to be working for the Department of the Environment (DoE) was placed with the owner of the building to arrange for a heavy security gate to the rear of the gallery to be left open overnight before the robbery.
Ashley believes the criminals had likely “cased the gallery” before the theft.
She said: “I think it was very well planned.
“From what we can gather, this wasn’t some sort of opportunistic thing.
“The door doesn’t look like it’s been forced open. I think they’ve been in and somehow distracted whoever was working and they’ve slipped out and left the back door open.
“The other, more frightening, scenario is that they’ve sneaked upstairs and waited.
“It is a big Georgian townhouse type of building so they could have waited until everyone was gone.
“It is a very scary thought because I was there at night at around nine with my daughter.
“If we had walked in while they were in the middle of robbing the place, God knows what might have happened.
“There were no fingerprints left.
“Apparently they sprayed everything with bleach afterwards so there is no DNA evidence. Who knew that was a thing?
“Someone phoned the owner of the building and said they were working for the DoE and arranged for the big security gate to be left open.
“It seems a bit too much like a coincidence. The owner locks that gate every night. It is very suspicious.”
One of the pieces was a large, original canvass worth an estimated £10,000.
Asked about the prospects of recovering the work, Ashley said: “Someone will know something.
“Terry represents Belfast people and Northern Ireland people right across all communities.
“I think that somebody will hear something.
“There were maybe 80 to 100 pieces stolen and I don’t think they will be easily hid.
“This isn’t some faceless corporation.
“I think people will be really genuinely upset for him and I think most people won’t want to be buying something of his that’s been stolen.
“Somebody will have to try and sell them somewhere. I hope that if anyone is approached they will come forward.”
Police are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.