NOTEBOOK: Serial shoplifter targets designer frames in opticians across Scotland

NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney

I don’t know if you saw this story in the newspapers, but it has caused a lot of speculation in our house.

Speculation of the whodunnit variety. It couldn’t have been our Bill – or could it?

I have been having problems with my eyesight for some time now, which has involved some delicate, highly skilled treatment by consultants in our local hospitals.

New spectacles have been on my shopping list for many months, but I decided to hold off from buying them until my treatment was completed.

Spectacles can be very expensive, costing hundreds of pounds.

And so I have made do and mended my current specs using adjustments with plyers and super glue to hold them together.

I headed off to Edinburgh for the Book Festival after having told that the half of the world I have been permitted to meet during the pandemic that I would be purchasing the new glasses while I was in the capital city.

Now it has been revealed that designer glasses frames worth tens of thousands of pounds have been stolen from a string of opticians across Scotland.

Last time I discussed eyesight there it was at a pre-election meeting in Edinburgh with Labour Party ministers who were looking for slogans for their campaign literature.

Former Minister Wendy Alexander told me that it was Labour’s intention to  introduce free eye tests for everyone since a survey had revealed that short-sightedness was a major problem in post devolution Scotland.

I suggested this for her leaflet: “We’ve done our bit to help with these free eye tests. Now can you see your way to voting Labour?”

I had no sooner parked my car in Edinburgh when BBC Scotland broadcast that it  had spoken to eight affected opticians who have shared CCTV footage of the incidents and believe the same thief targeted their shops.

It is understood at least six other opticians have had frames stolen by a man who matches the same description.

Police Scotland said its inquiries were ongoing and that the person they are looking for is about my age and height and has the same snowy white hair.

The suspected thief speaks with a West of Scotland accent, is about 15 stone, of stocky build and about 50-years-old. I pride myself in looking younger than my God-given 76 years.

BBC Scotland was told that the wanted man will typically come into a shop and ask for a small repair on a pair of glasses and steal frames when staff are distracted.

CCTV footage from one opticians shows the man, who has grey hair and wears glasses, appear to place pairs of frames inside his shirt before leaving the shop.

Sara Wallwork, practice manager at 20/20 Vision opticians on Easter Road, Edinburgh, had 21 pairs of frames worth about £4,500 stolen on 13 August.

She said: “We were incredibly busy that day and he’d asked for a repair but we explained that it was being done by appointment at the moment.

“He said he was going to browse the frames and was in the shop for another five minutes or so, and that’s obviously when he’s taken advantage of how busy we are.

“We’ve had pockets of thefts before but nothing like this; it was two or three of each designer, almost as if he was stealing to order.”

‘The sheer gall of it’

Gerri O’Hear, practice manager of Mearns Opticians in Glasgow, said her shop had seven frames worth about £2,000 taken on 18 August.

The thief had taken cheaper frames from a stand in the shop and put them in some of the gaps where he’d taken the more expensive frames.

She said: “The story we got was he wanted the nose pads changed on his Gran’s glasses.

“I’m more annoyed than anything, just at the sheer gall of it.

“It’s not as if we are a big multiple chain that can take the hit of losing stock like this.”

Steven Hislop, director of The Opticians at Marchmont (where I was staying during the book festival) in Edinburgh, reported the theft of frames from his shop to Police Scotland on 6 August.

He said: “I’ve phoned the police twice since the incident to ask when they will be coming for photos and videos as per their request and not heard back from them.

“This guy will continue to steal from small businesses because nothing has been done about it.”

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said nobody has been arrested in connection with the incidents but “inquiries are ongoing”.

I hope no one really thinks this was me. And I most certainly wouldn’t want to be “framed” for this.

Shop lifting hasn’t been my forte since with a few of my primary school pals we stole broken biscuits from Woolworths in the High Street.

To do that was a rite of passage for many schoolboys 60 years ago.

And I’ve never been inclined to do it again since I saw this sign in a Western cowboy outfitter’s shop in Water Street, Vancouver, Canada:


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