CCTV still issued by Surrey Police of a raid by an armed burglar dubbed the Night Watcher at a house in Maidenhead in January 2015
A renegade soldier is the chief suspect for a series of terrifying raids on Home Counties mansions.
Dubbed the Night Watcher, the burglar has stolen valuables worth millions of pounds, brutally beating the owners. Detectives have launched a manhunt amid fears that his next victims might not escape with their lives.
The ‘highly professional’ criminal is blamed for at least seven high-value raids, including a £700,000 break-in at Goodwood House, the ancestral seat of the Earl of March.
Police revealed yesterday that the Night Watcher spends weeks hiding in the grounds of his target addresses, noting every move. He strikes at night, ambushing the owners with a sawn-off shotgun and his face hidden under a balaclava. Victims are battered and bound up with plastic cable ties as he ransacks their safes.
Irreplaceable jewellery, watches and heirlooms have been taken, including a ring that belonged to Charles II.
The latest victim, Susan Morris, was attacked in her £3.5million home in Kingswood, Surrey, in November.
The 61-year-old said she thought the Night Watcher was going to rape or even kill her: ‘When he was hitting me with the gun pointing at me, at that moment I did think, “this is it, it’s all over”.’
Susan Morris (left, with her injuries in October 2017) and the Earl of March (pictured right with his watch collection in an undated image) are two of the victims of the Night Watcher
Police suspect some of the items, which include designer watches with five- figure price tags, may have been stolen to order and sold overseas. None has surfaced.
Despite an inquiry spanning four forces, detectives have been unable to identify the burglar. Profilers from the National Crime Agency warned he is ruthless, highly organised and may have served – or still be serving – in the armed forces.
Detective Inspector Dee Fielding of Surrey Police said the culprit has ‘specialist knowledge and skills’ far removed from those of an opportunist burglar.
‘The burglaries all appear to be the work of someone who knows exactly what they are doing and who is incredibly decisive in their actions,’ she said.
‘On each occasion unnecessary levels of violence have been used in addition to a firearm, which he used to threaten the victims, who have then been tied up.
‘He has worked quickly and appears to have knowledge of who is home at the time of each attack, the location of safes and the layout of the home.
‘This leads us to believe he has planned the attacks in advance with a great level of detail and prior knowledge.
‘More than £1million of valuable items, including irreplaceable heirlooms, have been taken.’
Police spotted a pattern of offending following a robbery in Sevenoaks, Kent, in November 2016. They linked three other burglaries in Kingswood, Surrey, Maidenhead, Berkshire and at Goodwood House, West Sussex, with the first taking place two years earlier.
Since then further burglaries have taken place in Maidstone and Virginia Water, Surrey, with the latest back in Kingswood. The first raid took place at a home near the Kingswood Golf club.
This map shows the seven burglaries across the Home Counties that have been linked to the Night Watcher
Two women, Catherine Stiff and her daughter Chloe, were assaulted by a man wearing a balaclava, black leather jacket and gloves. During the raid he kicked Chloe, who was pregnant, in the stomach.
The family made an emotional appeal on Crimewatch. In it, Robert Stiff, who sold his healthcare recruitment company Team24, to the Capita Group, for more than £25million, calls the attacker a coward.
Detectives said they had never come across such a meticulous burglar. CCTV footage from the Maidenhead raid shows the suspect, dressed in dark clothes and balaclava, removing his shotgun from a dark duffel bag before threatening the householders.
Police said the ‘well spoken’ gunman knows the layout of each property, the location of safes and their potential contents.
The Night Watcher caught on CCTV raiding a home in Maidenhead in January 2015
He may have broken in before undetected. He spends up to two hours inside the properties, often searching them carefully to ensure everyone is restrained before emptying the safe.
Investigators said the intruder appeared to know police procedures and left few clues, despite being repeatedly caught on CCTV. Officers described the suspect as white, of ‘stocky and muscular build’ and around 6ft tall. He speaks with a south of England accent.
Police cannot rule out that he is responsible for other burglaries that have not been linked to their operation.
Det Insp Fielding added: ‘He is incredibly confident, incredibly violent and we believe he has specialist skills to commit the burglaries we have investigated. This individual does extensive research on houses before he burgles them. In fact, we know he will stake out houses for weeks.
‘He does this to ensure he knows what the occupants are doing, their daily routines before using the sawn off shotgun to intimidate and terrify them.
‘He is an extremely confident individual, it is very unusual for someone to be willing to enter a house alone and dominate more than one person inside.’
Appealing for help, she said: ‘There is senseless violence against his victims as he violates their homes. These are extremely traumatic incidents.
‘These people feared for their lives and those of other family members in their homes. In some cases children were present, unaware that the burglary was taking place.
‘We can’t run the risk of him striking again. Somebody knows who he is. Perhaps someone from an ex-military or services background?’
‘He was hitting me. His gun was pointed at my head. I thought this is it…’: Victim of the Night Watcher says she feared he would rape and kill her during raid at her £3.5m home
By Chris Greenwood, Crime Correspondent for the Daily Mail
One victim of the Night Watcher feared she would be raped and killed after he ambushed her at her £3.5million home.
Susan Morris was at her computer when the burglar pounced on her, yelling: ‘I want the jewellery, take me to the safe’.
The 61-year-old suffered a broken jaw and lost a tooth as he beat her into submission, binding her hands with cable ties.
Susan Morris (pictured left with her husband Stephen; and with her injuries, right) was at her computer when the burglar pounced on her, yelling: ‘I want the jewellery, take me to the safe’
Speaking last night, Mrs Morris said she believed he was professionally trained and knew how hard to hit her without knocking her out.
‘All I wanted to do is get him out of the house as quickly as possible, give him what he wanted and get him out,’ she said. ‘So I took him to the jewellery, gave him the jewellery but he said to me “get on the floor”. I thought he was going to rape me, I was very, very frightened.
‘I gave him a lot of jewellery from the safe and I said to him “You have got very valuable stuff there, now get out”.
‘But he wasn’t happy with that, he asked for more jewellery, I gave him some more jewellery and he then wanted more jewellery, and this is when he really got angry and started to hit me.
How the Night Watcher uses cable ties and ‘extreme violence’ to restrain his victims
By MailOnline reporter
Detectives have linked the series of million pound raids across the Home Counties by the ‘professionalism’ of the burglar’s method.
In each of the seven raids, the burglar has been alone and shown signs of having potentially ‘specialist knowledge and skills’ which suggest that he has military training and could be a current or former member of the armed forces or law enforcement.
His technique of using cable ties to bind the hands of his victims has been linked to military training.
Other aspects of his modus operandi (MO or methods) include the use of a sawn-off shotgun and willingness to use violence to threaten victims, even when children are at home.
He also appears to be aware of house layout, who is at home and the location of safes and valuables.
He has targeted high-value jewellery and other valuables netting goods worth at least £1 million from each of the seven raids linked to him, although police believe he may have carried out further burglaries where residents were not at home at the time.
Detectives have found CCTV footage which has shown the thief staking out the properties for days and weeks prior to carrying out the raids, which often involved him entering doors which he had identified as being unlocked at certain times.
Surrey Police have released a description of the lone raider as white, stocky or muscular build, about 6ft tall with a south of England accent.
The seven raids linked to him were at Kingswood, Surrey, on November 12, 2014; Maidenhead, Berkshire, on January 21, 2015; Chichester, West Sussex on January 13, 2016; Sevenoaks, Kent, on November 22, 2016; Maidstone, Kent, in January 2017; Virginia Water, Surrey, on April 24, 2017 and Kingswood, Surrey, on October 26, 2017.
‘He hit me very hard on my face, not enough to knock me out, 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.
‘He got very angry as he was hitting me. I couldn’t get one ring and bracelet off and I thought he was going to cut my finger off to get them. I was really frightened.
‘One point when he was hitting me, with the gun pointing at me, at that moment I did actually think, this is it, it’s all over.’
She said he spoke well, without an accent, and appeared methodical and intelligent.
Describing the raid last November in Kingswood, Surrey, she added: ‘It all happened incredibly quickly, it is still very vivid though in my mind.
‘He came toward me and I realised he had a sawn-off shotgun and he grabbed hold of me, he was holding me the whole time of the burglary and never let go of me.
‘I have got bruises all over my body where he had hold of me.’
Her husband Stephen, who is a company director, arrived home to find her hiding in a bedroom still with her wrists tied.
He said: ‘It was pretty horrid and then you start feeling guilty that you weren’t there, it might have been a different outcome, it might have been worse, it might have been better.’
The couple have since upgraded the security on their home massively and are considering moving.
They lost valuables worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, including three rings which belonged to Mrs Morris’s mother-in-law. Mrs Morris said: ‘It’s not about what was stolen, there were some very emotional things that were stolen that will never be replaced, it’s more about the effect it has had upon our lives and our relationship.
‘It’s very tense and we have had professional help, but I am told we will always suffer, we will improve but you can’t take it away – the tension, the anxiety and fear will always be there.’
Mr Morris added: ‘He needs to be caught so he can’t do it to anybody else and ruin someone else’s life, and if anyone does know anything, although he’s obviously a very clever person, they really better say something because there are so many other people.
‘We were lucky in a way that no-one was killed or maimed.’
He added: ‘The only thing I would make a plea for is, politicians from either persuasion, to actually realise a lack of funding for police and emergency services is causing a crisis in the country.’
The Night Watcher took a brooch belonging to Mrs Morris’s mother, who died when she was only 17.
Night Watcher pounced on couple in stately home: Burglar stole valuables worth £700,000 when he targeted Goodwood estate of the Earl of March
The Night Watcher struck at a stately home, tying up its aristocratic owners and forcing them to open a safe.
The Earl of March was repeatedly beaten in a terrifying ordeal at Goodwood House, his ancestral seat near Chichester in West Sussex.
Goodwood House in West Sussex, the ancestral home of the Earl of March, who was repeatedly beaten in a terrifying ordeal
The intruder escaped with valuables worth around £700,000, including a ring Charles II gave to a mistress who was an ancestor of the earl.
Defence chiefs refuse to let detectives run Night Watcher DNA clue through Army database because they want further evidence of a link to the military
Police hunting for the Night Watcher have been denied access to DNA databases held by the Ministry of Defence.
Detectives believe the burglar has a military background – and would have given a genetic sample to help identification in case of his death in combat.
They have some suspect DNA they want to test but defence chiefs insist on further evidence before opening up their highly sensitive database. It is understood one defence official told investigators their request was a ‘fishing trip’ and a genuine link needed to be shown first.
If the professional burglar was a policeman or had been convicted of a crime his profile would have been flagged up. Police officers must hand over their genetic profile as part of recruitment checks and so that they can be ruled out of investigations. Det Insp James Derham of Kent Police said: ‘Police hand over their DNA in case of cross contamination at the scene. The military database is held for other reasons and they are not willing to hand that data over for criminal investigations.’
It is understood that servicemen and women hand over a DNA sample before joining tours in dangerous territories and war zones. However, it is unclear how many identities are held in total or how long the profile is kept. Defence officials fear that granting access to the police would breach data protection laws.
Police do have access to Ministry of Defence police records as part of everyday data sharing agreements, but these are limited.
An MoD spokesman 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.’
The owners remained tied up until the morning, when a member of staff arrived for work.
The Grade I listed building, set in grounds used for horse racing and motor sport, was targeted in January 2016. Police said the burglar, wearing a balaclava, used a ladder to break in through a first-floor window.
Lady March, 54, went to investigate and ended up running into the robber outside her door.
He pushed her back into her bedroom and hit her 61-year-old husband over the head, causing a serious ear injury.
After forcing the couple to open their safe, he escaped with 40 antique items including an 1820 diamond tiara worth around £400,000 and a 19th century diamond necklace worth £200,000.
Several high-value watches, including a Rolex and a Girard-Perregaux, were also taken, along with emerald, diamond and sapphire rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
One item, known as the ‘CL’ ring, was a gift from Charles II to his mistress Louise. ‘The C is for Charles, the L is for Louise and it is integral to the whole history of Goodwood,’ said a spokesman for the estate after the robbery.
So precious is the ring that it has seldom been on display and was last seen in public when Downton Abbey’s creator, Julian [Lord] Fellowes, was allowed to try it on while filming an ITV series on stately homes.
Charles II also gave Louise the title of Duchess of Portsmouth, and her descendants include the Duchess of Cornwall and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
She left the ring to her son, Charles (named after his father the king) and it has gone down the male line ever since. He was later made Duke of Richmond and acquired Goodwood.
Last night, Detective Inspector Till Sanderson of Sussex Police said: ‘We carried out an extensive investigation into the robbery at Goodwood House and exhausted all lines of inquiry. We have worked with Surrey Police on their investigation and welcome this renewed appeal to bring this man to justice.’
Information on the offender can be provided by email to OpPrometheus@surrey.pnn.police.uk or by telephone on 101 and ask for Surrey Police, Op Prometheus or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.