Despite many of you already hearing the story that follows in various magnitudes of exaggeration I still think that a large number of Club members and also the "outside" caving world have yet to hear of our epic in full detail without any (slurred & drunken) embellishments from the story teller. Before I recount this thrilling saga of despair, theft, espionage, car chases and general naughtiness, may I apologise to all those of you who have already heard this story for the n'th time and are therefore already about to swallow a vast quantity of air into your yawning gobs.
It should be noted that abbrieviated versions of this story, generated from our Secretary's letters to the caving fraternity have already appeared in recent less worthy caving publications: Descent, caves and Caving etc. The names of the persons actually involved with the entrapment of the felon have been changed for personal reasons. However the full story, for the first time is told below.
May Bank Holiday Weekend
This was a Club weekend at Godre Pentre and, as an above average crowd was present that weekend, Bernard had decided that it was a suitable occasion to attempt his first lamb r-r-roast. Despite this seemingly fiendish attempt at mass homicide through food poisoning, all of those present managed to survive the weekend by applying various forms of anaesthetic courtesy of the New Inn. The weekend went well and many enjoyable trips were undertaken by most of those present. Unfortunately the atmosphere of the weekend become noticeably grimmer as Monday some how managed to live up to being the worst day of the week, despite being a holiday.
Black Monday, 4th May
After waking that morning it was soon discovered that some equipment from the line at the back of the cottage had been stolen over-night. Despite a good search of the local area, the two items that were missing (a Clipper one-piece wetsuit belonging to Paul Dixon and a new Clipper wetsuit jacket belonging Allan Ockenden) could not be located. Despite more recent happier developments, these have never been found and it now seems that there was more than one thief about that weekend.
As everybody was going home on that Monday, a trip involving exploratory work in Ogof Ffynnon was organised as it seemed ideally located near the cottage. (Ogof Ffynnon is situated on Forestry Commission land approximately between Ystradfellte and orth-yr--Ogof, Hepste side). The University of Kent Troglodytes, whose ex-student and current members amply contribute to the membership of Croydon C C, were visiting that weekend and it so they used their Invicta minibus for the short drive up the hill to the cave. Those taking part on that ill-fated trip were Bernard Charlesworth, Paul Dixon, Eric Downer, Chris Fry, Guy Jackson, George Pankiewicz, Martyn Pickering, and Paul Stacey.
Whilst the others dug at the streamway boulder choke Guy, Chris and I completed a grade 3 survey from the entrance to the dig, in order to ascertain where it was in relation to the entrance. If any of you have spent a few minutes examining the chokes in Ffynnon you will commiserate with Chris's feelings when he finally decided that he had an uncontrollable case of OUTE (see Descent yearbook 1987/88). Fortunately at that moment we were joined by Paul Dixon (less wetsuit) who was unbelievably eager to help finish the survey. As the survey continued Chris poked about in a few surface "interesting sites", occasionally returning to the minibus to check that it was OK.
Sometime around four o'clock the backdoor on the minibus was forced and access was gained by a villian or villians unknown. Barring Paul Dixon, who had walked from the cottage, everybody else had had their personal effects (cheque books, plastic cards, money, keys etc.) stolen and all except Guy also had had their clothes taken as well. Bernard was the first to discover this and Chris Fry, who arrived shortly afterwards immediately, ran back to the cottage to alert the others as well as inform the police. Before Chris returned Bernard had broken the bad news to the rest of us when we finally emerged from the cave about 20 minutes later. As the police had not yet arrived we all scoured the area for any dumped swag (a technical term Ed.) or clues. Although no clothes belonging to the group were found, we did discover two hidden bags containing a mixture of normal clothing and caving oversuits belonging to at least two other unfortunates! When the policeman eventually turned up he checked the minibus for clues. After he had shaken his head for the hundredth time we handed over the bags that we'd found. After that he shook his head yet again. We then spent most of the next hour and a half making notes with him on every single item that had been removed from the minibus. Although the thieves had left a crate of 8 FX2's and several bags of rope, they had still helped themselves to approximately £2,000 worth of goodies! Amongst the choice items (on the conveyor belt that evening were : a Nikon camera, an Olympus camera, a Jaguar 65 rucksack, several SRT sets, a Gortex cagoul, a Berghaus jacket, three pairs of walking boots, several "furry" jackets, plus many, many, other useful items that no self-respecting outdoor freak would be seen without. The policeman gave us advice on cancelling plastic cards and then gave us his honest opinion on getting the property back: no chance!
As can be seen, many of us not only lost some of our valued equipment but also the clothes that we would travel home in. However, most of us however managed to bodge some form of "respectible" garb together. It even looked good enough to enable us to sneak into Selwyn's for a quickie. For example, my haute coature consisted of a Croydon C C sweatshirt, Guy's tracksuit bottoms (there was an awful lot of bottom) and on my feet I wore a pair of wetsuit socks and a pair of Brain Freeman's boots (5 sizes too big). Some were not so lucky: George had to travel all the way back to Canterbury in his Warmbac wetsuit! The drivers were also further inconvenienced as they had no way of getting into their cars; for instance after the Rover Vitesse was eventually broken into, the steering lock then had to be dismantled before the owner was able to drive it back to London that night. Whilst everybody was annoying Barclaycard, Access, etc. by giving them an awfull lot of stolen cards to trace and cancel they struck up a conversation with Selwyn's wife. After she had heard our tales of woe she remarked that our minibus was the THIRD vehicle in a little over a month that had been broken into in that very same car-park! The last incident had been when a Sierra had had its entire rear windscreen removed so that the thieves could gain access to the goodies inside. The rest of the conversation followed along the lines of: "Why had the police not told us this? Is this not a sign of a particularly stupid group of criminals? Why doesn't somebody do something about these cretins?"
Strategy, 6th May
Most of the chat at the Blacksmith's the following Wednesday evening firstly revolved around the thefts and secondly the implications for the Club and other cavers in the S.Wales area. Many of those present felt anguish and regret that such an unfortunate incident had taken place in the neighbourhood of Ystrafellte where there had previously been no trouble. Three of the club: JR, Moonrat, and Yorki, felt particularly enraged for various reasons involving personal theft and shattered morales as well as the heinous theft of a Croydon C C sweatshirt that the owner had received only the day before, after six months of waiting! When these three angry young/old/senile men got together in a corner and started talking about plans of mice (particulary Moonrat) and men they were generally seen to be building castles, or should I say dungeons, in the air. However these three were not to be dissuaded by the views of their fellow cavers as sweet retribution had already been smelled wafting from the direction of South Wales.
Reconnaissance, 8th May
JR picked Yorki and me up in London and the three of us travelled down to Wales in the Rover Vitesse discussing the various forms of hellfire and brimstone that would befall the fellons if caught. JR had contacted the CID the previous day and they explained to him the wrongs and rights of what we were allowed to do if we caught the thief. JR was disappointed to find out that disembowelment was not considered justifiable force in the eyes of the law in restraining a suspect under citizen's arrest. Not perturbed by this moderating influence he proceeded to send an innocent-looking Moonrat (is this possible?) into a hardware shop to buy two things that could be loosely described as enormous chop-sticks. These were bought as a last line of defence, just in case we happened to stumble upon the Chinese Triad that is currently reputed to be using Jones' Fish Shop in Hiraun as its under-cover base. (Where did all these Welsh Orientals suddenly come from?)
Before we settled into Godre Pentre that evening we paid a visit to the scene of the previous week's crime, the Forestry Commission car-park above the village. The car-park is a dusty 50m square area with various randomly scattered earth piles about its area. On most sides a steep bank (about 3m high) surrounds the perimeter except for the end containing the entrance. By placing uprooted conifers along the top of the most sheltered bank and then lying behind this position one could be provided with an almost perfectly hidden look-out post from which to observe any dirty deeds in the car-park. As the light was failing fast at this point we decided that an early start in the morning was a good idea so that we could finish off the camouflage in full day-light.
Revenge, 9th May
Saturday turned out to be perfect weather for bringing out droves of tourists to the countryside so that they could have their valuables pinched. Breakfast was gobbled down in record time and we wasted not a moment initiating "Operation Teddy Bears Picnic". JR's Rover Vitesse had been decided upon as the perhaps the best bait the Club could offer to a greedy thief. To make it more enticing it was given a very good clean out and the interior was prepared so that, rather than a caver's car, it looked as if it belonged to a well-off respectable family (with kids). Inside the boot (fully in view) was placed a few assorted rucksacks and camera bags containing nothing more valuable than pillows and rocks to give the bags a little substance. Decorating the passenger area was a bit more of a problem but we evenutually managed to furnish the dashboard with maps, tourist info, and even a few kiddies books on the back seat. The final touch, so as to make the car seem irresistible to any foe, was to replace the British car registration plates with the original Denmark plates that JR had fortunately kept at the cottage since he'd re-registered the car in the UK. As persona 1 equipment we took a large quantity of food, drink and books as well as a few more functional items such as note-books, binoculars, 35mm SLR cameras (with tele-photo lenses) and the two large chop-sticks that were mentioned earlier. Driving to the car-park the Rover was parked and after a few final touches to the hide-out everybody settled down to what we thought would be a long wait.
Yorki and I took the first watch and after little more than an hour (at midday) much to our surprise a car entered the car-park. The car was a battered old 'Citreon with several missing windows and contained a single male occupant who appeared to be in his middle thirties. By the time he had reversed his car round and parked it next to the Rover so that it now faced towards the entrance of the car-park, JR (who was out of sight of all this) had already been given a full description of not only the car but also the occupant. The driver got out of his car, without turning the engine off, he walked calmly over to the Rover and had a quick look inside. Liking what he saw, he then sprinted athletically over to the exact spot at which the abandoned clothes had been found the weekend before. This extremely odd behaviour from this man caused the three of us some moments of jubliant swearing but calming ourselves down we started recording on photograph the biggest mistake of this man's life. Returning from the far side of the car-park Mr.X looked a bit puzzled as to the whereabouts of the dumped swag but, not seeming to be over-concerned by this he jogged over to the entrance of the car-park and disappeared from our view for about 30 seconds. When this happened I felt a bit of concern as I feared that he might do a search of the perimeter of the car-park at this point and so discover our position. If Mr.X hadn't been a particularly careless villain then he would have seen us and what might of happened after we had taken photo's of his beautiful face for the police to admire is anyone's guess. But luckily Mr.X proved even more stupid than we could have hoped for and so the story continued to unfurl.
Returning from the entrance to his car he finally turned the engine off and took out a pair of tight fitting leather gloves; just like robbers wear in films! Walking carefully round the Rover so that he could examine its interior he provided our cameras with a perfect chance to record his every feature from his podgy belly to his piggy little eyes. After being apparently satisfied that this was indeed a gift horse with an awfully large mouth full of gold fillings he then fetched a tool from his car and proceeded with some dental work. By prizing-off the chrome strip surrounding the rear windscreen (which directly faced us) and then pulling off the rubber seals he was able to rotate the entire windscreen about the window-wiper and hence gain access to the car boot. This work only took him about 2 minutes but during that time the two budding David Baileys were able to take about 20 photo's suitable for inclusion into a car-thieves DIY manual. On several occasions both my and Yorki's hearts lept as Mr.X twice stopped and looked directly towards our position for about 10 seconds as if he had heard a noise like a camera being fired. We both stopped immediately of course and after Mr.X had eventually returned to his work appearing, not too worried by the sounds in the undergrowth we both continued knocking proverbial nails into his imaginary coffin.
The following 30 minutes were hectic to say the least as the situation turned into something akin to the "Sweeny". On seeing Mr.X finishing his piece of handywork and then placing his thieving little paws into the boot I dropped the camera and made my move. By the time I had raced through the trees and down the slope into the car-park Mr.X realised that something was seriously wrong and had dropped the bags back into the Rover's boot. When I eventually came face to face with him over 60 feet away he was still trying to comprehend why he had bothered to get up that morning. What he saw made him gob-struck both at the prospect with having his head staved in as well as at the incredible sight of a small, and very annoyed Moonrat doing his best to appear menacing by waving a big stick above his head and shouting at the top of his voice: "I am effecting a citizen's arrest, we have your description, we have your number and we have photgraphs". If the thief had decided to do or say something then I would have had to do some very quick thinking but, as it was, Mr.X ran to his car and it roared into life. By the time I had sprinted the remaining 20 yards towards the car I had been joined by a frenzied Yorki but, despite indulging in a session of mutual panel-beating with our twirling batons, the thief managed to escape. As Mr.X drove away the last glimpse I had of him showed an astonished look of total disbelief on his face.
Up to this point JR had only heard what Mr.X was doing to his Rover but when he saw the full extent of damage he was not very forgiving! The three of us made a half-hearted attempt to fix the windscreen before deciding that Mr.X should not get away so easily. JR and I lept into the Rover and accelerated after him. (Yorki was left in the car-park assembling our belongings). During the chase the rear-windscreen soon burst into a million fragments as we shot down the forest track in pursuit of our prey. As the two of us gave chase we sent panic stricken tourists into ditches and hedgerows as we went; what would you think if you saw a large silver projectile bearing down on you from out of nowhere on a country lane at over 60 mph, (with JR gnashing his teeth over the stearing-wheel at you). A very surprised looking Selwyn from the New Inn happened to be just one of the near misses on our chase. Despite a spectacular 180 degree skid across the Brecon road witnessed by a large audience of tourists all dropping their ice-creams in amazement, we eventually abandoned the chase in Hirwaun after loosing sight of our foe. (We had assumed that he would probably either head for Brecon or Merthyr Tydfil). Unfortunately, if we had continued our course towards the Heads of the Valleys road then we would of very soon caught up with him.
After returning to pick up Yorki we made a 999 call to the Police in Swansea reporting the incident and the suspects car registration number. Next we drove over to Ystradgynlais Police Station to give them a full account of the events as well as hand over the photo's. During the three separate interviews the police kept us informed of their progress with the investigation. The first good bit of news came when they found that the suspects car had not been stolen and so therefore tracing the owner would not too difficult. Further telephone calls resulted in the last owner of the car being traced. On questioning she reported that she had sold it two weeks previously to a man she knew at work. Everyone at the Police Station couldn't believe their luck when her description fitted ours exactly. Mr.X's telephone number was obtained and he was then given a polite request to help the police with their inquiries in "relation to an incident that happened a few hours earlier". (About an hour before this Mr.X had phoned the Merthyr Tydfil Police to report that his car had been stolen!)
Aladins Cave, 10th May
The Merthyr Tydfil Police picked Mr.X up about 4 hours after he had escaped from us in the car-park. The police's surprise at having a group of civilians catch crooks in such a "professional" manner was only heightened when an "Aladin's cave" was subsequently discovered at Mr.X's home. Outdoor equipment worth an estimated £60,000+ was recovered and the police were then faced with the task of identifying it and also working out how many offences could be attributed to the unfortunate Mr.X. The police recovered so much gear that they were hard pressed to find a lockable room large enough to store it in. Items found were : in excess of 100 karabiners, 30 harnesses, 30 walking boots, hundreds of feet of rope, tens of cameras, tents, wetsuits, maps, compasses, knives; in fact you name it and he'd probably got it. Why did he possess all of this equipment you may ask? Apparently the police were told during an interview with the hapless thief that he wanted to start up his own outdoor centre!
The recovered goods appear to have been stolen primarily from cars parked in secluded spots such as Forestry Commission car-parks, the Llangattock hillside, Dinas Rock and so on. The day of the thieving usually fell on the day before the next working day and so for us to see Mr.X in action on that Saturday morning was fortuitous. This timetable was chosen as few tourists/victims would have time to report their losses to the police before returning home. It is my theory that he returned in his own car (unusually) just to retrieve the swag he had had to dump the previous weekend; as there so much equipment to steal in our minibus there had not been room enough in his car to take it all without arousing suspicion. The fact that when he saw our car as an unlooked for "gift" and then decided to break into it shows how greed can blind a man. One other point is worth mentioning: the tool we had seen him use to break into the car was subsequently found to be a 20 inch long machete! Moonrat could have ended up smaller than even he would have wished for if Mr.X had turned violent. Thankfully Mr.X (even for his own sake) never made any attempt to use it as a weapon.
At the time of writing this article Mr.X has not yet appeared in court. I assume that his plea is likely to be guilty. (Would you have the nerve to say otherwise?) Two accomplices may also face charges on related incidents. Of fences are reported to range from many cases of thefts from vehicles, fraud (using stolen cheque books etc.), and apparently even several break-ins from houses situated in many parts of the country: S.Wales, Essex and Bristol just being a few locations that have seen our "friends" in operation. The police believe they have also connected several thefts from caving cottages in S.Wales over the last few years with the suspect as well!
Many people have already expressed thanks to the three involved that another thief in a limestone area will be brought to justice, once again by cavers. Perhaps as far as a the criminal element in our society is concerned a lesson should perhaps be learned: "Don't treat people engaged in outdoor pursuits as easy prey, one day they will come and get you!" '
People and situations described in this article are purely fictional and any resemblance to any caver alive or drunk are purely unintentional.
The Teddy Bears Picnic
If thieves go down in the woods today,
they're sure of a big surprise.
If thieves go down to the woods today,
they'd better go in disguise.
For every caver that ever there was,
will gather there for certain because,
Todays the day that Croydon gets their justice.
Every villian who's still free,
is sure of a treat today.
There's lots of marvellous cars to "do",
and wonderful things to steal.
Beneath the trees where speleos see,
they'll hide and peek as long as they please.
Todays the day that Croydon traps their jail-bird.
Nic-nic time for naughty boys.
The cavers are having a lovely time today.
Watch them catch thieves unawares,
And see them chase those who run away.
If you go thieving in the woods today,
you'd better not do it in excess.
Stealing is easy in the woods today,
but it will only cause distress.
For every caver that ever there was,
will gather there for certain because.
Todays the day the car-thieves might get careless.
(Apologies to Bratton and Kennedy)