CANNY rugby players traced a conman who had stolen thousands of pounds worth of valuables from them.
The Henley Hawks’ women’s team used the internet and software on their stolen mobile phones to track down the thief after he accidentally took a photo with one of the devices.
The crook struck during the women’s game against Hove Rugby Club in East Sussex on Sunday.
Most of the visiting players were outside warming up when physiotherapist Louise Carr and a player coach were approached by an “official” from the opposition club while they were still in the changing rooms at Hove recreation ground.
The man said he was locking up and would store the team’s personal possessions for them for safety. Instead, he made off with their two bags full of valuables, including two wedding rings, bracelets, purses containing £200 in cash, about 20 mobile phones and several sets of house and car keys.
The theft was only discovered after the match, which the Hawks won 12-7, when the women returned to the changing rooms.
Miss Carr said the man had appeared to be legitimate.
She recalled: “We were the last in the changing rooms when this guy came round. He opened the door and said, ‘I was just about to lock you girls in’.
“He was dressed like a member of the club and had a bunch of keys. We only found out afterwards that the changing rooms can’t be locked.”
The man even bought her an energy drink that she had asked for and gave it to her together with her change.
Miss Carr said: “He looked like a dad-type figure — he wasn’t like your typical dodgy character shall we say. He knew what to say.
“I felt really guilty because it was me who had handed the stuff over to him effectively.”
The theft was reported to police after it became clear what had happened.
Coach Alistair Mortimore said: “For half an hour it was quite calm. It then started to dawn on people at Hove that no one recognised the description of the man.
“They were great and they did as much as they could. All their girls went out and everybody was hunting for the bags.
“Three or four hours had gone by the time anyone knew what had happened so the thief was long gone.
“He has been very calm and collected about it. You’re clearly dealing with someone who has done this before.”
Despite the theft, the women were in “really good spirits” on their way home but the mood changed when they got back to Dry Leas.
Miss Carr said one or two of the players didn’t have spare keys for their cars and others had difficulty cancelling their credit cards without their mobile phones.
She said: “The majority of them are teachers and they use their phones as diaries so people’s work was affected.”
However, the team then had a stroke of luck when the thief inadvertently took a picture on Mr Mortimore’s stolen phone, a Nokia Lumia 830, of another phone on a distinctive red bedspread.
The picture automatically appeared in Mr Mortimore’s Mircrosoft OneDrive account, which allows users to access photos and files from almost anywhere, on Monday.
Meanwhile, player Amy Atkinson managed to follow the thief’s movements via the tracking application installed on her stolen phone.
Another player used the Trip Advisor website to search for hotels and bed and breakfasts on the Brighton seafront near the last known location of Miss Atkinson’s phone.
Coupled with the picture of the bedspread, she spotted a photo from a hotel that she believed matched.
The club tipped off Sussex Police, who went to the Atlantic Seafront Hotel in Brighton at 7.30am on Tuesday and arrested a man.
Police said a “substantial proportion” of the contents of the bags was recovered.
Adam Tunesi, chairman Hove Rugby Club, described the thief as “brazen”.
“He seemed to be authentic and also seemed to have knowledge of both the club and our procedures,” he said. “We would normally store players’ valuables behind our bar.
“We are reviewing the systems, including considering a CCTV system for our public areas, and all coaches at our club have been informed.
“I have also contacted other Sussex rugby clubs. This sort of thing has happened around the sporting community but as a club we are devastated as we pride ourselves on our hospitality.”
• A 62-year-old man has been charged with theft and was due to appear at Brighton Magistrates’ Court. Alan Philip, unemployed, of no fixed address, was also charged with a burglary in Gwent in June.