POLICE are hunting a gang of men armed with catapults believed to be responsible for a number of crimes in the Henley area.
The gang of at least four men are thought to be behind a spate of property and car break-ins in surrounding villages. Police believe the same gang are responsible for the vicious rock attack on a dog during an attempted theft last Friday which was captured on CCTV.
A Thames Valley police helicopter was deployed last Sunday night after witnesses raised the alarm on a series of crimes. A Mercedes window in Stonor was damaged at 5.40pm. Half an hour later, eyewitnesses reported seeing four men armed with catapults driving a 4x4 car through a gate at an estate in Fawley.
Another gate at a farm in Hambleden was damaged later that evening. Police believe the car, a metallic silver and blue Mitsubishi Shogun with a rounded silver bull bar, was used in all the incidents.
The police helicopter was dispatched to search for the vehicle but the operation was unsuccessful.
Officers are linking the crime spree to a spate of criminal damage incidents on September 12, in which seven vehicle windows in Henley, Stonor and Lower Assendon were smashed.
Among the vehicles damaged were a BMW, Mercedes and a Ford Transit van and police believe the vandals catapulted the stones from their car.
Sgt Graham Pink of Henley police station said officers believed the incidents were all linked to the same gang.
He said: “We were called to Stonor after damage had been caused to a window of a vehicle.
“At the same time police received reports of a blue Mitsubishi Shogun acting suspiciously in the area.The same vehicle that was involved in damaging the car window in Stonor was the same one which went through the gates.
“We believe we know the vehicle involved. A helicopter went up but unfortunately we couldn’t find them. We are still looking for the people involved.”
In another incident on September 12, a rock smashed through a living room window in King’s Road, Henley. A 40-year-old woman was sitting at home at the time, while her eight-year-old son was asleep upstairs.
She said: “I was watching the 10 o’clock news and suddenly heard this huge noise like the sound of a balloon popping. The window smashed and I ran out but didn’t see anything. I was quite frightened — you think it’s something personal.
“I didn’t find the stone until the next day in my handbag. I called the police and they think the culprits used an old-fashioned catapult from outside their car window.
“They took the stone because I think they had some fingerprints from a similar incident in Stonor.”
On Tuesday last week (Sept 17) at about 12.30pm a group of five men were thwarted in a suspected dog theft attempt from a kennels at the Elvendon Priory Estate, near Goring.
A man was caught on CCTV approaching the kennel doors, checking the locks and then picking up a rock before hurling it at a five-year-old cocker spaniel.
The intruder fled when he was disturbed by estate manager Chris Noys and sped away in a van with four other men.
Mr Noys, who owns four working cocker spaniels and one Labrador, called the attack “absolutely disgusting”.
The 41-year-old said he was alerted to the attack when the dogs were barking and “going absolutely ballistic”.
He had been working about 100 yards away and believes the intruder fired the rock at his dog to stun it to enable the theft to run smoothly.
“I could hear the dogs going mad and just as I was coming through the gate he was catapulting a rock at the dog,” he said. “I thought he was trying to cut the locks off the kennel.
“I shouted, ‘What are you doing?’ and he ran away. I ran down the footpath to the end of the road.”
Mr Noys said there was a black van with ladders on the roof and on the passenger side parked by the front gate.
He said: “I think it had four blokes in it. I could hear him shouting ‘open the doors’ as I was chasing him down the road.
“They opened the back doors and dragged him in as it was driving off.”
Mr Noys took the five-year-old golden cocker spaniel to a vet in Cholsey, where she was checked over.
He said: “The vet said she is fine. She probably had a bit of bruising but you can’t see it because of the fur. She was a bit quiet the first night.”
The use of catapults in all three incidents has led the police to investigate the possibility they are all linked. Anyone with information is asked to call Thames Valley police non-emergency number 101.
A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: “This incident is currently under investigation by the police who would like to speak to the man captured in the CCTV footage.”