A shop owner said he is worried for the safety of staff and customers after a series of thefts, the most recent of which saw a scammer make off with an £8,000 Rolex watch.

Max Thorne founded Elite HNW, a luxury watch, jewellery and art boutique with branches in Beaconsfield and Marlow, two and a half years ago.

After retiring from his hotelier career before the COVID pandemic, Mr Thorne, who is in his mid-fifties, took the opportunity to indulge a long-term passion for watch collecting and set up shops in two affluent towns near his home in Cookham.

While he has been warmly welcomed into the respective communities and can already say he is the owner of a multi-award-winning business, Elite HNW has not been exempt from local crime in its short tenure.

Across both shops, it has suffered four theft attempts since opening its doors, including two armed robberies and one night-time break-in.

The most recent incident, which Mr Thorne described as “very frustrating”, saw a man use a cloned card to steal a £8,000 Rolex from the Beaconsfield store last Tuesday (April 23).

“The machine was declined, so this man asked for it to be handed to him so he could put another card in. We gave it to him, and he took the card out and punched in the details of another card manually.

“It’s what we do sometimes for over-the-phone sales – as far as the bank is concerned, the cardholder is not present.

“Then, this Monday, I got a call from the bank saying that the actual card owner, who was a woman, was contesting the purchase. No one covers you, insurance-wise, for this kind of thing, so we’ve just lost all of that money.”

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The shop’s CCTV captured footage of the man in question and Mr Thorne is working with Thames Valley Police’s fraud department to track him down.

However, the business owner thinks the incident is one in several showing the growing “sophistication” of criminals, who are easily able to manipulate workers and payment technology.

“We have a lot more security than the police and our insurance company recommend, and our staff all work really hard. It’s really frustrating when things like this happen.

“No one can afford to lose that amount of money, but because it’s my business, it’s like they’re taking it from my pocket.”

Mr Thorne has been the driving force behind the creation of a WhatsApp group for Beaconsfield retailers similar to one he is also part of in Marlow, giving retailers a platform to share advice, alerts and warnings about suspicious incidents and people.

“I am really sorry that it’s happened to us. Money is important, but staff safety is the most important thing. All we can do is put extra procedures in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“We won’t be beaten by these criminals.”

Thames Valley Police has been contacted for comment.

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