Two A-team theft suspects arrested in PE

TWO suspected members of the notorious A-team gang were arrested in Port Elizabeth yesterday after a brazen snatch-and-grab at a Richmond Hill gift shop.

The four-member gang has been on a crime spree throughout the Eastern Cape for more than a year, and have been linked to a string of thefts from coffee shops, restaurants, churches and funeral services.

The two alleged gang members – a New Brighton woman, 30, and a Kwazakhele man, 27 – were caught just minutes after the theft of a cellphone from a store owner.

Fox and Heroine owner Lee-Anne van den Berg, 32 , said she had been chatting on the phone when three people entered the stationery and gift shop and spoke to her colleague.

She hung up when they signalled that they wanted to talk to her as well. "They asked me to come over and help them with clothing. They were obviously doing this to distract both of us.

"I began to get suspicious when the queries were about clothes that were too small for them," she said.

"One of the guys then disappeared down the passage for about 20 seconds and returned.

"I saw them pass something behind their backs and went to my desk – the cellphone was gone.

"I yelled out to close the shop gate, but they bolted down the road."

The driver of the alleged getaway vehicle was arrested at the scene and the woman in Russell Road a short while later.

Police spokesman Captain Stanley Jarvis said the gang, known as the A-team, was believed to be behind a spate of thefts at church and funeral services as well as coffee shops and restaurants.

"This team is extremely organised and professional. Their modus operandi is to enter a shop ... or service and divert attention while one of them steals items."

He said the team had been linked to at least 50 cases, including in Walmer, Kabega Park and Humewood.

Humewood police station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll said he had heard of similar cases in Port Alfred and East London.

"We suspect that this team travelled around the province, committing crimes.  I have appointed a task team of veteran police officers to investigate the case and possibly link more cases to them.

"We intend to ask the court to deny bail as it is going to take days, even weeks, to gather evidence from all over the province."

He said police were searching for the other two gang members.

The two people arrested are due to appear in court tomorrow.