Brantham tradesman admits he’s ‘lucky to be alive’ after thieves attack

Brooklands Road in Brantham. Picture: MATT STOTT

Brooklands Road in Brantham. Picture: MATT STOTT - Credit: Archant

A Brantham tradesman who suffered a broken jaw while trying to stop two masked thieves stealing tools from his van admits he is lucky to be alive.

Gas engineer Justin Wadey, 42, owner of Stour Valley Plumbing and Heating, believes he was struck by one of his own hammers in the attack outside his home. He has undergone hospital surgery to have metal plates fitted for life.

He warned tradesmen around the country are living in fear of losing their livelihoods amid “epidemic levels” of van thefts. Opportunistic thieves stole tools worth £13,000 from two others in north Essex this week, he said.

There were 19 incidents in one week alone in Suffolk last October.

The incident unfolded at around 6.30pm on Monday when he spotted a man taking tools from his van outside his home in Brooklands Road. He ran out “screaming” at the man, who was wearing a ski mask and seemed “nervous”. They got into a fight before a third man sneaked out of his van and struck him around the left-hand side of his head with what appeared to be a weapon.

“I’ve been punched before as a teenager but this was different,” he said. “To shatter my jaw it had to be something.”

He was knocked to the ground but remembers seeing the pair leave in their vehicle with “a few rusty tools” worth around £1,000. Losing a week’s work has cost him “thousands of pounds”.

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Mr Wadey, a dad-of-three, said: “The surgeon said I was quite lucky to be alive because of the amount of force used. If it was somewhere else on the head it could have been a lot worse. I was lucky really. If they are willing to do that, that shows the type of people they are.”

Police are linking the crime to three others in the area that night.

Mr Wadey said: “I would have thought after nearly potentially killing me, they would have fled off somewhere and got somewhere safe, but they just carried on with their night of pilfering. This is a nice area and they did it while people were walking their dogs, not at 2am. They just don’t care.”

He said thieves can buy “special fobs” to unlock vans, costing just £20 online. He said: “Men are selling 50 drills at car boot sales but where did they come from? It’s reached epidemic levels. It’s easy and quick for them, and there’s a market. One guy I know bought a burger quickly and came back to find his tools had been stolen. There is a lot of concern.”

Van thefts are a top priority at Suffolk Constabulary but remain “extremely difficult” to solve, Temporary Detective Inspector Nicky Wallace said last night.

She said the crimes have become “excessive countrywide” and urged tradesman to keep their most expensive tools inside.

Describing the Brantham incident, she said: “The fact they have used violence is a concern. After being spotted, you would think they would run away, but they didn’t. We are reassessing them (those involved). There are different groups of people from across the country. If it was just one person or group, I’d like to think we would have caught them by now. Whether you have got your ‘Fagan’ person or not, it is organised crime.”

She said one tradesman visited a supermarket for four minutes, during which time his van was targeted, costing thousands: “The impact is huge. It is a top priority for us.”

Tradesmen are urged to register their tools here.

To help police, call 101.

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