The Fagin Burglar of Swiss Cottage

My first cousin William Lyons was the Managing Director of the leading electronic company Claude Lyons Ltd in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, a company set up by my uncles Claude and Lewis Lyons in 1918.

I never got on or understood my highly strung cousin who was much older than I was and lived far away in London with his Irish wife Moira, when I was growing up in Liverpool.  By coincidence when I bought my first flat in West Hampstead in the 70s it was around the corner to William who lived in Avenue Mansions, Finchley Rd. Never once was I invited to his home for dinner or even a coffee. He was not even on speaking terms with his father Claude who lived further down the road in West End Lane nor his mother Zia, nor his neurotic brother and business partner Edward.  What a family I had!  I digress. Their story is for another vignette.

I had a reunion with my cousin when he came to my mother's funeral in Liverpool in the late 80s. I was married by then and William got on well with my outgoing magician husband Martin. We were immediately invited for dinner and I got on well with his Irish wife, the chain smoker Moira from Belfast. William bit his nails down to the quick I noticed and was a nervous irritable man, frustrated in his work with a son who preferred to live an alternative lifestyle as a carpenter with his American wife in Boulder, Colorado. So, no son to carry on the highly successful business his eccentric father Claude had founded all those decades ago. They had two more children, Lucy a talented portrait painter and Debbie, who despite being very dyslexic, became a solicitor.

Their flat was large with traditional interior designed rooms chosen by Moira going off a long corridor. Paintings of value adorned their walls and clocks from Moira's family chimed away happily in unison on the hour. William had inherited some treasures from his and my Auntie Tillie who had married my uncle Lewis hence the Liverpool connection. She was also on the board of directors so William had to keep her sweet and in funds! I recall the Victorian Vienna bronze of an arab carpet seller he inherited displayed on his marble mantelpiece, a favourite object of mine from the Menlove Avenue bungalow next to John Lennon's famous Auntie Mimi in dear old Liverpool. Yes, it was a nice comfortable traditional flat and William and Moira were home birds when they were not in their charming  Norfolk cottage.

One evening my dear cousin invited us to a special birthday dinner party when his chief sales director was present. There was a 'Nippy-esque' waitress serving the food and I recall this man got a bit drunk and spoke too much about sensitive electronic equipment that Claude Lyons manufactured and sold to the Middle East. It was obvious, reading between the lines, that the sensitive instruments were possibly used for torture.

Then Moira started to talk about coming home one afternoon and seeing a burglar jump out of the window onto the scaffolding outside. She had startled him and he fled but how had he got in? The conversation switched to security and Moira confessed there was no burglar alarm despite having valuable assets in their gemutlichkeit flat.

A few weeks later William phoned to say they had been burgled while they were in Norfolk, as I had a stall in Portobello Road market on Saturdays, could I go around the market looking for the arab carpet seller bronze figure he loved so much. Stolen antiques went to Bermondsey market on Fridays but sometimes ended up at Portobello the next day. Shocked I said I would look but found nothing. He told me that they had finally put in an alarm but too late. They had been insured up to the hilt and been paid out but that would not bring back inherited treasured clocks, jewellery and paintings.

We stopped seeing cousin William after Martin and I turned down an invitation to go as honoured guests in evening dress, which we did not possess, to the Lord Mayor's dinner at Greenwich. William was chair of the Worshipful Company of Engineers that year. I guess he was insulted by our refusal but the formality was not our scene being too bohemian and William bored us anyway. 

The years past, both Debbie and Lucy married and moved to the trendy East End. Lucy even married Eddy, a publisher who was involved in magic and knew Martin who was the leading magic publisher in the U.K. We were finally invited to the wedding party in their garden. A pleasant affair with live music one Saturday afternoon. It was the last time I would ever see my estranged family again.

Just as we were leaving and having taken happy snappy photos, Moira said the Police had finally caught their burglar and he had even been an Oxford university teacher of English language and Literature as well as a book dealer, no less! As Martin's daughter Sophie had a doctorate in the same subject from Oxford, for some reason I asked his name. Richard Lucas was her reply and they had even found his fingerprints in their flat! I laughed out loud exclaiming that it had to be my old colleague from my book dealing days. My cousins were mortified and speechless that I, their honest cousin, should know a criminal who was the mastermind behind a 2 million art burglary and even the Fenton House break in.  It was all in the Friday's Daily Mail with his photo, she said. 

I rushed home to retrieve the newspaper from the bin. There was the ghoulish gaunt face of the book seller staring out at me. Richard Lucas had even been a guest for dinner in my home and could have cased the joint. I had no idea he had been stealing for 10 years. He got 4 years in jail. My cousin never spoke to me again. Moira died from lung cancer and William never got over his loss retreating more to their romantic cottage near where William had been stationed in the Air Force. I see on Google that Claude Lyons has a new MD but in 2014 William is still alive and Chairman. My two lovely second cousins no longer send me Christmas cards. I once wrote to Lucy on Linkedin when out of the blue her photo flew across my screen. In William's twisted mind, I think he thinks I got Richard to burgle Avenue Mansions knowing there was no burglar alarm. Claude fell out with me years earlier for a stupid reason and neurotic William too. Thank God I can choose my friends because I never liked any members of my family on either side. Well one, Vivian my third cousin but she silently fell out with me because I fell out with her rotten solicitor husband. That's family for you! I'd rather choose my extended family and I have!

Synchronistically, William Lyons's details were written in my 1980s Filofax and immediately underneath were the details of Richard Lucas!!!!

Written in Hotel Plaza Cavana, Nerja, Spain on 23/2/17.


Claude Lyons Ltd - a leading U.K. manufacturer of mains voltage stabilisers, voltage optimisation. Founded in 1918.
Richard Lucas burglar - The Independent The Daily Mail The Guardian 1993
Lucy Lyons - portrait painter. Member of The Worshipful Company of Painters-Stainers
William Lyons - Member of the Worshipful Company of Engineers

To be read in conjunction with Mad Collectors #2.

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