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The Gentleman thief Peter Zarre

Gentleman robber back in action after deportation to Austria

A gentleman thief who carried out a series of armed robberies across the UK and was jailed for 14 years in 2006 has carried out another armed raid after being deported back to his native Austria.

Peter Zarre, now 59, was known as the polite robber after he held up 11 building societies nationwide at gunpoint - apologising to staff before fleeing each incident.

The court heard this was the second time he had been deported back to Austria after carrying out a similar string of armed robberies for which he was jailed for 15 years in 1986.

Austrian-born Zarre carefully targeted small branches of building societies in English country towns and Gloucester Crown Court heard that his trademark was to wear a floppy hat and to tell staff: "I am really sorry. This is really silly, but I need some money. Can you fill this bag."

Zarre was back in action in Vienna last week armed with a fake bomb made from candles designed to look like dynamite. And this time round he was no longer so polite, at least when talking in his own language – telling staff at the Raiffesien Bank in the city's Seilergasse, "Give me the money, and quickly."

He then ran to the nearby underground line where he fled to the Schonbrunn Palace tourist attraction and, with police closing in, hid in a toilet at the visitors advice centre where he was arrested still wearing a baseball cap and a wig. According to local media he told police: "I'm sorry, but I needed the money."

The court in England that saw him jailed in 2006 but released early for good behaviour and deported back to Austria for the second time heard that he had stolen 30,000 GBP and had used the money to pay for prostitutes.

Prosecutor Kim James said that the raids in the UK had started on August 18 2005 at the Ipswich Building Society in Aldeburgh, and ended in Wotton under Edge, Glos, on April 25 2006 after he had robbed the local C&G branch of 1,200 GBP. In every case he researched the details of the branches on the building society websites – and would print out maps from the internet and spend days preparing each raid, said Mrs James.

In the UK raids he also wore wigs, and a hat, with clothes from charity shops to disguise himself and he would threaten staff with a fake gun before riding off on his bicycle.

Zarre had admitted six robberies and six offences of having a fake firearm in his possession and asked for five more robberies and five similar firearm offences to be considered.

After being jailed for 14 years, he told Judge Martin Picton: "Thank you very much, Your Honour. Thank you very much for your leniency."

Judge Picton had told Zarre his offences were aggravated by the fear he had caused to his victims, mainly women - and by the fact that he had carried out a similar campaign of robberies and been deported once already.

The defendant was sentenced to 12 years concurrently for each of the latest robberies and two years consecutively for the firearms offences - a total of 14 years. But he was released early and deported back to Austria where he is now back behind bars for the latest incident.

Zarre was born in Austria but came to Britain when he was 18 months old and was educated in the UK where he qualified as an engineer. He later went to the former Rhodesia and served in the army there but then found himself rootless and stateless. He became increasingly desperate for money because of his status and committed the 1980s robberies.

Having served his time he was deported to Austria but returned after a year before going to Bosnia, where he worked for more than two years as a relief aid driver. He then went to Zimbabwe before returning to the UK in 2003 and working as an artist before finding he needed money - and turning again to crime.

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