The Case of the Stolen Pipes

I have heard many stories of musical instruments, especially other bagpipes getting stolen.  There was the story of the great Lewis Turrell’s award winning pipes going missing, which were returned only a few months after his death.  The other stories quite often end in the instruments never being recovered.  So I thought it was time I shared my story.

On the evening of 13th of October 2016, while celebrating the completion of a pipe band AGM at a local pub, my car was broken into and my pipe case and music was stolen from the backseat.  A night that I will always remember.  The bagpipes that were stolen originally belonged to my Grandfather and I had been learning to play them for about a year.  They were a set of early Starcks, estimated to have been created between 1890 and 1905, full ivory, and in great condition for their age.  This was a set of Bagpipes that had a very distinctive sound and had a sentimental value not only to me, but to other family members as well.

I would not wish this scenario upon anyone; it can have a huge emotional impact on the victim.  It also takes time and money to get back to normality.  I had my first major concert in a couple of weeks after this, and I had no instrument to play with.  Unfortunately, the opportunist thief does not see or care about any of these impacts which they have put upon their victims.

As the bagpipes where very distinctive, there was optimism that they might show up somewhere, and as it so happened, they did.  It was about 8 or 9 months later that they appeared on trade me. A very good friend of mine, Michel Tent, who knew the set well, had alerted me to the auction.  The auction had a very low buy now price, and seeing that there were other interested parties, Michel had purchased them at the buy now price to make sure they would not end up with someone else.  There was no doubt it was my set of bagpipes, it came in the stolen pipe case, came with all the pipe maintenance gear that I kept with the pipes, and also had my one of a kind Cameron tartan pipe bag cover.  This was a huge relief as I now knew where my family set of pipes had ended up.

The pipes were purchased on a Friday evening, and pickup was organised for the following Sunday.  The police suggested to make the purchase without raising any suspicion.  The goal is to get the goods back without invoking potential violence or suspicion from the seller, as the goods could be damaged, or the sale may not be completed.  Once the sale is completed the police could then start an investigation.

Michel and I both went to pick up the pipes. I used my phone to record the conversations between the seller and Michel.  The sale was completed successfully, and the recording went to the police. After a quick inspection during the sale, it was deemed that the pipes were in the same condition as when they were stolen, no alterations, and nothing missing.  The pipes were now back in my possession.

After my pipes were stolen, I heard many different stories nearly the same story, not for just musical instruments, but bagpipes specifically. Unfortunately, most of the stories I heard did not end up with the same outcome as me and a lot of people did not get their stolen items back.  I am one of the lucky ones, and I hoping that people reading this article will be able to take something away from it.

When travelling, I now always use the boot.  It does not matter how small something is, if it is visible, a burglar is not going to care about the smashed window to take it. If something is concealed in a bag, it is not going to stop the curiosity of a burglar on the chance that there maybe something valuable in it.

I also use Bluetooth trackers on anything of value.  These are low energy beacons, that can be concealed on an item, and a smartphone can be used to help track where the item is.  You can track a beacon with your phone if the beacon is within 20 meters, however the app on the phone can connect to other users who also use the same tracker and now the range is extended to 20 meters from their phone or device.  This means that the more people who use the same beacon, the larger the search area.  If you are actively searching for a beacon, the last known location is sent to your phone.  This is not guaranteed that you will get your item back, but in a densely populated area like Auckland, this greatly increases the chances.  The trackers I use are called Tiles, and cost about $40 each and can be purchased from Noel Lemmings.  


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