London - Armed robbers raided the home of a City trader and forced him to transfer his Bitcoin fortune to them.
Four thugs wearing balaclavas stormed Danny Aston’s £800 000 (R13.4 million) converted barn in rural Oxfordshire.
They held Mr Aston, 30, at gunpoint as they tied up his girlfriend Amy Jay, 31, and put the couple’s child outside in a buggy.
They then made Mr Aston transfer his holding of Bitcoin – a cyber currency currently worth £8 000 (R134 000) per coin – to them on his computer in what is thought to be the first raid of its kind in Britain.
Detectives believe the robbers, who were still being hunted last night, knew about his fortune because of his prolific trading accounts on the internet.
On just one account, Mr Aston has carried out more than 100 000 trades with 16 375 people in less than three years. He is considered a ‘trusted’ trader by more than 3 000 users. It is not known how much he was forced to transfer.
Bitcoin exists only in cyberspace and can be exchanged anonymously at the click of a mouse. It is then exchanged for normal money. It is favoured by criminals because it cannot be tracked by officials, making it difficult to catch thieves and money-launderers.
The family have been in hiding since the raid last Monday morning at their home in Moulsford, where several episodes of Midsomer Murders have been filmed.
Staff and children were locked inside a nearby independent school, Cranford House, as police used a helicopter to track the suspects and searched the village for clues.
A mother on the school run said: ‘I saw four young men in black tracksuits with the hoods pulled up, crossing the road to the property where it took place. They were aged 18 to 25, dark-skinned and super-fit. They jumped over the fence on the other side of the road.
‘I didn’t see any gun, but that’s what people locally are saying – and that the men wore balaclavas which I didn’t see either, just the hoodies pulled up. It was a strange time for them to choose because there are always so many parents coming and going directly opposite. I’d be amazed if more people didn’t see them.’
A neighbour said: ‘The couple have left and are staying with relatives. They haven’t been back since. We are all obviously a bit shaken up, even though a few days have passed now.’
Another resident said: ‘The village is in a state of shock. For something like this to happen here is terrifying. It’s a very quiet place.’
Thames Valley Police said that the men wore balaclavas and were seen scaling a fence near the house. A spokesman said: ‘Officers were called at about 9.40am to a report that offenders had entered a residential property and threatened the occupants.
‘No one was seriously injured during the incident.
‘Officers are particularly interested in speaking to anyone travelling through the village between 7.30am and 10.30am last Monday who has dashcam footage, or anyone with mobile phone footage. The investigation is in its early stages, however initial inquiries suggest this may be a targeted incident. No arrests have been made.’
Guy Shone, chief executive of Explain The Market, said: ‘These are criminals who have likely caught on to the current popularity of Bitcoin.
‘But depending on how much they have, these coins are like being in possession of a rare painting. Trying to exchange large amounts for normal money without alerting suspicion will be very difficult.’