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A GROUP of thugs who were pretending to be police officers were so brazen they booked into a hotel as officers and drove in front of local police, flaunting their Gauteng police vehicle.

On Tuesday night police recovered what they believed to be a police car after they had chased a group of cop impersonators for more than three hours to Frankfort in Free State.

Four men had robbed a house and its occupants in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal before the chase.

They had arrived in a marked police Volkswagen Golf GTI equipped with a police radio and told the owners they had come to give them feedback on a previous house robbery.

Mark Pittout, a member of crime forum group eBlockwatch, said the men wore jeans and police shirts with bulletproof vests.

The home had been robbed in 2010.

The men entered the home by telling the family they had caught the robber. They even had the police docket of the case with them.

eBlockwatch chairman Andre Snyman said the men had walked upstairs and sat with the family before pulling out guns.

They stole jewellery and money from the house and beat up the occupants.

Pittout said the day before the robbery, the cop car had arrived in the town and was spotted by local police officers. The GTI had Gauteng number plates and it was believed the car held detectives from Joburg.

He said the car was in fact a stolen vehicle and was not a police car at all. The robbers had cloned stickers from real police vehicles and stuck them onto the GTI.

“The fake stickers were perfect,” said Pittout.

Pittout said the gang had also tried to hijack a vehicle in the town before the house robbery, but their victim, a foreigner who did not understand English, was so confused about why police officers wanted him to start his car that he stubbornly refused. This foiled their hijacking attempt.

Pittout said Ladysmith’s top businessmen have been the target of professional gangs robbing them in the past few months.

He said there had been eight or nine robberies recently and, with most of them, nobody had been home.

He said video footage had shown the gangs were professional and it is suspected they came from Johannesburg.

After the bogus police gang robbed the house, the victims called the police and alerts were sent out via SMS.

A crime intelligence member spotted their car in Van Reenen, near Harrismith, and a high-speed chase ensued.

The robbers fired shots at police and one SAPS vehicle rolled during the incident.

However, the men escaped in a getaway vehicle.