Nation of Thieves

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3 minutes

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny
The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny
Adam Raphael
By Adam Raphael

An order for 50 copies of the Guide came last month from THE ANGEL HOTEL in Abergavenny, an excellent family-run Welsh hotel. On checking, I was surprised to see that the hotel had ordered an identical number of copies two months previously. I telephoned questioning whether this was an error only to be told that it was no mistake—all the previous copies in the bedrooms had been stolen despite a note in each saying they belonged to the hotel. My initial reaction was delight that the Guide was such a hot item that it was irresistible. But a more sobering second thought, have we now become a nation of thieves?

Most hoteliers, particularly those running large hotels, say that theft is a serious problem. Nearly 70% of Britons staying in a foreign hotel admit to pinching; almost half of those staying in British hotels say they have taken something. Whether some of this can be defined as theft is arguable. Hotels mostly accept that toiletries and other items such as stationery are fair game. But commonly stolen items such as towels, bathrobes, slippers, paintings, batteries and cutlery are beyond any culture of acceptable behaviour.

The list does not end there. The Hotel Du Vin in Birmingham lost a prized stuffed boar; Starwood Hotels, a grand piano; the Shangri-La, Hong-Kong a crystal chandelier; the Four Seasons, Beverley Wilshire, a marble fireplace; and the Residence Bath, a collection of sex toys. How often are guests prosecuted? Never as far I know. The last thing a hotel wants is to attract the publicity that such an action would involve. So what can a hotelier do? One obvious tactic is to tell guests that if they take anything from the room, they will be charged for it. That is what THE ANGEL is planning to do with its new batch of copies of the Guide.

Brian Sack, the late founder of the original country house hotel, Sharrow Bay, had a more direct tactic. One day he was saying goodbye to a middle-aged guest who opened her handbag inadvertently revealing three of the hotel’s ashtrays. ‘I think one is acceptable, but three is a bit greedy,’ said Sack, taking back two. The guest, not at all shamefaced, protested that she always helped herself to souvenir ashtrays. ‘Yes, Madam’, Sack replied, ‘but I doubt whether they are all Royal Worcester.’

How else can hotels protect themselves? Accusing guests of kleptomania is not a route to popularity. Draconian warnings are resented. But one GHG hotel tried a humorous approach with a notice in every bedroom: ‘We hope you appreciate all the small touches which we have added around the hotel. Unfortunately, not everybody leaves things for future guests to enjoy. The favourite items which go missing are scallop-shaped soap dishes, hand-made toilet roll holders, Laura Ashley sewing kits, napkin rings, hair dryers, torches, telephones and hot water bottles.’ On the mini bar, there was a further note: ‘We have learnt that you need a razor blade to cut the seal around a mini vodka bottle. You can then drink its contents and fill it up with water. For whisky and rum, it is a little more difficult, but if you order early morning tea, you can fill the bottles with tea. It has happened in this hotel.’ Ouch!

Debo, the late Duchess of Devonshire, who owned the CAVENDISH, one the Guide’s selected hotels, was a woman of strong views. Among her pet hates was captive coat hangers. She was right. The fine line between treating every guest as a potential thief should not be crossed.