Store thefts days after founder’s funeral

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Cold-hearted crooks burgled a fireplace store just four days after the funeral of the much-loved owner.

More than 400 fellow tradesmen, family and friends attended the funeral of Ampthill Fireplace founder Chris Gray on Tuesday last week.

“He had a great send off. The funeral procession went right past the shop and we were proud so many people came to pay their respects,” said his son James.

On Saturday night the family was horrified after thieves broke into the store and stole 30 antique fireplaces awaiting restoration.

James, who is now managing director of the business at the age of 25, is convinced the thieves must have travelled from elsewhere in the country.

“Nobody locally would have failed to know about my father’s funeral. I like to think that even the local crooks would have shown compassion,” he said.

Chris died in January at the age of 54 following a battle against cancer.

Last year, despite his diagnosis, he cycled 70 miles from London to Brighton to raise money for the Primrose Cancer Unit and Bedford hospital as a thank you for treating him.

He was a pillar of the community in Ampthill and helped at many charitable events. He provided the beacon for the town’s annual firework display and lit it every year.

He began restoring old fireplaces as a hobby and founded Ampthill Fireplaces 25 years ago, staying involved in the business right up until his death.

James said: “Dad would never want me to dwell on something bad like a burglary. It was always onwards and upwards for him.”

He has now upped the store’s security and is concentrating upon a big promotion next month.

“Dad and I planned the promotion for March before he died. We’ll be offering 10 per cent off many of our products,” he said.