Some people just seem destined to have fascinating life stories.
And this is certainly true of London ‘s most notorious and celebrated cat burglar, Peter Scott, whose life has been like something out of a movie – and inspired some.
Peter Scott was known as the ‘King of Cat Burglars’ and spent his life raiding the home of the rich and famous, finding himself in all sorts of strange situations and claimed he was “sent by God to take back some of the wealth that the outrageously rich had taken from the rest of us”.
Scott was born into a middle class family in Belfast in 1931, as Peter Gulston, and became a prolific burglar in the wealthy suburbs at the age of 12.
He claimed to have carried out more than 150 thefts and was arrested in 1952 but said the police only charged him with 12 burglaries because they were ’embarrassed’ he had managed to carry out so many under their watch.
He ended up serving six months in jail and changed his surname to Scott, before departing for London in 1957.
On arrival he forged a partnership with George “Taters” Chatham, then renowned as the most celebrated “cat burglar” in London and said he realised the wealthy houses of Mayfair and Belgravia were perfectly designed to be burgled.
The duo engaged in heists that bagged them art and jewellery worth millions of pounds from Bond Street jewellery stores to Mayfair art collectors.
“I felt like a missionary seeing his flock for the first time,” he said when reliving the burglary of Dropmore House in Buckinghamshire, where the press baron Viscount Kemsley lived. “I decided these people were my life’s work.”
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Scott was said to have bought a new suit before each job so he would blend in.
During one burglary he claimed: “A titled lady appeared at the top of the stairs. ‘Everything’s all right, madam,’ I shouted up, and she went off to bed thinking I was the butler.”
He also said that on other burglaries, if he was disturbed by anyone there, he would shout reassuringly: “It’s only me!”
According to Scott, he stole ‘jewels, furs and artworks worth more than £30 million’ from A-list of celebrities at the time including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Loren, Maria Callas and the gambling club and zoo owner John Aspinall.
“Robbing that bastard Aspinall was one of my favourites,” said Scott. “Sophia Loren got what she deserved too.”
Sophia Loren became Scott’s target while in Britain filming The Millionairess in 1960. He stole a £200,000 necklace from the Italian actress which was lauded as the biggest jewellery theft in British history.
Scott is believed to have received £30,000 for the necklace – but he promptly lost every penny at the Palm Beach Casino in Cannes.
One Bond Street heist saw him steal £1.5 million worth of jewellery and in 1985 he was jailed for four years.
Scott served lengthy jail sentences and over numerous prison terms, he was imprisoned for more than a decade of his life, and claimed to be on the straight and narrow.
Upon release he entered high society through the front door this time, becoming a tennis coach at a London club.
But it was not long until he was up to his old tricks again when in 1997 he was involved in the heist of a Picasso painting, Tête de Femme, from the Lefevre Gallery in Mayfair, in which a pony-tailed gunman with a shotgun stole the painting before hijacking a taxi and escaping.
Scott was jailed again in 1998 for three and a half years for handling the stolen painting.
He always justified his exploits by saying: “The people I burgled got rich by greed and skulduggery. They indulged in the mechanics of ostentation — they deserved me and I deserved them. If I rob Ivana Trump, it is just a meeting of two different kinds of degeneracy on a dark rooftop.”
He said the fear of being caught excited him and spurred him on, as did the belief that those reading about his adventures were cheering him on, and thought of him as a Robin Hood style figure.
He was even the subject of a movie starring Dame Judi Dench, He Who Rides a Tiger, released in 1965. At the time Scott was in Dartmoor prison and made little money from the film.
In the end, after his many prison stints, Scott was left broke saying he ‘gave all my money to head waiters and tarts’.
He died in 2013 living on £60 a week benefits in a council house in Islington.