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Northern Ireland GP Jill Purce sorry for stealing Steve McQueen print in a 'moment of madness'

By Staff Reporter

Published 24/10/2016

Making off with a £15,000 print of Hollywood legend Steve McQueen from a Belfast hotel must have seemed like a good idea at the time - but now Ballymena family doctor Jill Purce admits she is bitterly regretting what she's called her "moment of madness".

Tracked down to her home in a leafy Ballymena suburb by our sister paper, Sunday Life, the part-time GP immediately confessed to the dim-witted crime caper.

Dr Jill Purce carrying the Steve McQueen artwork
Dr Jill Purce carrying the Steve McQueen artwork

"I think I did it maybe because I could do it, it was a bit like the Thomas Crown Affair," she said, referring to the 1999 film starring Pierce Brosnan about an art theft.

In the original 1968 movie that inspired the remake, McQueen staged a bank robbery.

"I'm just a huge Steve McQueen fan, I have photographs of him, signed photographs," she added.

Asked what she would have done had she and her friend managed to pull off their spur-of-the-moment caper, she said: "I would have woken up in the morning and said to myself, 'You stupid f****** b****' and driven right back down to the hotel and said, 'I did this in a moment of madness'." The doctor now says she's "too ashamed" to leave her house.

"I can't go out. I'm ashamed to go out," she explained.

As they made their great escape from the hotel, Dr Purce and a pal were caught on security camera footage, carting the enormous print out of the new Bullitt Hotel in central Belfast. But the bumbling pair could not fit the 6ft 4in picture into their car - and had to ditch their haul outside the swish Tedford's restaurant on Donegall Quay. The black and white image of McQueen was specially commissioned by the Bullitt hotel's owner, Bill Wolsey, for the £4m establishment on Church Lane which opened on the Friday before the theft.

Mr Wolsey said last week that he had specially commissioned the piece, a still from McQueen's 1968 film, Bullitt, from an eastern European artist.

In footage from the foyer of the hotel, Dr Purce can be seen handing her friend her walking stick while she calmly removes the picture from the wall.

Dr Purce then struggles out of the building with it as guests walk by, oblivious to what's going on in front of them.

The pair can then be seen on separate footage, slowly making their way along Victoria Street, close to Musgrave police station.

The picture of the late Hollywood icon has now been returned to the hotel, and has been securely screwed to the wall.

Police are investigating the incident.

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