The Belfast cat burglar who stole from the rich and famous dies at 82
Self-styled gentleman thief robbed to fund playboy lifestyle
Published 26/03/2013 | 04:20
He was the privileged boy from Belfast who went on to become one of the UK's most celebrated cat burglars.
Peter Scott – who identified himself as a modern day Robin Hood, or a "gentleman thief" – died earlier this month at the age of 82.
Living on benefits in a north London council flat his final days were in sharp contrast to his wealthy Presbyterian upbringing in Belfast and a lifetime stealing millions from the rich and famous –including Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh and Lauren Bacall.
By Scott's own evaluation, he stole jewels, furs and artworks worth more than £30m.
So notorious was Scott – dubbed the King of the Cat Burglars for his thefts of jewellery and artworks from London Mayfair mansions and stately homes – that in 1965 he became the subject of a film called He Who Rides a Tiger, starring a young Judi Dench. He later went on to author his own memoirs in which he claimed he was "sent by God to take back some of the wealth that the outrageously rich had taken from the rest of us".
Born Peter Craig Gulston in 1931 into a Presbyterian family in Belfast, he was a bright young boy.
But as a student at Belfast Royal Academy he struggled with exams and as a teenager it became apparent he was heading for a life of trouble.
After his father died, while he was still a young boy, he squandered a considerable inheritance at horseracing and greyhound tracks.
Having left school at 17 with no qualifications he began to burgle the wealthy homes of the Malone Road in south Belfast. He would wear his school scarf and blazer so as not to attract undue attention.
According to his memoirs he got away with 150 burglaries before police eventually caught up with him in 1952. This led to his first prison sentence – six months behind bars at the Crumlin Road jail, for 12 burglaries.
But prison did not put him off a life of crime. Once free, he changed his name to Scott and at the age of 22 he moved to London where his long criminal career would bring him notoriety and even a level of admiration within the tabloid Press.
He won a reputation as an accomplished and athletic cat burglar, able to climb and penetrate the best-guarded mansions. He specialised in stealing from the very rich.
Jail time – by the end of his career he had served about 14 years – was the price he was prepared to pay for the "thrill" robbing gave him, as well as the cash that funded an extravagant playboy lifestyle of fast cars and gambling jaunts to the French Riviera.
Scott was always immaculately turned out and was able to bluff his way out of many a tight spot.
Such was his charm that he had a succession of glamourous girlfriends, often models, such as Jackie Bowyer, whom he met at the Maisonette Club, Mayfair, in 1963. She became the second of his four wives.
But after decades in the fast and dangerous lane, Scott, who had a son and a daughter, declared himself bankrupt and settled for a quieter life living in a council flat in Islington, tending to the flowers in the garden of his local church.