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Respected GP Jill Purce says theft of £15k Steve McQueen print from Belfast hotel was 'moment of madness'

'I am a huge fan of the legendary Hollywood star', says tearful and‘ashamed’ doctor

By Christopher Woodhouse

Published 25/10/2016

This is the family doctor who has tearfully confessed to stealing the £15,000 print of Hollywood legend Steve McQueen from Belfast’s swish new Bullitt Hotel.

Dr Jill Purce told Sunday Life that her brazen theft of the massive print was a “moment of madness” and she now felt too ashamed to leave her home.

The mortified Ballymena woman instantly held her hands up to the farcical raid when approached by a Sunday Life reporter on Friday, but said that she hadn’t yet been contacted by police.

“It was just a moment of madness, I think very few of us go through life without doing something stupid,” said the doctor, who is in her early 60s.

Dr Purce and a well-dressed woman accomplice were caught on CCTV as they made their getaway following the ham-fisted theft — and footage of the two ‘grans’ comical getaway has been watched by millions of people around the world.

They were unable to fit the 6ft 4in print into their car and abandoned it outside the nearby Tedford’s restaurant.

Outside her detached house in a leafy area of Ballymena, Dr Purce revealed she was huge fan of Steve McQueen and spoke of her regret over her behaviour at the hotel last Sunday night which has been the talk of her home town.

“I can’t go out, I’m ashamed to go out,” said the veteran GP, who is now understood to work part-time.

“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, Steve 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****** bitch’ and driven right back down to the hotel and said I did this in a moment of madness.”

When asked if she was worried about the police investigation, Dr Purce tearfully said: “Yes, I’ve just bought a new pup.

“I hope Mr Wolsey (the hotel owner) doesn’t think I’m making a spectacle of this.

“My friend has gone to the police station, I’m just waiting for the police to come.”

The black and white work was specially commissioned by the Bullitt’s owner, Bill Wolsey, for his latest £4m establishment on Church Lane which opened on the Friday before the theft.

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

Dr Jill Purce
Dr Jill Purce
Dr Jill Purce carrying the Steve McQueen artwork
The artwork with Bill Wolsey
CCTV footage of the theft of the Steve McQueen portrait

Dr Purce then struggles out of the building as guests walk by, oblivious to what’s going on.

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

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.

The Merchant Hotel owner said that he had kept the print in his office for over a year but installed it in his new hotel because McQueen, who died in 1980, was always current and cool.

Bullitt general manager Michael Sullivan said staff couldn’t believe somebody had made off with the substantial piece.

“We were even more surprised to see on the CCTV pictures that the thieves were two well-dressed women who weren’t exactly your stereotypical criminals,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I had seen them earlier in the hotel having tea and a drink and they didn’t look suspicious or drunk.

“Yet what they did was quite brazen and it wouldn’t have been that easy for them to remove it from the wall.

“The last thing you would expect would be for someone to steal something so big.”

Police are investigating the theft and the picture has now been secured to the wall to prevent a repeat of the incident.

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