RICHARD Hammond’s wife says her family and guests at a rented holiday villa were knocked out by anaesthetic gas in a recent raid in Saint Tropez.
Mindy Hammond said they realised the following day that they were robbed as they slept when cash and personal belongings were found to have disappeared from multiple rooms.
Aside from the missing items, evidence of a break-in included closed bedroom doors being found wide open and burglars of a neighbouring property being caught on CCTV on the same night.
Local police are reported to have detained the two thieves within 48 hours of the crime being reported.
As no one was disturbed from their slumber in the theft, Mrs Hammond suspects ‘knockout gas’ was used by the thieves.
She said: “I’m pretty convinced we must have been gassed or something, because they were in all of the bedrooms — they went where they wanted, into each room, opening and closing the drawers, searching through handbags etc.”
She added: “You have got to have some kind of confidence to do that and to be quite satisfied that people aren’t going to wake up.”
The worst thing is, I don’t mind losing stuff. They can take what they want. It’s just you’re fearful of something else happening
If a gas was used in the burglary, it wouldn’t be the first time such a substance is alleged to have been employed in a high profile theft in the region.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, the 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button opened up about his own experience, saying he hadn’t stayed in the south of France since 2010, when anaesthetic gas was used in a burglary at a rented villa while he and former wife Jessica Michibata slept.
Responding to further reports on the use of knock-out gases on motorhomes, the British Home Office released a statement in the middle of 2014, warning holiday makers of the gas-associated burglary risk.
However, some medical experts doubt anaesthetic gases could be used in such a way by burglars.
In response to the Home Office warning, the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCA) released a statement saying it was highly sceptical about robbers using anaesthetic gas.
“It is the view of the College that it would not be possible to render someone unconscious by blowing ether chloroform, or any of the currently used volatile anaesthetic agents, through the window of a motorhome without their knowledge, even if they were sleeping at the time,” the statement said.
A Royal College of Anaesthetics spokesperson told the BBC that gassing an entire villa was even less likely than a motorhome:
“They would need massive amounts of gas. We can’t rule out that some sort of agent was used, but the volume of gas and the logistics involved in delivering it make it highly unlikely that this was anaesthetic.”
They added: “When you combine that with the fact that these gases are expensive and difficult to get hold of, we are very sceptical.”