Cilla Black left 'heartbroken' after burglars threaten son

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The Independent Online

The television presenter Cilla Black described yesterday how armed raiders threatened to kill her son as they stole jewellery, gold and cash worth more than £1m from her home.

Ms Black, the former Blind Date host, said she was "heartbroken". Three masked thieves stole her entire collection of gems and gifts from her late husband, Bobby Willis.

But her main sentiment was relief that her son Jack, 22, who had a knife placed to his throat as they ransacked the family home, had survived the ordeal. "I am totally devastated and appalled at what has happened," said Ms Black, who was abroad at the time.

"Our Jack has been a very brave man, and I'm extremely proud at how he is handling this traumatic experience.

"What he was subjected to must be everyone's nightmare; to be woken up by three masked intruders, assaulted with a crowbar, have your life threatened with a knife held to your throat and to be told you'll be kidnapped for ransom is truly horrific," she said.

A statement from the entertainer's publicist revealed how three men wearing balaclavas broke into the property, in the Buckinghamshire village Denham, at around midnight on Saturday after scaling a perimeter fence and forcing open a ground-floor window.

Jack, the youngest of Ms Black's three sons, was alone in the house and tried to barricade himself against the intruders in his bedroom.

The three men swiftly overpowered him in an attack with a crowbar. They forced him to the ground, cuffed his hands and placed a hunting knife at his throat.

The men then threatened to kill Jack unless he told them where they could find Ms Black's jewellery collection and other items of value.

The thieves stole the "entire collection" of gifts the presenter had received from her husband before his death from cancer in 1999.

They also took her mother's wedding and engagement rings, cash and a small amount of gold, taking the total value of the raid to more than £1m.

The intruders then threatened to put Jack in the boot of the car to kidnap him, but he talked the men out of it and instead was tied to a radiator.

Despite being deeply traumatised by the ordeal, which lasted about 15 minutes, he did not require hospital treatment when he was released. When his mother learnt of the ordeal, she immediately cut short a holiday abroad to return to the family home and give support to her children.

In the statement, she described her anguish at the suffering endured by her son as well as the devastation at the loss of a string of sentimentally precious belongings.

"I am just so grateful he is alive and slowly coming to terms with what has happened," said Ms Black, who has two older sons aged 29 and 33.

"Obviously the jewellery does not compare with what Jack had to endure, but losing my entire collection of Bobby's gifts to me and my mam's rings is heartbreaking. Their sentimental value far outweighs their material worth," adding: "You can't replace sentimental value and it's not worth putting anyone's life at risk.

"Burglary is not just a violation of your home but also a terrible psychological crime, as anyone who's experienced it will know. Sadly it seems to be becoming more and more common these days."

The burglars defied a series of high-security measures designed to protect Ms Black and her family, including electronically operated gates, motion-sensitive lights and CCTV cameras. Police are expected to examine footage obtained from cameras at the gates of the property.

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: "Police mounted a search of the area. The force helicopter was called in, as was the dog section, but the offenders were not located."

The burglary took place only months after Ms Black ended her 18-year stint as host of Blind Date. She rose to fame as a singer in the 1960s, emerging from Liverpool around the same time as the Beatles, who became close friends.

With her husband acting as her manager, she made the transition from pop star to television presenter in the 1970s with the BBC.