News of the World sign taken from Croydon newsagent
FOR decades, the enamel News Of The World sign above Tullett's newsagent greeted shoppers as they entered Surrey Street Market.
Shopkeeper Daxit Patel had rebuffed offers from collectors of up to £80,000 for the antique sign – even before the newspaper was closed down last year by News International.
But when he arrived to open the store one morning he discovered the shopfront had mysteriously been changed overnight and, to his horror, the collectible sign had disappeared.
"When I saw the new adverts my first thought was that I must have taken a wrong turn – it didn't look anything like my shop," Mr Patel told the Advertiser.
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"Then I saw the sign was gone and I was very angry. It is extremely valuable. My first thought was that it had been stolen."
In fact it had been removed by Positive Group, a contractor working with News International, which had made no attempt to contact or obtain permission from Mr Patel.
For the past five years his shop had displayed a Coke Zero advert and illuminated sign in exchange for a small fee.
Staff from 99p Stores, in Church Street, told Mr Patel that two men had pulled up to the store at 9pm on September 26.
They replaced the hoardings with adverts for The Sun and took the News Of The World sign.
"I was also told the same men had been hanging around a few days before and had asked when the shop usually closes," said Mr Patel.
"Not only did they not ask permission, it's clear they deliberately waited for when I was not around and then took the sign."
Mr Patel reported the incident to Croydon Police, who are treating it as theft and have begun an investigation.
The shopkeeper had planned to have the sign removed professionally in December, after being told by an expert that its value could rise to as much as £250,000 over the next 50 years if it is properly maintained.
"It has been here since Mr Tullett, the original owner of the shop before the Second World War," he said. "Before me the previous shopkeeper looked after it for 20 years and I've been here for 23.
"It was more than a sign. It was a part of local history."
Positive Group is understood to have removed the sign as part of a national rebranding scheme undertaken on behalf of News International, which involves the removal of News Of The World adverts following the closure of the paper in July 2011.
A Positive Group spokesman said: "We have apologised to Mr Patel and we are in discussions with him in order to rectify the situation."
However, Mr Patel insists he has not received clear information about where the sign is or when it will be returned. He is now considering legal action.