How a middle-class mother became Britain's most prolific shoplifter

How a middle-class mother became Britain’s most prolific shoplifter and raked in £500,000: ‘Very clever’ career fraudster, 53, began scamming at just 15 to help pay for luxury cars, gold jewellery, a £550k bungalow in Wiltshire and even a home in France

  • Nina Tiara worked, effectively, as a professional shoplifter from 2015 to 2019 
  • Exploited a loophole in way retailers handle refunds for goods with no receipt 
  • Fraud investigators revealed that Tiara was making on average £2,000 a week 

Charming, always impeccably dressed and often at the wheel of a large, glossy Mercedes, Nina Tiara was the very image of middle-class respectability.

She was a businesswoman, she’d insist, and a very successful one too, with a home in the South of France, and a fortune in (variously) gold jewellery, gold bars and land in India, courtesy of her Indian-born parents.

If she was often away from her £550,000 detached bungalow in a picturesque Wiltshire hamlet, neighbours had no reason to remark upon it. Now, of course, they know exactly why their well-heeled neighbour was rarely seen at home.

For, from 2015 to 2019, 53-year-old Tiara was working, effectively, as a professional shoplifter. It was an astonishing, six-day-a-week operation that saw her driving the length and breadth of Britain in order to scam High Street shops out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

All together, investigators who finally brought Tiara’s elaborate con to an end estimate the single mother’s industrial-scale deception, which exploited a little-known loophole in the way retailers handle refunds for goods without a receipt, netted her more than half a million pounds — some of which police found stuffed under a mattress in envelopes when they arrested her in September 2019.

Charming, always impeccably dressed and often at the wheel of a large, glossy Mercedes, Nina Tiara (pictured) was the very image of middle-class respectability

If she was often away from her £550,000 detached bungalow in a picturesque Wiltshire hamlet (pictured), neighbours had no reason to remark upon it

As fraud investigator Stephen Tristram of the West Mercia Police tells the Mail: ‘She was making, on average, over £2,000 a week. The scale was astonishing.’

What is more astounding is that Tiara — or Narinder Kaur, as she asked to go by in court — has made a lifetime career out of deception, defrauding businesses and members of the public since she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

And far from these being victimless crimes, on at least one occasion Tiara staged a terrifying campaign of harassment against a solicitor who’d threatened to expose her.

At Gloucester Crown Court earlier this month, at the end of a four-month trial, Kaur was found guilty on 26 separate charges of fraud, possessing and transferring criminal property and perverting the course of justice.

The court heard how she’d devised an intricate, complicated and lucrative system of getting cash refunds on stolen goods.

As most honest customers know, retailers do not typically give cash refunds when goods are returned without a receipt. They give a credit note — the same value as the item — which can only be redeemed in that particular shop.

Tiara’s ruse exploited a weakness in the system. She’d walk into a shop with a branded carrier bag prominently in hand, then, when no one was looking, slip something into it, like a throw for example.

Without leaving the store, Tiara would then continue browsing and select something for a similar amount of money to the throw — say, a shirt — which she wanted to ‘buy’.

She’d then approach the till, produce the carrier bag with the throw inside and claim she’d bought it some time ago and wanted to return it, but had lost the receipt (she’d sometimes go through a performance, digging through her purse for the mislaid piece of paper).

Tiara – or Kaur as she went by in court – was found guilty on 26 separate charges of fraud, possessing and transferring criminal property and perverting the course of justice

She’d ask if she could exchange the throw for the shirt, carefully choosing another small item — let’s say a pair of socks — to push the total over the value of the throw.

The switch would be made, and the new items would end up on the same receipt. Then, at a later date, she’d drive to another town and go to a branch of the same store with her ‘legitimate’ till receipt and claim a full cash refund for the shirt and socks. Performed again and again, it proved a highly lucrative scam.

From Wales to Watford and up to Warrington, she would think nothing of covering hundreds of miles a day to chalk up fraudulent returns; using a series of hire cars to avoid her own car being detected as a frequent visitor on car park automatic number plate recognition software.

When investigators pored over her bank accounts (there were many) and credit card bills they found payments totalling £5,172 to Boots, balanced out against £60,787 received, or £3,681 paid to Debenhams, against £42,853 received.

It was long-winded ruse, set around a terrifyingly simple principle. ‘She was caught quite a few times in the early stages [by store staff and police and had received multiple fines and cautions],’ says Stephen Tristram. ‘But she is very clever; a very, very manipulative woman. She learned from her mistakes.’

At the time, stores were not routinely monitoring the scale of refunds to individual customers. But Tiara’s actions triggered a collaboration between major retailers to get a court injunction banning her from setting foot in any of their stores.

The loophole, meanwhile, is said to have been dramatically reduced.

Born Narinder Kaur in Wolverhampton in 1970, Tiara’s first brush with fraud was in 1985 when she was sentenced to five months’ youth custody for staging a bogus sponsored walk. 

Tiara (pictured in TK Maxx) tricked stores out of thousands of pounds by returning items for refunds despite never purchasing them in the first place

Details are scant — the case was only referred to briefly six years later, when, aged 21 and a student at the local polytechnic, she appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court. This time she was prosecuted for a £72,000 mortgage fraud and for stealing £27,000 from her employers while working as a Saturday girl at a Safeway in Birmingham.

She’d secured part-time jobs at various branches of the supermarket chain by giving false names and had been stuffing thousands of pounds from the tills into her shoes. She was caught when an eagle-eyed shopper spotted her slipping a £10 note into her footwear.

Following her arrest, it then emerged she had fraudulently secured a £72,000 mortgage on her first home by claiming to be the self-employed boss of a cleaning firm; not only that, she had furnished the home and bought a £13,000 BMW.

She was jailed for two years and nine months. And so the seeds were sown for the events of the next 30 years, during which time she was in and out of court, under a multitude of names, chalking up a string of fines, cautions, electronic tags and at least one restraining order.

In 1993, when she was 23, she had a son who was educated at private schools in Worcestershire and who is now a high-flying professional working in London. Five years later, she married a Worcester businessman, by which time she had changed her name by deed poll to Nina Tiara.

Tiara married at the impressive art deco Burgh Island Hotel, just off the coast of Bigbury on Sea in Devon, and the couple worked together at his employment agency,

By 2009, she owned the Rajdoot Indian restaurant in leafy Cutnall Green, Droitwich, Worcestershire. As one former school-run acquaintance and local resident remembers: ‘She liked nothing better on a Friday evening than to hold court.’

Tiara’s actions triggered a collaboration between major retailers to get a court injunction banning her from setting foot in any of their stores. Pictured: Tiara in TK Maxx)

Attractive and charming, she styled herself ‘Nina Naanbread’, and made sure to remember her clientele’s names and favourite dishes.

‘Some people talked about the fact she wore an ankle tag, but none of us ever knew why,’ says the acquaintance. ‘She was a hardened businesswoman, always talking to customers about who she knew and business opportunities she was planning to invest in.

‘The place was always packed at the weekends because the food was good, but it was dead during the week, so it wasn’t a surprise when she put it up for sale about three years after she’d opened it.’ By then her marriage had collapsed.

And then there is Worcester solicitor Tracy Lowe, who has more reason than most to feel aggrieved at Tiara’s exploits.

She was setting up her own family law firm in Worcester in March 2012 when she hired Tiara — then using her married name Nina Dalman — as office manager. She was, Tracy remembers, ‘charm personified’.

It was only through a stroke of blind luck that Tracy discovered her employee was up to some dubious dealings. She’d been trying to inveigle herself access to the company accounts, and had also set up her own company, registering it at Companies House and giving Tracy’s firm as the postal address.

Gloucester Crown Court (pictured)  heard how she’d devised an intricate, complicated and lucrative system of getting cash refunds on stolen goods

Tracy only rumbled what was going on when her bank manager called saying Tiara was trying to add her own name to her boss’s account. ‘I think her motive was to launder money or commit fraud through my office,’ says Tracy.

What happened next was even more shocking. Tiara waged a sinister revenge campaign of harassment against Tracy, her husband and her business for the next five months. Signs were removed from outside the office building, phone calls and emails were redirected, prospective clients were told that Tracy was going to be struck off as a solicitor.

There were threatening phone calls — anonymous, of course — and twisted posters distributed branding Tracy a ‘child killer’.

‘Sadly, I lost two children in a house fire many years ago. Nina knew this and her vindictiveness went as far as sending me and various people posters calling me a ‘child killer solicitor’. You can imagine the impact that had on me,’ says Tracy.

A strong woman, not easily cowed, Tracy says she was scared when she returned home from work to find she had been sent a bullet in the post, accompanied by the chilling message that she had a ‘past, present but no future’.

The solicitor says the police were involved from the outset. ‘I had dozens of messages and threats,’ she says. ‘There was not a day when something did not happen.

‘She knew where I lived and seemed to know when I got up, as I would then get an anonymous call. It was as if she was watching us. I could recognise her voice and she sent me text messages, but it was always from untraceable numbers. She was very clever.’

In June 2013, Worcester Magistrates Court imposed a five-year restraining order and a curfew. This week, back at Tiara’s old haunts in Worcestershire, nobody is surprised by her downfall.

‘Over-confident and flirtatious’, is how a fellow school-run dad describes her. ‘She was all about networking and looking for financial opportunities. She liked to give the impression she had money, although no one knew the truth.’

Neighbours in Malvern, where Tiara moved nine years ago, remember her unusual habit of popping over to borrow things — lamps, crockery, even to use their own shower because her water had mysteriously gone off.

‘It felt to us as if she was just coming round to look in our house and we felt a bit uneasy about it,’ say Vivien and John Watts.

‘Once she realised we weren’t going to be a pushover, she turned her attention to the neighbours on the other side of her. They were a nice couple and even invited her to their holiday home in Italy. Nina said if they took her there, they would be able to join her at her villa in the South of France but, of course, that never happened.’

Vivien remembers Tiara disappearing, without a word, 18 months after moving in, an event that was followed a short time later by the arrival of police carrying out the first of four separate raids. ‘They never told us what they were looking for, but they kept coming out with full black bin bags and stacks of paperwork,’ says Vivien.

The layers of Tiara’s deception have been years in the unwrapping. Even when she was arrested in 2019 she remained defiant.

While on bail she tampered with documents to alter her bail conditions, then went to Asda, where CCTV spotted her picking up an electric toothbrush and trying to get a refund. It was declined.

‘She’s probably unparalleled as a retail fraudster,’ says Tristram.

As for her own family, Tiara’s parents are both dead and she is estranged from her brother.

‘She’s an embarrassment to us,’ declared one man at a family address this week. While over in Sutton Coldfield, her brother-in-law says: ‘We have no intention of getting in touch with her again. She’s bad news. We want to stay a million miles away from her.’

Police believe Tiara was up to her old habits right up to the start of her trial. She’s now in custody and will be sentenced in April; whether she can change her ways remains to be seen.

Additional reporting: Christine Challand

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