French police have launched a probe after British Formula One driver Jenson Button and his wife Jessica were burgled on the French Riviera, but authorities cast doubt on suspicions that sleeping gas
was used in the robbery.
The couple were in a rented villa in the glitzy resort of Saint-Tropez with friends when the thieves made off with Jessica's engagement ring and other valuables worth £300,000 ($465,000, 426,000 euros) on Monday evening, a source close to the probe said.
"Two men broke into the property whilst they all slept and stole a number of items of jewellery including, most upsettingly, Jessica's engagement ring," said a spokesman for Button, the 2009 world champion.
The thieves may have operated by pumping sleeping gas into the house through the air conditioning, he added.
"Whilst unharmed, everyone involved is unsurprisingly shaken by the events."
However, authorities cast doubt on the idea that gas was used.
"As far as we know, there has never been any robbery in the Saint-Tropez region where gas was used to put victims to sleep," said Philippe Guemas, a local prosecutor.
"Jenson Button's entourage made this unfounded assertion because the driver didn't feel well the next day.
"We took blood samples, which will be analysed."
Button, 35, is currently signed to team McLaren and lives in Monaco, along the Mediterranean coast from Saint-Tropez.
He married Jessica Michibata, an Argentinian-Japanese fashion model, in Hawaii in December.
There have also been recent reports that several British tourists were gassed by thieves as they slept in their caravans or motor homes in the south of France.
While local police reportedly told them it was the handy work of eastern European gangs, others doubt the claims including the UK's Royal College of Anaesthetists.
In a statement released last summer the College said: "Despite the increasing numbers of reports of people being gassed in motor-homes or commercial trucks in France, and the warning put out by the Foreign Office for travellers to be aware of this danger, this College remains of the view that this is a myth.
"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 motor-home without their knowledge, even if they were sleeping at the time."