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Church warden led officers to church lead theft suspects

As part of our series on the three men sentenced for church lead thefts across the country, we look at how the bravery of a church warden led to the arrests of the defendants.


Gigi Prundaru, aged 34, Laurentiu Rebeca, aged 27, and Madalin Prundaru, aged 26, were arrested in Lincolnshire in the early hours of 26 August, 2016, after they left the scene of a theft in progress at St Botolphs Church in Walcot near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.


The group were seen leaving the area by the then church warden who bravely followed the vehicle in his car up to the A1 at Grantham, providing Lincolnshire Police’s Force Control Room with updates along the way, helping officers track them.


Officers located the suspects’ car, and the defendants were found packed into the front seat of the car with the rear full of lead sheets. They were arrested and the lead was tested.


There had been a number of thefts of lead from churches in the previous few days in the Sleaford area. A sample of lead was matched via SMARTWATER samples to another theft at nearby Newton church which had occurred that night.


A thorough and complex investigation then followed, which resulted in the group being charged with a total of 47 offences in 10 counties.


The value of the aggregate damage caused to the churches was £1.25m.


The group was linked to offences identified in Northamptonshire (11 offences); Thames Valley (8 offences); Norfolk (6 offences) Lincolnshire (5 offences); Leicestershire (5 offences); Cambridgeshire (5 offences); Suffolk (3 offences); Bedfordshire (2 offences) Wiltshire (1 offence) and Hampshire (1 offence).


The offences took place between 22 April, 2016, and 11 November, 2016. Gigi Prundaru and Rebeca continued to commit numerous offences following their arrest in Lincolnshire. They were charged with two offences in Norfolk but fled overseas.


Investigating officer DC Andrew Woodcock, of Lincolnshire Police, said: “The courage of the church warden and his wife in this case gave us a huge head start because his on-the-ground information and intelligence meant we knew exactly where the suspects were. Without that, it would have taken us longer to track and find them. I extend my thanks to them for their clear mindedness and bravery – not everyone would have been able to do what they did. At times we rely on the public to help be our eyes and ears in our communities because we can’t be everywhere all of the time, and this is a shining example of how the public can help us to do our jobs more effectively.”


Subsequent enquiries revealed the defendants, who were living in the Edmonton area of London, would commit offences in the early hours and then travel back to London and weigh in the lead sheets at a London scrap yard. They received around £70,000 during the seven-month period.


The group were also linked to another investigation, led by Cambridgeshire, in which a defendant, Petre Cazan, received seven and half years’ imprisonment in March 2019. Cazan and Gigi Prundaru were known from mobile phone evidence to have committed several offences together.


An international enquiry was conducted in relation to Gigi Prundaru and Rebeca’s whereabouts and following issuing of the European Arrest Warrants, through detective work, Rebeca was located in Austria and Gigi Prundaru in Romania. They were both arrested in November 2019 on European Arrest Warrants and extradited back to the UK.


The defendants initially contested the offences but due to overwhelming evidence from a combination of mobile phone cell site evidence and mobile phone downloads, ANPR evidence, and forensic evidence and records of payments to the scrap yard, the defendants changed their pleas to guilty.


Madalin Gabriel Prundaru, from Redbridge Lane East, Ilford, was found guilty of 18 lead theft charges at Lincoln Crown Court after a jury returned a guilty verdict last month.


He appeared at Lincoln Crown Court on Friday, where the judge gave him a 24 month community order.


He was part of a group of three in which two others have been previously jailed. This operation was called Operation Dastardly and was led by Lincolnshire Police.


Gigi Prundaru previously admitted 31 offences and was sentenced to a total of 6 years 1 month imprisonment

Laurentiu Rebeca admitted 24 offences and was sentenced to 4 years 10 months imprisonment

The judge also awarded £350 of public money to be issued to the church warden for his bravery.


The first initial release was put out on Friday and can be read here: Man given community order for lead theft from churches | Lincolnshire Police (lincs.police.uk)


The next follow-on release is about evidence and offences and will be published tomorrow, Wednesday.


Gigi


Rebeca



Source: www.lincs.police.uk

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