Member of Romanian crime gang which raided phone shops across North East and UK is jailed

A member of a Romanian crime gang which raided phone shops across the UK in a series of planned "smash and grab" robberies has been locked up.

Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 3:11 pm

The group walked off with over £150,000 of phones and computer tablets after they stormed stores, including Vodafone, Carphone Warehouse and O2, between May 2018 to June 2019.

Shops from South Shields, Seaham, Durham, Hartlepool and Northumberland were among those targeted in a nationwide spree.

Newcastle Crown Court originally heard that many of the gang members have fled back to Romania, following the robberies.

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Ionatan Marin.

However, Ionatan Marin and Ionatan Stefan both admitted conspiracy to rob and appeared back in front of the same court on Wednesday, September 29.

Marin, of no fixed address but who was living in Harehills, Leeds, was carrying 13 mobile phones when he was arrested and was heavily involved in the raids.

The court heard the 19-year-old had arrived in the UK in 2018 before the offending began and is already serving a 54 month sentence for a separate shoprobbery which took place after these offences.

Stefan, 18, of Bayswater Row, Harehills, Leeds, played a lesser role and took part in four of the phone shop raids.

Ionatan Stefan.

Prosecutor Jonathan Walker told the court: "They used threats and intimidation to steal a very significant quantity of phones and electrical tablets.

"The offending had a significant impact on the businesses."

The court was told that the first raids were at the O2 stores in Darlington, Blyth and Southampton.

The following month in June 2018, a Carphone Warehouse in Darlington came under attack as well as a Vodafone store in Lancaster followed by an O2 store in Leeds Trinity.

Then in July 2018, stores in Durham, Leeds, Northumberland and Hartlepool were targeted.

Mr Walker added: "There were large groups entering the stores, there was aggression and then the phones were snatched."

In July 2018, O2 shops at South Shields, Seaham and Thornaby were also raided.

The following month, a Carphone Warehouse in Hartlepool and other in Bury, Manchester, were raided followed by O2 stores in Durham, Northampton and The Arnison Centre in Durham.

A string of three other O2 shops were then targeted in Leeds, Berwick and Cheshire in September 2018 before another in West Yorkshire and Galashields in the borders were hit in the October.

Then in December 2018 a Curry's store in Darlington and an O2 shop in Warrington were raided, the court heard.

During the following month, a Carphone Warehouse, an O2 shop and a TK Maxx in Warrington were all targeted as well as a Curry's shop in Middlesbrough in February 2019.

That same month, O2 shops in Leeds came under attack followed by an O2 store in Durham before the last raid took place in June 2019 at an O2 shop at Barrow-in-Furness.

In sentencing the pair, Mr Recorder Haythorne said: "These involved groups of up to eight people entering mobile phone retailers using force to steal a number of mobile phone devices from shops.

"These robberies caused significant damage to the shops.

"It appears groups of people from the area of Leeds drove motor vehicles to various parts of the north of England to commit these offences."

The judge told the pair he believed the robberies were planned in advance given the distance between the shops they targeted.

He added: "It required planning and it involved separate members of the gang in the shop at the same time to carry out the robbery.

"The total value of items stolen was considerable and I'm satisfied that they were not being stolen for personal use."

Charles Blatchford, defending, said Marin was a youth at the time of the offences and added: "He was one of the younger participants in this offending.

"A number of the older participants have fled the jurisdiction and avoided arrest."

Susannah Proctor, defending Stefan, said the raids were "smash and grab" offences and added: "They enter the shop, grab items that they can and leave."

Miss Proctor said Stefan, who now works in Sainsbury's after arriving in the UK in 2007, has been rehabilitated and lives a law abiding life.

She also said Stefan took part in four of the robberies and was paid a percentage of what was made at the raids he attended.

Marin was sentenced to two years and nine months whilst Stefan was given a youth rehabilitation order with supervision, and 200 hours of unpaid work.