BURGLARS who drilled through walls to carry out a £300,000 heist at a central London jewellers accidentally tunnelled into a betting shop first.
Florin-Cristin Neagu and Sorin Munteanu were found guilty of the ‘sophisticated and daring’ raid at George Attenborough & Son Jewellers in Fleet Street last March and each sentenced to six years in jail.
Their associate Nicolae Sisca had previously admitted his part in the burglary, which took place under cover of a nearby half-marathon.
But Southwark crown court heard the bungling trio had accidentally gone through the wrong wall — ending up in the neighbouring William Hill on their first attempt.
Prosecutor Philip Stott said the thieves made the mistake despite extensive reconnaissance and planning. Jurors were shown footage of one of the men, said to be Sisca, crawling through the hole and looking around the betting shop before returning.
But on the second day of the raid they managed to break in to the jewellers — aided by the camouflage of thousands of runners pounding the streets for the London Landmarks race last March 24.
The group stole £298,987 worth of jewellery and also attempted to access the shop’s safe containing items worth an estimated £400,000.
During the raid, Neagu, 46, stayed outside, keeping watch for more than eight hours over two days as Munteanu, 44, went inside to assist Sisca.
As they carried out the heist, they covered CCTV cameras with a white opaque substance and caused around £16,000 worth of damage.
Neagu and Munteanu both fled the UK within 48 hours of the raid, but were arrested in Romania and extradited back to the UK last year.
Jurors took just 32 minutes to convict the pair of burglary yesterday after Mr Stott said there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence of their guilt. Meanwhile the judge Mr Recorder Jo Boothby branded their decision to go to trial as ‘absurd’. Sisca’s jail term was four-and-a-half years due to his plea.
Sentencing, Mr Boothby said: ‘It was with considerable professionalism that you came to this country in January of last year. You came as a team, I have no doubt, having already decided that you were going to attack the premises of George Attenborough & Son. In February you bought a car and rented a flat in Stratford. In March you carried out reconnaissance visits to Fleet Street, where you were planning your burglary. It was a burglary of very high value cargo, of gold and jewellery.
‘You shielded the CCTV and spent two evenings, two nights smashing your way into the premises doing considerable damage. After that, you hurriedly left the country and presumably passed the jewellery on to someone in this country.’
Felicia Davy, defending Neagu, said: ‘The fact that William Hill was first broken into indicates this was not as professional as my learned friend may suggest.’
However, the jewellery has not been recovered. The men will face confiscation proceedings on 24 July.