Two jailed for Banburyshire church roof lead thefts after extradition from Austria and Romania

Gigi Prundaru, sentenced to six years and one month in prison, for the lead theftsGigi Prundaru, sentenced to six years and one month in prison, for the lead thefts
Gigi Prundaru, sentenced to six years and one month in prison, for the lead thefts
Two men have been jailed and another given a community order over the theft of lead from church roofs in Banburyshire and across the UK.

Lead was stripped from the roofs of churches in Middleton Cheney, Kingham, Wigginton, Souldern, Aston le Walls and Syresham. These were among 100 thefts or attempted thefts from 40 different churches across the country.

The convictions of Gigi Prundaru, Laurentiu Rebeca and Madalin Prunduru came after a long and extremely painstaking investigation led by Lincolnshire Police.

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Their arrests came thanks to the bravery of a church warden and his wife in Lincolnshire, who followed their vehicle up the A1 after they left the scene of a theft, helping Lincs Police control room to track them.

Laurentiu Rebeca who is now in jail for his part in the theft of lead from church roofs in the Banbury areaLaurentiu Rebeca who is now in jail for his part in the theft of lead from church roofs in the Banbury area
Laurentiu Rebeca who is now in jail for his part in the theft of lead from church roofs in the Banbury area

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

The three were arrested in 2016 – the year of the thefts – but this month’s court appearance was delayed, firstly because two fled to Austria and Romania and had to be returned to the UK through a European Arrest Warrant, then because of COVID-19 and the associated backlog of cases and barrister strikes.

Gigi Prundaru, 34, of no fixed address had previously admitted 31 offences and was sentenced to a total of 6 years 1 month imprisonment.

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Laurentiu Rebeca, 27, had admitted 24 offences and was sentenced to 4 years 10 months imprisonment.

Souldern Church, whose roof was stripped of its lead by the gang of three who were sentenced earlier this monthSouldern Church, whose roof was stripped of its lead by the gang of three who were sentenced earlier this month
Souldern Church, whose roof was stripped of its lead by the gang of three who were sentenced earlier this month

Madalin Gabriel Prundaru, 26, from Ilford was found guilty of 18 lead theft charges at Lincoln Crown Court where a judge gave him a 24 month community order.

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

In total the group were charged with 100 thefts/attempted thefts from 40 different churches, of which 73 offences resulted in conviction.

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The offences took place between 22 April, 2016 - 11 November, 2016. Gigi Prundaru and Rebeca continued to commit numerous offences following their arrest in Lincolnshire but fled overseas before electronic bail tags could be fitted.

Kingham Church were lead was stolen from the roof. A cigarette end was traced to one of the thieves by DNA testingKingham Church were lead was stolen from the roof. A cigarette end was traced to one of the thieves by DNA testing
Kingham Church were lead was stolen from the roof. A cigarette end was traced to one of the thieves by DNA testing

The damage to the churches caused by the lead-stripping was estimated at £1.25m. The quoted cost of repairs after the Middleton Cheney theft alone was in excess of £125,000.

The group was linked to offences identified in Northamptonshire (11 offences); Thames Valley (eight offences); Norfolk (six offences) Lincolnshire (five offences); Leicestershire (five offences); Cambridgeshire (five offences); Suffolk (three offences); Bedfordshire (two offences) Wiltshire (one offence) and Hampshire (one offence).

Banbury area churches affected were St Mary’s Church in Souldern, All Saints’ Church, Middleton Cheney and St Andrew’s Church, Kingham at the end of May 2016; St James Church, Syresham, Northants, overnight on July 2 and July 3 and St Leonards Church, Aston Le Walls on July 3 and 4, 2016. This was an attempted theft as the offender(s) were disturbed while on the roof and fled.

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St Giles Church, Wigginton, Oxfordshire had lead stolen at the beginning of July, 2016.

The defendants were linked to the Kingham offence by records of reconnaissance having been done on the church by Gigi Prundaru’s mobile phone. This also included a route plan between London and Kingham the day before the offence was discovered.

Madalin Prundaru was also linked to the offence by a discarded cigarette butt found in the grounds of the church which was matched to him by DNA testing.

Investigating officer DC Andrew Woodcock, of Lincolnshire Police, said: “It is quite difficult to explain how complex this investigation was but even the number of counties and locations involved will probably give some idea.

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"Lincolnshire Police led this investigation but were assisted by colleagues in other police forces and law enforcement agencies, not to mention those who had been affected by these offences and I’m grateful to all involved for their help and input.“It would be a mistake to consider these offences as victimless because it’s quite the opposite. Churches and religious sites hold a great deal of meaning for many people, as well as providing a hub for the community and these crimes have had a negative impact on many people across the country.

"Thankfully, now, we have held to account a group of people who were so callously willing to commit these offences without a thought for others.”

In relation to the later offences a mobile phone was seized from Gigi Prundaru which contained an archive of material relating to research on churches including Google street view images. From these images 17 different churches were identified, many of which had suffered thefts. Evidence on his mobile phone also included data extracted from a satellite navigation image and searches on hundreds of churches across the UK.

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.”

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Enquiries revealed the defendants would commit offences in the early hours, travel back to London and weigh in the lead at a London scrap yard. They received around £70,000 during the seven-month period.

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.