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London taxi driver helped police piece together search for 3 men involved in £26 million burglaries

Image credit : Metropolitan Police

Three men from Milan have been jailed for their role in the highest value series of residential burglaries in UK history with the help of a London black taxi driver who was able to help piece together their movements after one of their burglaries.

Jugsolav Jovanovic (16.01.97), who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to money laundering, was sentenced to a total of 11 years in jail.

Alessandro Donati (14.08.77) and Alessandro Maltese (13.04.76), pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and were both given sentences of eight years and nine months.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge commended Met detectives for their investigation to track down the defendants, who fled the country in the days after targeting the homes of three high-profile individuals where they stole cash and items worth around £26 million.

Detective Constable Andrew Payne, from Central Specialist Crime, said: “These three men meticulously planned these crimes, taking every step to make sure they were no more than shadows and ghosts when moving around London.

“They only paid in cash, they wore caps, they disguised their appearance and they never walked in a group. They carried out detailed reconnaissance for every job they did.

“But what they didn’t account for as part of their planning were the detectives who were to hunt them down, identify them and bring them back to the UK.

“In fact, they were so confident in their ability to evade justice that all three of them individually praised us for working out who they were and locating them.

“We are pleased they are now behind bars and that their plans to commit further crimes in England and further afield have been disrupted.”

Jovanovic, Donati and Maltese all flew into the UK just days before committing their first burglary, stealing goods worth a total of around £60,000, at an address in Kensington and Chelsea on 1 December 2019.

They carried out another burglary at an address in Knightsbridge on Tuesday, 10 December, stealing £1 million worth of watches and cash, along with a collection of Thai Buddha pendants.

Their final crime saw them target a house on Palace Green where they escaped with items including precious stones, diamonds, watches and cash to the value of more than £26 million.

Officers from Central Specialist Crime had just one 13-second clip of grainy CCTV footage to work from, which showed the burglars creeping through the back garden of the Palace Green property and back out again.

A large crime scene was established and officers started work to determine who the gang were and where they had gone with millions of pounds worth of diamonds and jewels.

As part of CCTV being examined frame by frame, the group were seen to flag down an unknown black taxi during their getaway; the vehicle’s registration plate could not be made out.

Officers identified a minimum of 1,007 black taxis being within the vicinity of Kensington during the right time frame – they had to trace and eliminate every single one of them. Going through the list, it was only when officers got to call 1,004 that the driver confirmed it was him who picked the burglars up.

He told the team where he had taken the group and through further CCTV work they managed to piece together their journeys and establish they were regularly travelling back from central London to Orpington in Kent.

One of the detectives walked the streets of Orpington trying to determine where the men were based. After many hours, and on nothing more than a hunch, he saw a hotel and enquired about all of the people who had stayed there in November and December.

The team went through the full list and came across an identity card of Jugoslav Jovanovic – this image was identical to one of the men they were looking for.

With the assistance of European partners via Europol, detectives were also able to identify Alessandro Maltese and Alessandro Donati, both Italians who had flown back to Milan in the days after the burglary.

Officers travelled to Italy where they worked closely with the Italian Squadia de Milano. The close working relationship meant the three individuals were all tracked down and thanks to the hard work of the Met’s Extradition Unit, brought back to the UK to face justice.

More than 50 units across the Met played a role in the successful prosecution of the gang, including Forensic Services who devised a unique sound test to prove that the burglars could not be heard within the house in order to disprove the theory around an inside job.

It was also a truly international effort. During the investigation the team worked with Italian Police in Milan and Europol contacts in countries including Sweden, Netherlands, France, Serbia and Romania and were supported by colleagues in the United States of America.

Before being caught, the burglars enjoyed their new found wealth – not only spending thousands of pounds in cash in Harrods and enjoying a meal at a luxury restaurant, but even opening a bottle of £500 champagne from one of the properties and enjoying it as they ransacked the house.

DC Payne added: “This story is comparable to what you will see in a Hollywood movie but unfortunately this was real life and involved real victims.

“They have all been affected by the crimes the gang committed. The family of one of the victims – who had recently passed away – said the house was a place of reflection and to pray as it was the place he spent the night before his death. The sacred connection was violated, they said, by the burglary.

“The gang even stole the watch that had been left in the exact same place the victim took it before he left the house for the final time. This is one of the only items that has been recovered, being worn on one of the gang’s associates when they were arrested.

“Almost all of the other property stolen has never been seen again and has been successfully laundered, concealed and disguised.

“Organised Crime Groups (OCNs) like this have intrinsic links to violence in London and we make no apology for tackling them. This investigation has ultimately led to a OCN being disrupted and prevented them from carrying out further offences both in the UK and across Europe.”

Victim impact statements

Frank Lampard: ”I would say that this incident has had a major impact on our general feeling of security, particularly with having a 16 month old baby. The fact that my job means that I travel frequently again raises my concerns. Neither my wife nor I are sleeping too well as a consequence of this incident. I would add that while I have been an unfortunate victim of a crime previously, particularly burglary, this incident has had a far greater impact on our lives.”

Christine Lampard: ”Since this break in at my house, I am much more fearful of being alone in my own home, I am less trusting of visitors to the house and feel unsafe in my home. I have a young daughter and feel vulnerable in a home which I had previously always felt safe and happy in. I have struggled to sleep sometimes since the incident as I am sensitive to any noise from outside fearing another attack.”

Burglary 2

Family of late Mr Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha family: “Our late father’s residence was a place of reflection and to pray. We felt it was the strongest connection to him as he spent his last night there before his death. Since the burglary, our sacred and special connection has been damaged and violated beyond repair.”

Burglary 3

Tamara Ecclestone: “It has been really awful, I’m so scared I will not leave my daughter alone in the house at night because I just feel like the people I am meant to trust, I don’t, I’m not sure that I can trust anyone.

“I feel like my daughter is picking up my vibe a little bit now, she won’t even go to the toilet without saying mummy come with me. And she talks about burglars now as well, which is really really hard and that’s the worst part trying to pretend to her nothing actually did happen, and to try to make her feel the house is a safe space.

“A lot of it [the stolen items] was really personal, I wanted to give some of the items to my daughter one day. But aside from that, it has been really hard to try and carry on as normal and feel safe and feel like I can trust people that I meant to trust. It’s just hard to put it to one side to move forward and it’s strange knowing that there were people on top of the jewellery cabinet where there were photos of my daughter and to know they touched that stuff and were in there, makes me feel really kind of like violated and a strange feeling.

“It has got me thinking all different kind of things, and I’m now obsessing over security, the gates and barb wires, spikes and stuff and it’s not really how I want to live my life. I feel it has made me think twice about people that I’m meant to trust which is awful because I want be able to go out for dinner and leave my daughter in the house and not worry, and just be able to get back to normal life but it’s been really hard.”

Jay Rutland: “My daughter is now on a semi regular basis talking about it [the burglary] even though we told her that the burglars did not actually manage to break in. She asks me and my wife if the burglars are coming back. I feel a whole combination of emotions, anger that they have stolen from us, fear that they could come back and sadness that sentimental pieces of jewellery which were gifts at our wedding or at the birth of our daughter were stolen that cannot be replaced. Whilst my wife and I continue to support one another it is incredibly difficult for me to see how much it has affected her and how nervous she has become.”


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