A gang of South American thieves who stole more than £80,000 worth of possessions from unsuspecting travellers at London’s biggest airports have been jailed for more than 12 years.
The thieves committed a string of thefts in less than a week by distracting “elderly and vulnerable” holidaymakers before snatching luggage.
Further offences took place at Heathrow on September 9 and 12 and at Stansted on September 10, before Aviation Policing Command Crime Squad officers succeeding in linking the gang to the crimes by trawling through CCTV.
The officers observed that the thieves usually worked as a team and used distraction techniques on elderly and unsuspecting travellers. The stolen property, which included jewellery, identification documents and cash, is estimated to be worth about £81,873.
They found that a silver Mercedes was parked in the area at the time of the offences and connected the gang to the car. On September 19, officers traced it to a supermarket in Camberwell and three suspects were arrested as they got into the vehicle.
Officers searched the car and recovered a bag which matched one they had seen being used during the first crime at City airport and at Heathrow three days later.
Jose Martin Encarnacion Flores, 53, Reynaldo Willy Weston, 66, and Juan Gabriel Romero Hernandez, 55, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft.
They were sentenced to a combined total of 13 years and 10 months at Isleworth crown court on Wednesday.
A fourth man, José de Jesus Boada Penaranda, 61, has been convicted of similar offences and is due to be sentenced on December 4.
Pc Barry Munnelly said the men had arrived in the UK in August with the express purpose of carrying out the thefts, adding: “They will now spend a considerable time behind bars before being deported.”
He said: “Airports are generally very safe places to be, but nevertheless, I want to get the message out to members of the public about the importance of remaining vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times and of keeping your property secure. These crimes happen in an instant.”