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Thieves who stole lead from 40 churches sentenced after churchwarden catches them in the act

04 May 2023

LINCOLNSHIRE POLICE

Damage at St Denys’s, Sleaford, Lincolnshire

Damage at St Denys’s, Sleaford, Lincolnshire

TWO lead-thieves who caused £1.25-million-worth of damage to 40 churches over seven months have been sentenced for a total of ten years.

Details of their offences, and how they were finally arrested after a churchwarden caught them in the act and shadowed them in his car until police arrived, have only just been released after a series of trials at Lincoln Crown Court. The judge awarded the churchwarden £350 for his bravery.

DC Andrew Woodcock, of Lincolnshire Police, said: “The courage of the churchwarden 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. I extend my thanks to them for their clear-mindedness and bravery — not everyone would have been able to do what they did. This is a shining example of how the public can help us to do our jobs more effectively.”

Gigi Prundaru, aged 34, of no fixed address, who used Google Earth to locate roofs to target, was sentenced to six years and one month, and his confederate, Laurentiu Rebeca, aged 27, also of no fixed address, was sentenced to four years and ten months. Last Friday, a third member of the gang, Gigi Prundaru’s cousin, Madalin Prundaru, aged 26, of Redbridge Lane East, Ilford, was given a 24-month community order and 30 days of rehabilitation activity. The court was told that he has learning difficulties, and was duped into helping the thieves load their getaway car. He was paid about £25 a time for what he was told was building work.

The three were arrested in the early hours of 26 August 2016, after being seen by a then churchwarden of St Botolph’s, Walcot, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire, leaving the scene of the crime. The churchwarden followed their car, and provided police with updates along the way, until they were stopped on the A1 at Grantham. Officers found the three in the front seat of the car with the lead sheets in the rear.

Tests of the metal found Smartwater security markings, linking it to another theft that night at a church in Newton near by.

In total, the group were charged with 100 thefts or attempted thefts; of these, 73 offences resulted in convictions. The other offences were left on file.

The arrests sparked the creation of Operation Dastardly: a multi-force investigation into a series of thefts between April and November in ten counties. Detectives linked the gang to 11 offences in Northamptonshire; eight in the Thames Valley; six in Norfolk; five each in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and Cambridgeshire; three in Suffolk; two in Bedfordshire; and one each in Wiltshire and Hampshire.

The gang would take the lead to a scrapyard near to where they lived in Edmonton, north London, where they received a total of £70,000.

Gigi Prundaru and Laurentiu Rebeca fled the country after their release on bail, but were arrested in November 2019 on European Arrest Warrants, and were extradited.

DC Woodcock said: “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.”

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