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Group guilty of lead thefts from churches including Yaxley and Great Glemham in Suffolk

A man who was part of a group which stole lead causing £1.25m worth of damage to churches claimed he didn’t realise it was theft.

Gigi Prundaru, 34, of no fixed address, Laurentiu Rebeca, 27, of no fixed address, and Madalin Prundaru, 26, of Redbridge Lane East, Ilford, were arrested in Lincolnshire in the early hours of August 26, 2016, after they left the scene of a theft in progress at St Botolphs Church in Walcot near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

Lincolnshire Police force led the investigation and all three men have been found guilty of the thefts across 10 counties, including Suffolk (3 offences), Norfolk (6 offences), Northamptonshire (11 offences); Thames Valley (8 offences); Lincolnshire (5 offences); Leicestershire (5 offences); Cambridgeshire (5 offences); Bedfordshire (2 offences) Wiltshire (1 offence) and Hampshire (1 offence).

Gigi Prundaru and Laurentiu Rebeca. Picture: Lincolnshire Police
Gigi Prundaru and Laurentiu Rebeca. Picture: Lincolnshire Police

At his trial in March this year, Madalin Prundaru alleged that he had been recruited by his cousin to do building work at unknown locations across the country during the night.

He said he had no knowledge that it was theft but admitted that he would have stolen if Gigi Prundaru told him.

He alleged that he had been exploited by his cousin and was only paid around £25 to £30 a time.

Gigi Prundaru weighing the lead
Gigi Prundaru weighing the lead

He said he had no knowledge that it was theft but admitted in evidence that he would have stolen if Gigi Prundaru told him.

His lawyers argued he was of limited intelligence and did not realise his actions were dishonest.

Following a four-day trial and more than four hours of deliberation the jury found Madalin Prundaru guilty of all 18 offences he had been charged with.

Gigi Prundaru previously admitted 31 offences and was jailed for six years and one month while Laurentiu Rebeca admitted 24 offences and was sentenced to four years and 10 months imprisonment.

They had fled the country but were extradited back to the United Kingdom to attend court.

The bravery of a church warden at St Botolph’s Church in Walcot near Folkingham led to the group’s initial arrest in the early hours of August 26, 2016 near Grantham.

However, the group continued to steal.

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.

The evidence pointed to Gigi Prundaru being the organiser of the offences with Laurentiu being linked to offences throughout.

Gigi Prundaru was interviewed initially by Lincolnshire Police detectives and latterly by Norfolk detectives. He denied his involvement suggesting the lead in the vehicle seized in Lincolnshire had been simply found at the side of the church.

Rebeca alleged that he had been doing building work but denied that he had been on any church roofs. Footwear marks on the roof of a church suggested otherwise.

Lead was stolen from St Andrew’s Church, Witham-on-the-Hill on July 15 and 18, 2016. The three men were linked to the offence by call data and automatic number plate recognition.

A glove was also found in the grounds of the church by a resident and DNA was matched to Rebeca.

Further offences were committed at St Mary’s Church, Manton, and St Edmund’s Church, Egleton.

The offenders were disturbed at Egleton due to an alarm being activated and no lead was stolen.

Again they were linked by mobile phone evidence, automatic number plate recognition and scrap yard payments.

After a complex investigation the group was charged with 47 offences in 10 counties.

The value of the aggregate damage caused to the churches was £1.25m.

Gigi Prundaru and Rebeca admitted an offence at St Marys Church, Yaxley, Suffolk, and two offences over consecutive nights at All Saints Church, Great Glemham, Suffolk, between October 26 and 28, 2016.