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Romanian gang who caused travel chaos after stealing FOUR MILES of railway cable worth 500,000 are jailed for 23 years The men, aged between 19 and 36, plundered rural railway tracks
Then they sold the metal for scrap replaced it with cheap shop bought wire
18:40 GMT, 19 December 2012
Eight Romanian men who stole cable from remote rural railway lines and replaced it with cheap shop bought wire are today beginning combined prison sentences of 23 years.
The men, aged between 19 and 36, plundered rural stretches of the railway line between Evesham, Worcestershire, and Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, causing chaos for commuters.
Birmingham Crown Court heard the organised gang travelled from their homes in the
Handsworth and Smethwick areas of Birmingham to target isolated countryside lines.
Left Christian Toader, 24, and right Florin Cojocaru, 19. Both men were part of group which admitted the thefts
Mihai Binta, 27, (left) and Mihai Mihart (right) were also sentenced today at Birmingham Crown Court
After pinching the cable they left it by the side of the tracks for another team from the gang to collect.
The gang then attempted to cover up their crime by replacing the stolen cable with cheap wire they bought and sold the original for scrap.
Jan Trofin, 36, Alexandru Tofaleanu, 29, Mihai Mihart, 26, Stefanel Ruset, 19, Christian Toader, 24, of Selsey Road, Birmingham, Mihai Binta, 27, Florin Cojocaru, 19 and Costinel Mijloc, 24 all of Birmingham, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal railway cable from the railway network.
The men were caught following a major British Transport Police investigation.
The court heard between 3 November 2011 and 24 May 2012, the gang struck at least 22 times, always at night, and stole a total of about 6,000 metres of cable.
The thieves cost Network Rail between 450,000 and 500,000 to replace and repair the cables and also fines incurred to train operators as a result of the delays and disruption caused.
Some of the gang also targeted the railway line in Church Lawford, Warwickshire, following increased police patrols in the Cotswolds.
Alexandru Tofaleanu, 29, left and Costinel Mijloc, 24,were also among those caught stealing cable
Stefanel Ruset, 19, left, and Jan Trofin, right, 36, were among the men who replaced the line with cheap wire
BTP officers were first alerted on 3 November 2011 after Network Rail reported a loss of power to signalling in the Chipping Camden area of Gloucestershire.
Cable was then discovered cut and stored at the location awaiting collection, by the thieves.
A number of other similar incidents along the rural Cotswolds line were reported in the following days and weeks, prompting a major investigation by BTP officers who began patrolling the line overnight and using hidden CCTV cameras, mobile phone records and alarms to track the thieves' movements.
On 24 May 2012, after gathering a wealth of evidence over the previous six months, BTP officers raided five addresses in Handsworth and Smethwick.
Prosecutor, Michael Duck, told the court it was clear there was a hierarchy among the gang. Trofin, Mihart and Tofaleanu were regarded as the key players, while Binta, Cojocaru and Mijloc described as 'willing foot soldiers' who played lesser roles in the conspiracy, such as driving vehicles or 'fetching and carrying' stolen cable.
Judge Robert Orme said there had been a level of sophistication attached to the thefts and each had a major impact on the rail network and passengers whose trains were delayed or cancelled as a result of the criminal activity.
This image shows suspects being arrested as a police dog handler watches on
'Trains were halted and reduced services were put in place leading to inconvenience for travellers and great cost to Network Rail,' he said.
'It also posed potential safety issues to rail staff (tasked with replacing stolen or damaged cables) and also to people out walking near the line or on foot crossings at these rural locations, as live wires were often left exposed.
'These are clearly very serious offences of theft involving sustained, professional offending which require, in my view, a deterrent element in the sentencing.'
Detective Inspector Andy Irwin-Porter, who led the BTP investigation, said: 'They caused massive disruption to the rail network and cost the industry around 500,000.
'We are delighted to have concluded this investigation but, rest assured, we will not become complacent in the fight against cable thieves who disrupt everyone's life by attacking communities and causing delays and massive inconvenience to everyone who uses the rail network.'
The sophisticated gang replaced four miles of stolen railway cable in the Cotswolds with cheap shop-bought wire
Over a six-month period the gang struck at least 22 times under cover of night, costing Network Rail around 500,000 in repairs
Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail route managing director, said: 'I cannot over-emphasise just how serious these crimes are. Cable thieves deny passengers the service they rightly expect and, through the massive cost to the industry, deny everyone improvements to rail services.
'We are doing everything we can to protect the railway and will continue to work closely with British Transport Police and other rail partners to do everything in our power to deter thieves and bring those who attack our network to justice.'