Four Romanian nationals have been cleared of any involvement in what police described as the biggest domestic burglary plot ever seen in the UK.
The defendants broke down in court and wept as the jury at Isleworth Crown Court returned unanimous verdicts of not guilty for a main charge of conspiracy to burgle homes in west London in December 2019, as well as some alternative counts.
Escort Maria Mester, 48, her bartender son Emil Bogdan Savastru, 30, former sports teacher Sorin Marcovici, 53, and hotel concierge Alexandru Stan, 49, were all cleared of being members of the “supporting cast” during the break-ins, following the two-month trial.
Prosecutors claimed the defendants provided logistical support to the alleged burglars – who cannot be named for legal reasons – rather than carrying out the raids themselves.
Victims included Chelsea FC manager Frank Lampard and his television presenter wife Christine Lampard, the late Leicester City FC owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and socialite Tamara Ecclestone.
Police said thieves stole £25 million worth of jewellery and cash from Ms Ecclestone’s Kensington home during an hour-long raid, initially unbeknown to her unwitting security guards.
Ms Ecclestone, the daughter of ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, was on holiday in Lapland with her husband, art gallery owner Jay Rutland, their daughter, their dog and a security guard when the raids happened.
Each defendant said they had no involvement with the plot, and had no knowledge the alleged burglars were criminals.
Savastru was convicted of one count – attempting to conceal criminal property – relating to a bag and a watch stolen from one of the raids.
He will be sentenced at a later date.
All others were cleared.
Defence lawyers for the defendants said the prosecution of four defendants on eight charges – which resulted in a solitary conviction for one defendant on one lesser charge – would have cost the taxpayer millions.
The court heard how Ms Mester flew into the UK from Italy on December 7, nearly a week after the raid on the Lampards’ Chelsea home.
She was described by police as the plot’s “matriarch”, who was said to be “inseparable” from the alleged burglars.
But Ms Mester said she was only in London after being paid around £5,000 to accompany one of the alleged burglars for the week.
The court heard she introduced the alleged thieves to her childhood friend Mr Marcovici and her son Savastru.
Prosecutor Timothy Cray QC told jurors the three raids netted “big money”, with “fabulous jewellery” stolen – the majority of it never having been recovered.
Mr Cray said the Lampards had around £60,000 in watches and jewellery stolen on December 1 while they were out, before raiders then ransacked the family home of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in 2018 in a helicopter crash.
Savastru was arrested at Heathrow Airport on January 30 as he prepared to leave for Japan, wearing Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s Tag watch and carrying a Louis Vuitton bag stolen from Mr Rutland.
He said he thought the items were left behind by the alleged burglars at the Airbnb property he had helped them rent – the jury convicted him of this one count.