MEMBERS of a Birmingham pickpocket gang who stole mobile phones from pubs, shops and restaurants across the country have been jailed.
They slyly swiped phones from tables after covering the valuables with menus and leaflets – a tactic known as ’table surfing.’
West Midlands Police worked with officers from Thames Valley Police in Oxfordshire to trace the men using CCTV and intelligence.
The gang of five were charged with conspiracy to steal in relation to 24 thefts, with 18 linked to table surfing.
Elisai Paun (20) of Botha Road, Bordesley Green; and Vasile Dinu (19) of Rogers Road, Ward End, were jailed for 12 months each at Oxford Crown Court on Monday (18 April).
David Panghatia (19) of Alum Rock Road was sentenced to 14 months and a 16-year-old male youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given a youth rehabilitation order.
A fifth man, Teofil Schian (20) of Bordesley Green East, failed to attend the sentencing hearing and is now being hunted by police.
The crimes took place across Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Oxford, Mansfield, Nottingham, Rugby, Loughborough, Stamford and Lutterworth between June and August last year.
Eight crimes were committed in the West Midlands, including three within an hour in Birmingham on July 9.
PC Mat Evans, of the Birmingham city centre pro-active team which targets pickpocketers, said: “These were professional thieves who were part of an organised gang.
“I have no doubt they would have continued to steal if they had not been stopped by police.
“I would advise members of the public to be very suspicious of anyone who approaches them in a cafe, restaurant or bar who is not a member of staff, and who tries to distract them with leaflets, greeting cards or menus.
“Keep phones in your pocket, not on show on the table, and always keep bags in view.”