custody | 

Judge says Romanian men accused of burglaries are on 'criminal inspired tourist trip'

“Instead of the Giants Causeway and Derry's Walls, they have visited petrol stations and Tesco cigarette counters”
Paul Higgins

Four Romanian men were remanded into custody today accused of two commercial burglaries that allegedly netted them more than £10,000.

Refusing to free any of the defendants at Coleraine Magistrates Court, sitting in Ballymena, District Judge Peter King said given the “compelling” police case, “I have no hesitation in remanding the four into custody.”

“We have four men on a criminal inspired tourist trip to NI but instead of the Giants Causeway and Derry's Walls, they have visited petrol stations and Tesco cigarette counters,” said the judge.

The four, all of no fixed abode are: Marcel Burghia (29), Viorel Lupoae (29), Nicusor Gheorghe (30) and Adrian Bursa (22).

All four are jointly charged with four offences including burglary of the Mace store on Main Street in Toomebridge on 8 June and burglary of Tescos in Portstewart the following day.

They’re also co-accused on charges of possessing and converting criminal property, namely cigarettes, stamps and mobile phones and damaging a window pane at the Mace shop.

Giving evidence with each of the defendants applying for bail, Const. Sandri said there were “serious concerns” about them being freed due to the risk of flight they each posed.

The first offence, he outlined, relates to the Mace store in Toomebridge in the early hours when three men were captured on cctv removing a metal grid from over a window and once inside, they cut the power off.

When it came back on 20 minutes later, cigarettes and tobacco with £10,000 had been taken and an internet router had also been stolen, the theft of which had resulted in around £10,000 loss of earnings.

Then just before 3am last Friday, an alarm went off in Tesco in Portstewart and although police went to investigate, the premises was secure, said the officer.

An hour later however, the key holder reported that the store had been “ransacked” after entry had been forced through a door and cctv footage shows three males using a crow bar to open the door, open tills inside and filling a “distinctive diver cover” with cigarettes, stamps and 20 mobile phones still in their boxes.

The two vehicles involved, a van and a Mercedes car, were circulated and when they were stopped the following day, cops uncovered the mobile phones and most of the cigarettes in the boots of each vehicle.

A route planner showing the road from Ballymoney to Dublin was also seized.

Arrested and interviewed three of the accused denied involvement but the fourth, Gheorghe, admitted driving the other three to each of the locations and that he was aware it was to burgle the shops.

While defence counsel David McKeown argued the four could be freed with “stringent bail conditions” to live at an address in Strabane, DJ King said given the risk of flight “I cannot think of any less suitable a location for a bail address” given its within walking distance of the border.

He remanded all four into custody and adjourned the case to 11 July.

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