Travelling distraction thief committed more than 50 thefts over 10 months

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A travelling criminal who committed more than 50 thefts across 15 different counties has been jailed for three years.

Stefan Balaceanu, aged 24, of Gordon Road, Ilford, Essex, pleaded guilty to 53 offences committed between July 2018 and May 2019, 16 of which were in Hertfordshire.

He was sentenced to three years in prison

The court heard that Balaceanu travelled the country stealing mobile phones, purses and wallets from victims after distracting them.

The defendant would approach his victims while holding a piece of paper with writing on and speaking a foreign language. He would point at the paper and ask them to help him.

While his victims were distracted, Balaceanu would steal their belongings while using the paper to conceal his actions. It was not until the victims went to use their mobile phone, wallet or purse that they realised they were missing.

In Hertfordshire his crime spreed lasted two months.

On January 18, he stole a mobile phone from a customer inside Costa in Queensway, Stevenage. On February 1, he stole cash from a till at a florist in College Road, Cheshunt. On February 11, he stole a mobile phone from a shop in North Street, Bishop’s Stortford. On February 13, he stole mobile phones from both a recruitment agency in Northgate End, Bishop’s Stortford, and a hair salon in Church Street, Bishop’s Stortford. On the same day he also stole a purse from a clothes shop on South Street in Bishop’s Stortford.

On February 18, he stole a wallet from a customer inside Zaza on Church Street in Rickmansworth, while the following day he stole a mobile phone from a customer at The Full House on the

Marlowes in Hemel Hempstead, and later another mobile phone from a customer in Costa at Debenhams in Riverside, Hemel Hempstead.

On March 12, he stole a mobile phone from an estate agents in Bishop’s Stortford High Street.

Seven days later he stole a mobile phone from a hair salon on North Approach in Watford. On May 20, he stole mobile phones from two offices in Queensway, Hemel Hempstead; a hair salon in Courtlands Drive, Watford; a tattoo parlour in Vicarage Road, Watford; and an estate agents in Station Road, Rickmansworth.

Balaceanu was arrested by officers from Hampshire Constabulary on May 23 after they stopped a vehicle which flashed up on their ANPR system in Basingstoke. He was identified as one of the occupants and it was determined that he was wanted for a number of offences, so after his arrest he was transferred to custody in Hertfordshire.

It was found that Balaceanu had committed a string of similar theft offences in Hampshire, Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Wiltshire, London, Essex, West Yorkshire, Sussex, Kent, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Cheshire during a nine-month period.

Hertfordshire Police’s specialist investigation team launched an inquiry, supported by fellow officers and staff on the Local Policing Command, to piece together the path of Balaceanu’s criminality.

DC James Kier said: “The scale of Balaceanu’s offending was very significant. It was clear he had no qualms about targeting innocent members of the public after preying on their good natures.

“This was a protracted investigation and involved colleagues from elsewhere in the Constabulary as well as 15 different police forces. I would like to publicly thank them for their help in gathering evidence because their support ultimately enabled us to achieve a conviction.”