One of a gang of women known as the Rolex Rippers for robbing wealthy gentlemen of their designer watches has been jailed.
Stefania Tinica, a Romanian national, is the first member of the gang behind dozens of distraction thefts across the country to be convicted.
The 40-year-old and an unknown female accomplice struck in exclusive neighbourhoods at either end of the country five months apart.
Tinica relieved one victim of his £15,000 Rolex watch without him realising when she tried to hug and kiss him and attempted to do the same to another man who fought back.
A court heard the attempted robbery happened on January 3 last year by Alderley Edge Golf Club in Cheshire.
Tinica approached Simon Kelly and tried to take his £10,000 Rolex Submariner watch off of him.
Mr Kelly managed to break free and push one of them away.
Tinica and her accomplice gave up and fled.
Stefania Tinica, 40, pleaded guilty to robbery and attempted robbery in court after Rolex spree
One of the Rolex watches that is still missing swiped by the gang of women over the past year
The crime spree committed by the two women where they have managed to snatch watches
Police recovered DNA from Mr Kelly’s wrist and although they identified Tinica as the assailant they were unable to trace her.
On May 30 she struck for a second time 250 miles away in Bingham Avenue, near to the exclusive Parkstone Golf Club in Poole, Dorset.
Her 75-year-old victim was walking down the road when Tinica stopped him. She suddenly put her arms around him and tried to grab his arm to get him to touch her.
The pensioner broke free and saw her get into a car before realising his £15,930 Rolex Submariner timepiece was missing.
Police identified Tinica from CCTV footage obtained from a nearby property but the watch was never recovered.
She was eventually arrested last November while trying to board a plane at Luton Airport.
The organised crime gang, believed by police to be made up of mostly Eastern European women, are thought to have carried out more than 30 near-identical thefts across southern England last year.
In most cases the victims were men of a certain age who were wearing designer watches on their exposed wrists.
Police hunting two women dubbed the ‘Rolex Rippers’ released CCTV images of the suspects
CCTV of the suspects pulling up outside victim Richard Gray’s flat at Canford Cliffs in Poole
Why is it so difficult to track down stolen Rolexes?
Pictured: Rolex Submariner watch. The timepieces are being robbed in broad daylight by the ‘Rolex Rippers’ using techniques that distract the victims
Rolexes are problematic stolen goods, as each one has a unique serial number and every watch reported missing is put on the company’s lost and stolen register.
Stolen Rolexes can change hands several times between criminals over a period of years, as the truth about their original ownership becomes obscured, while their value depreciates.
Michael Parry, whose Rolex was stolen in the Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water, said: ‘If it goes to be repaired or serviced, they check the number – and if it has been reported stolen they won’t give it back to the customer.’
Thefts took place in counties including Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, Surrey and Gloucestershire as well as the one in Cheshire.
It is not known whether Tinica was ever linked to any of other crimes, although she was only charged with two.
She pleaded guilty to robbery and attempted robbery and was jailed for 40 months at Chester Crown Court.
The Home Office said they do not comment on individual cases but the Home Secretary is required by law to deport any foreign national who receives a custodial sentence of at least 12 months unless a specific exemption applies.
Tinica’s victim in the Canford Cliffs attack said today that he was glad she had been caught.
The retired City finance worker said he and his brothers had bought themselves the limited edition 50th anniversary submariner watches and despite going to great lengths he had not been able to replace it.
He said: ‘I consider myself very lucky that she has been caught.
‘The insurance company were great and the police were very good too but I’m p****d off I lost the watch.
‘I wore it every day, it was sentimental to me.
‘But I’ve been to every shop imaginable trying to find one and they just looked at me like I was an idiot.
‘Now I just have a Swatch that cost me £83.
‘I’m definitely more wary now, the place where it happened was the last place you would expect it, it’s a very quiet road.’
Alan Bruce, a 64-year-old marine engineer, lost his £14,000 Rolex when two women posed as charity workers to distract him in Wimborne, Dorset, on July 15.
CCTV released in October by police caught one of the suspected Rippers (centre) operating at West Surrey Golf Club, Enton Green, Godalming, Surrey
A CCTV image of a suspect after a robbery in lower Parkstone, Poole, in September last year
After being shown a photo of Tinica he confirmed that she was not one of them.
Other victims of the Rolex Rippers include retired wine merchant Derek Freestone, 77, who had his £12,500 Rolex Oyster stolen in Emsworth, West Sussex, on July 7 and retired pilot Michael Parry, 84, who had his £15,000 Rolex stolen by a woman posing as a charity worker outside his local supermarket in Bourton-on-the-water, Gloucs.
Robin Haycock was targeted for his £20,000 Rolex Daytona in the car park at Ferndown Golf Club, Dorset, on July 17.
And Richard Gray, 79, lost his £8,000 Rolex after two women distracted him outside his home in Canford Cliffs, Poole, in October.
Hampshire Police reported in December that they were investigating more than 30 incidents of victims targeted for high value watches just in their county alone.
Dorset Police said no further arrests had been made in connection with their other similar cases.
‘What the hell has happened to our country?’: Victims of the ‘Rolex Rippers’ speak out
Derek Freestone was sitting in the passenger seat of his friend’s Mercedes, parked in the picturesque fishing town of Emsworth in Hampshire, when two women knocked on the window and asked him to sign a petition for a deaf school
Derek Freestone, a retired wine merchant from Birchington, Kent, was en route to the Goodwood Festival of Speed motor racing event with a friend when they stopped in Emsworth at 3.15pm on July 7 last year to pick up medication from a pharmacy in the town.
He was sitting in the passenger seat of his friend’s Mercedes, parked in the picturesque fishing town of Emsworth in Hampshire, when two women knocked on the window and asked him to sign a petition for a deaf school.
No sooner had he done so than one of them lunged, throwing her arms around the 77-year-old as she tried to kiss him.
Shocked, he barely gave a thought to the second lady, who had been shaking his left hand.
Only after he’d pushed the first woman away and shut the car door did he realise his gold Rolex – bought 20 years ago for £4,500 but now worth £12,500 – was gone.
‘I jumped out and shot round the car but there was no sign of them. It happened so quickly,’ says Mr Freestone, still reeling from the robbery three months later.
‘It really hit me in the pit of my stomach. What the hell have we done to our country that this can happen in broad daylight?’.
He said the two women were dark-haired, one in her late 20s, one late 30s, and around 5ft 5in and 5ft 7in tall.
Alan Bruce, who had his £14,000 watch stolen by two women
Within a day, the gang had moved on to their next target – Alan Bruce, 63, who lives at the edge of Ferndown Golf Club and was seven miles away in Wimborne, Dorset, when he was robbed at about 11am on July 15.
Having parked his Audi TT Sport, he was approached by two women carrying a clipboard in the town centre. He estimates both were in their late 20s or early 30s.
‘The taller one was in jeans and a dark top, the shorter one in a long, brightly coloured dress,’ says Mr Bruce, a divorced father of two who frequently travels for his job as a marine engineer.
‘I pick up accents and I would say they were either Albanian or Bulgarian. They said: ‘We’re doing a petition for a deaf centre’ and would I sign a document? I said no problem.’
Left-handed and wearing his £14,000 gold Yacht-Master Rolex on the same hand, he signed the petition. Then the younger woman said she loved his aftershave and asked where it was from. To his astonishment, she then asked him for a cuddle.
Alarmed, he instinctively put his right hand on his back pocket to protect his wallet and pushed the women with his left hand before walking away.
It was only as he did so that he realised his Rolex was missing, its double clasp having been prised off without him feeling a thing.