Former Birmingham City, Port Vale and Stoke City footballer among victims of burglary trio who targeted Rugby homes

Warwickshire Justice Centre in Leamington Spa
Warwickshire Justice Centre in Leamington Spa
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Three burglars carried out a series of raids, mainly targeting large detached houses including properties in the Rugby area, over a 17-day period.

And among the houses they struck at was the home of former Birmingham City, Port Vale and Stoke City player Terry Lees, a jury at Warwick Crown Court was told.

Gheorge Bechian, 37, of Alma Road, Banbury, had denied a charge of conspiracy to burgle, but the jury took just over two hours to find him guilty.

Bechian, who is already serving a three-year sentence imposed at Gloucester Crown Court last month for ATM frauds, was remanded in custody.

He will be sentenced at a later date following a ‘trial of issue’ of Adrian Bolbos, 23, and Ciprian Campean, 27, both of Denville Crescent, Birmingham, who had pleaded guilty on a basis which was rejected by the prosecution.

And Recorder Nicholas Cartwright told the jury: “They’re all facing custodial sentences for what was obviously a very professional operation.”

Prosecutor Matthew Barnes had said: “The case concerns a conspiracy to burgle people’s houses in March, encompassing 17 offences, and the agreement lasted 17 days.

“The burglars targeted what I might call nice houses with rich pickings to be found, for example by way of jewellery, usually in the evening when the occupiers were out.”

They used large screwdrivers to force the locks on rear patio doors, and made their get-away in a dark blue Ford Mondeo insured in Bolbos’s name.

A sat-nav seized from the car when they were arrested on March 17 showed it had been near or very near to the location of many of the burglaries.

ANPR cameras also put the Mondeo in the relevant areas, as did cell-site analysis of their phones, said Mr Barnes, who has commended the thorough detective work of the police, singling out DC Tim Sharpe, who led the investigation, for particular praise.

A distinctive screwdriver with a very long shaft was found in the car, as were items from some of the burglaries, including Terry Lees’s watch.

And when Bechian, after being granted bail, was re-arrested at his parents’ home in Boscombe Road, Birmingham, four days later, officers found a CD case in which he had concealed a coin collection stolen during a break-in in Long Itchington, said Mr Barnes.

The first burglaries took place in the Stratford and Warwick areas, but over the weekend of March 8 and 9, two houses in the Rugby area were targeted while their owners were away.

From a mid-terrace house in Done Cerce Close, Dunchurch, they got away with just some coins from a pot in the kitchen.

But from a detached house in Poplar Grove, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, they escaped with jewellery and cash – and a ‘gel lift’ impression of a footprint in the house matched the sole of trainers later seized from Bolbos.

And cell-site analysis showed mobile phones belonging to Bechian, who claimed he had lent it to a friend at the time, and Bolbos had been used in Ryton on that Sunday.

On the Saturday evening or Sunday morning of that weekend they switched their attention to Stone in Staffordshire where they raided four houses.

Former Stoke City, Port Vale and Birmingham City defender Terry Lees’s four-bedroom home in Parkway, Trentham, Staffs, was unoccupied while he had his family were on holiday.

When they returned on March 17 they found there had been a burglary in which jewellery including three gold wedding rings, a £1,800 gold and diamond ring, a £500 gold bracelet and other items of jewellery had been taken, together with two watches.

One was an engraved Werba gold watch which had been awarded to Lees after playing for the Stoke City youth team which won a Swiss football tournament in 1971.

That was the watch which was found in the Mondeo when the defendants were arrested near Macclesfield on the very day Lees and his family got home – and which he was easily able to identify, said Mr Barnes.

Prior to that, the burglars had returned to Warwickshire where, on March 14, they broke into a large detached house in Hedges Close, Ladbroke, causing £6,200 worth of damage, and stole cash, jewellery and other items worth around £14,000.

The same evening they burgled a five-bedroom house in Stowe Drive, Southam, from where they stole £2,500 worth of goods including jewellery, gift vouchers and power tools.

While a couple were on holiday in mid-March their home in Shepherd Close, Long Itchington, was broken into and £15,000 worth of jewellery was stolen, together with a small coin collection which was later recovered from Bechian.

The raiders had left behind a large screwdriver which matched marks made at the scene on a number of other break-ins.

The team’s luck ran out when the police stopped the Mondeo after they had burgled a house in Marton, Macclesfield, from where they stole £895 in cash including banknotes which had been folded in a certain way and a tub of 5p pieces.

The money and jewellery from the house, as well as Mr Lees’s watch, were in the car, which was being driven by Bolbos – and on the embankment officers found gloves and torches which had been thrown out of the car by Bechian and Campean, said Mr Barnes.