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A family of five pickpockets who targeted sleeping commuters on trains through Gravesend have been sent to prison today. (fri13)

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The gang, all from Gravesend, who preyed on unsuspecting passengers on trains between Charing Cross, in London and Gravesend, were sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court.

All pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and were jailed for a total of 10 years three months.

It is thought the gang struck at least 180 times stealing about £60,000 worth of property.

Brothers Romulus Rostas, Marin Rostas, aged 18 and 25, Romulus Govinder Rostas, 17, and cousin-in-law Cornell Rostas, 22, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal during their trial in late February.

Romulus Rostas, of Norfolk Road, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment minus 240 days already spent on remand, Marin Rostas, of Norfolk Road, was sentenced to three years imprisonment minus 240 days already spent on remand, Cornell Rostas, of Springhead Road, was given three years three months imprisonment minus 184 days already spent on remand and Romulus Govinder Rostas, of Springhead Road, a 12 month detention and training order.

Another brother, Robert Rostas, 23, of Norfolk Road, who admitted conspiracy to steal at a previous hearing, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment minus 240 days already spent on remand.

Speaking after the sentence, Detective Constable Tim Weekes, one of the investigating officers, said: “Typically the group operated on late-night trains between Charing Cross and Gravesend.

“They would identify and target vulnerable passengers, who were sleeping or otherwise distracted, before stealing valuables from their pockets or bags, predominantly mobile phones.

“The group would then leave the train, with the victim usually only discovering the items missing some time later.

“These men are career criminals, with most having been previously arrested, charged or convicted for theft-related matters.

“They worked in a co-ordinated, structured and organised manner for two-and-a-half years, maximising their opportunity to steal and minimising their likelihood of being caught by frequently moving from train to train.”

The charges followed Operation Weevil, a British Transport Police (BTP) investigation into thefts from passengers on trains between London and Kent between January 2009 and August 2011.

Detectives believe the proceeds of their crimes were sent back to Romania, while police financial investigations cannot identify a clear, legitimate source of income for the family.

On one occasion, as part of that investigation, a plain-clothes BTP police officer spotted Robert, Romulus and Marin Rostas targeting a sleeping woman on a late-night service between Charing Cross and Gravesend on 30 January 2011.

The officer became suspicious and intervened after Romulus sat next to the woman, despite the carriage being virtually empty, and moved towards her open handbag.

They were arrested police searches of two Gravesend addresses uncovered a wealth of evidence, including mobile phones, sim cards and other items linking the family to this series of offending.

Officers viewed 50 hours of CCTV to peace together their offending pattern.

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