TERROR AT GUNPOINT The moment international armed jewel gang threatened shop worker
THE final nail in the coffin of a bunch of international armed robbers came yesterday with the jailing of the last member of the gang.
Janno Heinola, 33, was banged up for nine years to bring to an end the seven-year police operation.
The gang jetted from one country to another on cheap budget airlines, picking up their instructions from a “fixer” when they landed.
Eight men have now been locked up for a total of 82 years after West Yorkshire Police smashed the crime ring when Berry’s jewellers, in Leeds, West Yorks, was targeted four times between 2005 and 2007.
They found the Estonian ring was linked to at least 150 armed robberies across the UK and Europe, in which the gang used cheap airlines to hit their destinations.
A terrifying image showing one of the gang members pointing a gun at cowering members of staff in a 2007 raid became the image to epitomise the brutality of their robbery campaign.
The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier QC, praised West Yorkshire detectives for their “dogged pursuit” of the gang members.
Heinola and two other men targeted Berry’s on Albion Street on August 6, 2005, threatening seven members of staff and a young family.
One of the men pointed a gun as £92,750 worth of Rolex and Cartier watches were stolen. Heinola was caught after his DNA was found on a cigarette butt found near where he had been sitting moments before the robbery.
In February, Heinola was extradited by West Yorkshire detectives from Dusseldorf, Germany, after completing a jail term for an earlier robbery in that country.
Heinola pleaded guilty to robbery and possession of an imitation firearm with intent. He is the last of gang of eight to have been brought to justice in Britain since 2009.
The others jailed were: Algo Toomits (12 years), Sarik Sander (11 years), Rauno Kuklase, Ivo Parn and Reigo Janes (10 years each), Raivo Loige, (eight years) and Joonas Jarvsoo (12 years).
Detectives from West Yorkshire led the investigation on behalf of other UK forces including West Midlands and Greater Manchester leading to gang members pleading guilty to 11 armed robberies across the country.
This included daylight raids at high end jewellers in Manchester, Newcastle, Wolverhampton and Chester.
The gang is thought to have netted more than £2m from the 11 UK raids and made over £100million from robberies across Europe including raids in Finland, Italy, Sweden and Monte Carlo.
Officers believe the jewellery, mainly comprising Rolex and Patek Philippe watches, was shipped out of the country separately on cargo ships before being sold on in Eastern Europe or Russia.
Det Insp Lloyd Batley said: “This marks the end of a number of years hard work by detectives, who have traced eight suspects across Europe in order to bring them to justice in Leeds.”
He said that Estonia’s joining the EU, coupled with cheap flights, encouraged robbers to carry out raids and disappear back to the country’s captial, Tallinn.
Det Insp Batley said: “The intelligence suggests the ringleaders recruited foot-soldiers by getting them involved in debt and when they could not repay that debt they were given these jobs to do.
“They would then be booked onto cheap flights in a group to commit these robberies.
“They already had contacts in the UK who would usually reconnaissance the premises.
They used hammers but also imitation handguns we believe they picked up locally.
“Once the watches had been stolen they often changed clothing and discarded it nearby – which is how we recovered DNA – then the watches changed hands.
The group would then go back the next day and the stolen merchandise usually went out of the country through ferry channels.
FEAR: The thieves were caught on camera