An organised gang of criminals from Estonia who flew into the UK in order to steal more than £1 million pounds worth of watches have been jailed for 51 years.
Taimar Uibopuu, 30, from Estonia was found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment; Alar Kalyurand, 43, from Estonia was found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment; Rainis Kilk, 26, from Estonia was found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery and sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment.
They were all sentenced on Monday, 30 November at Leeds Crown Court.
A decision could not be reached on a fourth man, Raigo Malm, 39, from Estonia and he now faces a retrial.
In March and February of this year the gang carried out attacks on two jewellers, one in London and one in Leeds, stealing high value watches worth nearly £1.2 million. Kalyurand and Kilk flew into London from Estonia on Friday, 20 February to plan the robbery they were to commit in London.
On Wednesday, 25 February shortly after 6pm the men entered the Watches of Switzerland shop on Oxford Street, wearing face masks and armed with a handgun and a hammer.
Kalyurand demanded the keys to the cabinets from a member of staff whilst Kilk smashed the display cabinet with a hammer. The men stole a number of Cartier watches and tried to flee the location but Kilk was apprehended by a security guard. The security guard was forced to release him however after Kalyurand threatened him with the handgun.
Kalyurand and Kilk escaped but as a result of security guard’s actions Kilk left a bag behind which he had carried into the store. The bag was recovered by police and contained a number of items which included a baseball cap, wire cutters, an empty plastic drink bottle and three plastic bags – these items were sent off to be forensically examined.
During that time both men had flown out of the UK but were to return in March joined by Uibopuu. The men flew into the UK between 16 and 20 March on different flights to avoid detection, staying at a hotel in Manchester to plan the next robbery.
On Saturday, 21 March Kalyurand travelled to Liverpool purchasing an air pistol which was to be used to commit the next robbery in Leeds.
On Tuesday, 24 March three members of the gang struck at Berry’s jewellers in Leeds at Albion Street. The door to the jewellers was locked with a security guard manning the door, Kalyurand approached it and was told by the security guard to remove his hat first before being allowed to enter. Kalyurand, who was also wearing a wig, removed his hat but as he did so immediately produced a gun.
Kilk and Uibopuu then entered the location armed with hammers, removing watches from the displays and placing them in bags. During this time a number of members of the public started to gather and contacted police. Kalyurand and Kilk made off from the location to a train station in Leeds and managed to catch a train back to their hotel in Manchester.
Before arriving at the hotel they had managed to dispose of the rucksack they were carrying (containing a wig and the air pistol) in an industrial bin which was later found by a member of the public and recovered by police.
Uibopuu, who had also made off from the jewellers, did not take the same route as his associates and was pursued by three members of the public who detained him. Police attended and arrested him. Officers seized the bag he was carrying which was found to contain a hammer and 64 watches valued at £485,505.
When Uibopuu was taken into custody he claimed he was a tourist before later admitting he had come to the UK to commit robbery.
The following day, on Wednesday, 25 March at 3am Kalyurand and Kilk were arrested in their hotel room, but both men denied any knowledge of being involved in the robberies.
Detectives from the Met’s Flying Squad worked closely with officers from Yorkshire Police. Extensive evidence against the gang was obtained including CCTV footage of the robberies in Leeds and London.
Police were able to match Kilk’s DNA to the plastic drink bottle and his fingerprints were found on two of the plastic bags. CCTV footage of Kalyurand purchasing the air pistol from a shop in Liverpool was also obtained as was footage at the train station in Leeds which showed Kalyurand wearing the wig he had used in the robbery in Leeds.
On Wednesday, 1 July, Kilk, Kaljurand and Uibopuu were charged with conspiracy to rob in relation to the Watches of Switzerland incident. They had previously been charged with the robbery in Leeds.
Detective Inspector Scott Hartley, Flying Squad, said: “Kalyurand, Kilk and Uibopuu flew in from Estonia with the sole purpose of committing robberies in the UK. There was meticulous planning involved and we know these men were part of an organised criminal gang, who were prepared to use extreme violence, causing utter terror to staff and cutomers within the jewellery shops.
“The gang were prepared to carry weapons to reinforce their demands, and did everything they could to avoid detection. What the men did not anticipate was the courage and tenacity of the members of staff at those jewellers and the members of the public who tried to stop them.
“Their conviction today is a joint effort between the Met’s Flying Squad, West Yorkshire Police, staff members at the jewellers they targeted and members of the public. Collectively we have stopped a dangerous group of criminals from going on to commit more robberies in the UK.”