A GANG of burglars smashed their way into two Tesco stores 30 miles apart on the same night, escaping with more than £5,000 in cash from the tills.
But the Romanian trio were tracked by a police helicopter with a heat-seeking camera and captured after a Stratford resident had raised the alarm.
And at Warwick Crown Court ringleader Gheorghe Sterian, Coshin Gheorghe and Claudio Ostacioaie were all jailed after all three had pleaded guilty to two charges of burglary.
Sterian, 30, of no fixed address, who prosecutor Jonathan Veasey-Pugh said had convictions in four European countries, was sentenced to two years and eight months.
Of the other two, who had no previous convictions, and who were also of no fixed address, Gheorghe, 31, was jailed for two years and Ostacioaie, 20, for a year and ten months.
Mr Veasey-Pugh said at just before 2am on Saturday February 8 the three men targeted a Tesco Express store in Nuneaton, using a sledgehammer and a crowbar to force open the roller shutter.
Wearing face masks, they ransacked the till area, smashing their way into tills from which they took £1,775 in cash.
The police were alerted after the store’s Smoke Cloak anti-burglary system was activated, filling the shop with dense smoke, at which the raiders fled.
Undeterred, they headed in a BMW car to Stratford where they targeted the Tesco Express store in Banbury Road at 3.30am, again forcing open the roller shutter.
They again smashed open the tills and removed the cash boxes from the store’s self-service tills, getting away with an estimated £4,171.
But an alert nearby resident, hearing the noise, made two calls to the police.
The three raiders made off in the BMW unaware some of the bundles of cash had GPS tracking devices in them.
They stopped after leaving the town and jettisoned the cash boxes and coins after forcing them open and taking the notes from them – but they still had the tracking device with them.
That enabled police to track them to Haseley Knob near Warwick where they abandoned the car and ran off into the countryside, but were captured with the aid of a police helicopter which followed their movements.
Mr Veasey-Pugh said Sterian had convictions in four European countries, including thefts in Romania, recycling stolen goods in Italy, and being part of an organised crime gang in Austria, but the other two had no previous convictions.
Clare Evans, defending, said Gheorghe had come to the UK about two weeks earlier looking for work in the construction industry but after failing to get a job he fell in with the burglary plan.
Ostacioaie, who she said was ‘ashamed of himself,’ had hoped to get work with Gheorghe once he had found employment.
And of Sterian, Miss Evans added he had not served a prison sentence despite his criminal record.