‘Well-off’ university students who stole £175k of cash and handsets from 19 retail stores jailed
Members of a violent gang formed by university students, which went on a seven-month crime spree, robbing 19 mobile phone retail stores, have been jailed for more than 62 years.
The students, all from the University of Hertfordshire, stole cash and handsets worth more than £175,000 from Phones 4U, Carphone Warehouse (CPW), Orange and T-Mobile stores in London, Hertfordshire and Essex between March and September 2010.
The three ringleaders of the gang were Alexander Okafor, Oludare Gbajabiamila and Michael Adu, the last of whom is pictured tying up a member of staff during a robbery at a T-Mobile store in Lakeside Shopping Centre, Essex, in which two bin bags full of BlackBerry handsets were stolen.
Stores in London targeted by the gang included CPW branches in Chiswick, Barnes and Cockfosters, and an Orange Store in the Westfield London Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush.
In total six CPW stores, eight Orange stores, three Phones 4U stores and two T-Mobile stores were hit.
The gang’s three ringleaders recruited 11 accomplices to help carry out the crimes, a number of whom attended the same university and even worked part-time in some of the stores that were targeted.
During the raids devices were taken from stock rooms and store tills were emptied of cash.
The gang initially distracted staff in order to pull off the robberies.
But as they became more confident the gang adopted a more violent approach, carrying weapons including a stun gun, assaulting staff by kicking and punching them, and threatening to use knives.
In some instances the gang even took a store employee’s driving licence and threatened to visit their home if they cooperated with the police.
The Metropolitan Police National Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU) launched an investigation, code-named Operation Staten, and made eight arrests a month after the gang’s last robbery.
The remaining six gang members were identified shortly afterwards and were detained as evidence against them was collated.
The NMPCU tracked the IMEIs of the stolen devices and worked closely with officers from the Enfield Organised Crime Unit to help capture those involved.
Trials were held at Kingston Crown Court between October 2011 and March 2012, and sentencing was completed last month.
Adu, 21, received seven years for two offences of burglary and four offences of robbery.
Gbajabiamila, 24, was sentenced to seven years for four offences of fraud and one offence of burglary.
Okafor, 23, was sentenced to six years for two offences of fraud, one offence of robbery and two offences of burglary.
Okafor’s mother, Chinwe, received an eight-month suspended sentence for concealing £11,000 in proceeds from the crimes.
NMPCU detective inspector Mark Loving said: “They used wholly disproportionate intimidation to commit these offences and I am pleased to see that those who orchestrated these often violent offences received appropriately longer sentences.
“Mobile phones are a frequent and lucrative target for thieves of all types, however they also provide strong investigative options to detect offences in which they are stolen or used. Accurate and proper recording of a phone’s IMEI is key in many investigations, as it proved in this series.
“These final sentences mark the end of the criminal prosecutions of 14 intelligent and reasonably well-off young people whose motivation was no less than personal greed.”
A Carphone Warehouse spokesman said: “The safety and well-being of our employees is our number one priority, which is why we will always work closely with the police to pursue those that commit robberies in our stores.
“We are glad that justice has been done and would like to thank our employees who were affected by these incidents for their courage and cooperation.”
- Oludare Gbajabiamila, 24 – seven years
- Michael Adu, 21 – seven years
- Afeez Akinbode, 22 – six-and-a-half years
- Gaethan Diangi, 20 – four years
- Vickson Agada, 20 – 18 months
- Alexander Okafor, 23 – six years
- Pariess Bertrand-Prudent, 22 – five years
- Christina Oni, 21 – three years and four months
- Tristan Herbert, 21 – 10 months
- Nickay Grant, 22 – seven years
- Paul Ndem, 22 – five years
- Jordan Thomas, 21 – seven-and-a-half years
- Salina Rahman, 29 – 12 months