Members of a prolific crime gang that targeted churches across the East of England, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages, are now behind bars thanks to SmartWater forensic trace evidence.

Through a joint operation, which brought together multiple Police forces, SmartWater Intelligence analysts and forensic scientists, multiple jail sentences were handed out to individuals who had, between themselves, managed to make off with hundreds of thousands of pounds in lead roofing.

The gang’s activity was first uncovered by SmartWater Intelligence analysts, who carry out regular analytical reporting for SmartWater clients to identify crime hotspots and emerging crime trends. This, in turn, led to SmartWater liaising with the affected Police forces to raise awareness of an emerging series of regionally-concentrated church lead thefts. A multi-force operation was then set up, which SmartWater continued to suppor by attending regular operational meetings with the forces involved, in addition to providing further crime analysis. Furthermore, in order to target harden vulnerable churches, SmartWater deployed covert equipment and installed roof alarms at churches that SmartWater Intelligence analysts had identified to be at risk.

However, the gang’s spree came to a halt, when suspicious activity was reported at a church in Derbyshire. Police responded, finding a van and a car on-site, which led to the arrest of three individuals. The vehicles were thoroughly checked by Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCOs) and samples of what appeared to be SmartWater were found in dried mud within the van. The debris was collected, bagged and sent to the SmartWater’s forensic laboratories for further inspection.

Through meticulous analysis, SmartWater scientists were able to identify seven different SmartWater forensic codes within the debris, linking the vehicle to thefts from seven different churches across multiple counties, including Norfolk, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. This irrefutable SmartWater evidence, linking them to multiple crime scenes, assisted the police in charging those involved with conspiracy.

ACTUAL EVIDENCE: Traces of SmartWater found in mud taken from the gang’s van shown under natural light (left) and under UV light (right). Some of the traces have been circled, however SmartWater only need a trace the size of a speck of dust in order to identify the original owner.

Remus Tudorache, 27, was jailed for five years and one month and Razvan Cracea, 27, for three years and one month, respectively, after admitting their involvement in this string of church lead thefts. Though SmartWater is currently awaiting sentencing updates for other members of the gang.

Sentencing Tudorache at Norwich Crown Court, Judge Maureen Bacon said it was an “organised professional “ operation and said: “In one case it was so substantial it has affected whether the church can continue to be viable or whether it has to be closed.”

St Mary’s Church at Baconsthorpe was one church targeted twice by Tudorache and lead worth £100,000 was stripped from the roof shortly after the small band of parishioners had spent two years raising £120,000 to carry out restoration work.