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A family of pickpockets who preyed on sleeping train passengers and stole property worth more than £60,000 have been jailed.
Brothers Romulus Rostas, 18, Marin Rostas, 25, Romulus Govinder Rostas, 17, and Robert Rostas, 23, operated on late night trains between Charing Cross, London, and Gravesend in Kent, stealing from passengers who were either distracted or vulnerable because they were asleep, British Transport Police (BTP) said.
On January 30 last year, a plain-clothed BTP officer spotted Robert, Romulus and Marin Rostas targeting a sleeping woman on a late-night service between Charing Cross and Gravesend.
The officer became suspicious and intervened after Romulus sat next to the woman, despite the carriage being virtually empty, and moved towards her open handbag, a BTP spokesman said.
The men were arrested and police searches at two Gravesend addresses uncovered mobile phones, SIM cards and other items linking the family to thefts, he added.
Robert was today jailed for 30 months at Blackfriars Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal during a trial in February.
Romulus was jailed for 18 months, while Martin was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for the same offence.
Their cousin, Cornell Rostas, 22, was jailed for three years and three months, and Romulus Govinder was sentenced to a 12-month detention and training order. Both men had pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to steal.
BTP launched Operation Weevil to investigate more than 180 thefts from passengers on trains between London and Kent between January 2009 and August 2011.
Detective Constable Tim Weekes, one of the investigating officers, said the men were career criminals with most having been arrested, charged or convicted previously for theft-related matters.
He said: ``They would identify and target vulnerable passengers, who were sleeping or otherwise distracted, before stealing valuables from their pockets or bags, predominantly mobile phones.
``The group would then leave the train, with the victim usually only discovering the items missing some time later.
``They worked in a co-ordinated, structured and organised manner for two-and-a-half years, maximising their opportunity to steal and minimising their likelihood of being caught by frequently moving from train to train.''
BTP officers believe the proceeds of the group's crimes were sent back to Romania.
Mr Weekes said: ``The items we found, with CCTV and mobile phone analysis, indicated that these men were agents involved in a highly-organised conspiracy to steal, aimed at generating as much money as possible to pass back to other family members in Romania to buy land and property.''
Detective Sergeant Paddy Kerr, who oversaw the investigation, said: ``It is a stark reminder to those travelling on trains to secure their personal belongings when travelling to avoid becoming a victim of this type of parasitic behaviour.''