A career criminal whose massive burglary spree robbed affluent householders in Scarborough of precious heirlooms and irreplaceable objets d’art has been jailed for six years.
Mihai Dobrea, 45, targeted at least nine homes - once while carrying a knife - during a five-week thieving “campaign” in which he stole numerous items of jewellery, treasured family gifts and ornamental rarities after smashing windows and doors to break in.
One of his victims was famous Scarborough artist Alan Stuttle, 78, whose home was one of two properties raided.
Dobrea - whose offences were just the tip of his Europe-wide burglary spree spanning nearly 20 years - stole watches, a “large amount” of jewellery, an air pistol and cash while the artist was on a weekend break with his partner to mark the anniversary of the death of his daughter Caroline Stuttle, who was just 19 when she was murdered by a mugger in 2002 while backpacking in Australia, York Crown Court heard.
Some of the items stolen in the raid had been gifted by Caroline to her father before she set off for the fateful trip, said prosecutor Laura Addy.
On the same night, Dobrea broke into Mr Stuttle’s neighbours’ home while they were out at the theatre. When the couple returned home, they found glass panels in their kitchen door had been smashed and their safe opened. A diamond-studded watch and bottle of champagne had been stolen from their bedroom.
In leafy Station Road, Scalby, three houses in a row were raided by Dobrea on the same night. He stole £270 in cash, foreign currency, expensive bottles of red wine and spirits, some Swiss sweets, an old air pistol, a children’s money box, gardening vouchers and even tooth picks.
In one of the messy raids - which had left the families so shaken they no longer felt safe in their homes - a male householder went downstairs at about 5am to find a “dark figure disappearing into his garden”.
The glass panels and door of the conservatory had been “completely smashed”, causing £1,500 of damage. The victim rang police who searched the area and found Dobrea riding a bike near a woodland track.
Dobrea, wearing a high-visibility jacket and carrying a rucksack full of loot, told police he had been doing some painting work at a friend’s house, but a search of the bag revealed a knife, screwdriver and a balaclava.
Police arrested him and searched his home, where they found a trove of stolen items, some of which had been stuffed into a large box which Dobrea claimed he planned to “export” to Romania.
Further investigations revealed the rampant thief had broken into several other properties during his one-man crime wave, including a home in Edge Dell where he stole an opal ring, Amethyst, pearl and diamond jewellery and a lady’s watch. He even swiped a 40-year-old travellers’ cheque and a ticket to the Empire State Building - souvenirs from the victim’s trip to America in the 1970s.
In another raid at a property on Manor Road, Dobrea used a garden statue to smash a glass panel on a conservatory, before stealing four watches worth over £600 and some cash. The watches were priceless family items which were engraved and carried “so many memories” which couldn’t be replaced.
In Wheatcroft Avenue, a mother and her two young children were asleep when Dobrea broke into their flat in the early hours of March 21. He stole an Asus tablet, cash and miniature bottles of rum and ginger beer.
In a nearby property, he helped himself to a woman’s Sanctuary gift set and a tablet case as she and her children slept.
In Peasholm Drive, he broke into a large detached home and stole rare ornaments made from World War One shell fragments worth £500, as well as a starting pistol, an expensive bottle of perfume, cash and several bottles of whisky and port.
Dobrea was originally charged with 14 counts of burglary and admitted nine of them, as well as one count of possessing a knife. His not-guilty pleas to burglaries at properties on Stepney Road, Stepney Grove and Northstead Manor Drive were accepted by the Crown. All the break-ins occurred between February 20 and March 29.
Dobrea appeared for sentence on Thursday after sacking his legal team, brazenly telling the judge he was prepared to represent himself.
Clutching a thick wad of papers, he launched into an hour-long harangue about his human rights, ludicrous claims about police intimidation and his intention to launch an appeal against sentence.
Dobrea claimed he was only the look-out during the break-in at Mr Stuttle’s home, which was ransacked.
Ms Addy said the heartbroken artist “simply wished that (Dobrea) would help them to recover these items because of the sentimental value they hold, given the loss of their daughter and the manner in which they lost her”.
She added: “He says nothing can be worse than the loss of his daughter, but he’s very distressed at having these special items stolen. He feels completely helpless.”
Ms Addy said Dobrea began his criminal career in his native Romania where he received long prison sentences for a series of burglaries and robberies between 1998 and 2009. He later moved to Germany where, in April 2014, he was jailed for over three years for burgling flats and cellars. Halfway through that sentence, in June 2015, he was deported from Germany and somehow found his way to the UK, “plying his trade” in Scarborough.
Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said: “It’s plain to me that the defendant is a career criminal, travelling from country to country to commit crimes of a similar nature.”
He said all the victims, including children, had suffered severe psychological harm and families had lost items of “great sentimental value” which, in some cases, including Mr Stuttle’s, had never been returned.
“He (Mr Stuttle) says that the memories of his daughter will never fade but the burglary… has had a significant impact on him and his partner,” added Mr Stubbs.
Dobrea will serve half of his six-year sentence in jail before being released. He was also ordered to pay £300 costs.