When detectives were called in to investigate Britain’s biggest burglary spree, they had less than 15 seconds of grainy black-and-white security CCTV footage to work with.
The gang behind the raids were stunned when, many months later, they were extradited to the UK from Italy to face justice.
Metropolitan Police Detective Constable Andrew Payne said: “They were amazed they had even been caught and actually praised us for having found them.
“They believed they were untouchable.”
He was called in to investigate following the burglary of the Kensington mansion of socialite Tamara Ecclestone, 37, and her art gallery owner husband Jay Rutland, 38.
Some £25 million worth of cash, jewellery, gems and watches was stolen from the six-floor property, close to Kensington Palace, in a raid on December 13, 2019.
About £1 million was earlier stolen from the gang’s other victims – former Chelsea FC midfielder and manager Frank Lampard, 43, and his 42-year-old television presenter wife Christine, and the late Leicester City FC owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Police recovered a combined total of less than 15 seconds of footage from the back of Ecclestone’s home, showing three figures making their entrance and getaway past a Wendy house.
Two Nokia mobile “burner” phones were also left inside the six-floor property during a confrontation with security guards, in which one was attacked with a fire extinguisher.
Police ruled out the burglary being an “inside job”, conducting sound tests to prove the burglars could not be heard once they were inside, in what is believed to be a first.
Extensive CCTV trawls revealed the burglars had travelled to Kensington from Victoria station, which detectives believed had been used as a transport hub by the gang.
Frame-by-frame CCTV analysis saw them flag down a black taxi during their getaway in Kensington Church Street.
Some 1,007 cabs were identified in the area at the time, with a breakthrough coming a month later when the 1004th driver contacted by police confirmed he had picked them up.
Detectives went through some 2,000 hours of CCTV, recording footage on their mobile phones as it was being automatically deleted from servers due to the passage of time.
One CCTV clip captured one gang member shoplifting at Victoria station as the gang made their way to burgle the Ecclestone home.
One detective, acting on a hunch, made another breakthrough when he asked to see the records of guests staying at a south London hotel at the time of the burglaries.
One of the burglars, Jugoslav Jovanovic, 24, had used his identity card to check in, with the image identical to the man police were looking for.
Investigators found he had travelled to the UK with his uncle, Daniel Vukovic, 44, from Stockholm, Sweden, and later obtained images of the faces of the other two burglars, Alessandro Maltese, 45, and Alessandro Donati, 44.
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