A 32-year-old Estonian man has today been jailed after pleading guilty to his part in a series of multi-million pound armed robberies across Europe and including four raids at Berrys jewellers in Leeds.
Janno Heinola pleaded guilty to robbery and firearm offences from a 2005 raid at Berrys in Leeds, where the gang escaped with over £92,000 pounds worth of expensive watches. He was jailed today at Leeds Crown Court for nine years.
In February of this year, Heinola was extradited by West Yorkshire detectives from Dusseldorf, Germany, after completing a jail term for an earlier robbery.
Heinola is the last of gang of eight that have been brought to Britain since 2009; each receiving jail sentences of between 10 and 12 years with a combined total of 97 years imprisonment (inc Heinola).
Detectives from West Yorkshire have led the investigation on behalf of a number of other UK forces including West Midlands and Greater Manchester leading to gang members pleading guilty to 11 armed robberies across the country. This included daring daylight raids at high end jewellers in Manchester, Newcastle, Wolverhampton and Chester.
In the 2007 raid at Berrys on Albion Street, Leeds, members of the gang escaped with jewellery worth over £374,000 pounds. In total the gang are thought to have netted in excess of £2 million pounds from the 11 UK raids.
The Estonian based gang are also thought to have generated in excess of a 100 million pounds from robberies across Europe including raids in Finland, Italy, Sweden and Monte Carlo.
The gang, who are thought to have recruited their members by getting them into drugs debt, were catching cheap flights into the country on budget airlines before being met by a ‘fixer’ who gave them details of the planned robberies. The gang would then fly out in the hours after the robberies had taken place.
Officers believe the jewellery, mainly comprising of expensive high end watches including Rolex and Patek Philippe brands, was shipped out of the country separately on cargo ships before being sold on in Eastern Europe or Russia.
The breakthrough came when West Yorkshire officers working alongside the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) were able to link DNA recovered from the scene of a Leeds robbery with an Estonian DNA database.
Janno Heinola was arrested after police caught him on CCTV outside Berrys Jewellers shortly before the 2005 raid and where later able to match his DNA to a cigarette butt found close to the scene.
Detective Inspector Lloyd Batley, From West Yorkshire Police’s Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, said:
Today marks the end of a number of years hard work by detectives, who have traced eight suspects across Europe in order to bring them to justice in Leeds.
In most of the robberies the gang used a combination of replica firearms as well as hammers and baseball bats, which would have been a terrifying experience to the staff working in the jewellers as well as those out shopping.
The evidence we were able to gather through the use of cutting edge DNA techniques resulted in a string of guilty pleas and demonstrates the value of DNA databases in terms of providing a strong evidential background which supports good detective work.