LONDON—Scotland Yard busted the gang behind the biggest home invasion robbery in English legal history after one of the thieves couldn’t resist sending a dick pic to a member of staff at a budget hotel.
The saga began with a luxury lifestyle Instagram post. Just before Christmas in 2019, Tamara Ecclestone—the model heiress daughter of diminutive ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone—announced that she and her family were jetting off to Lapland for the holidays with a picture of her daughter, Sophia, in front of a private jet.
On the night they left, a gang of thieves broke into the family’s home located on a street referred to as “billionaire’s row.” The group were able to swipe around $30 million in cash, watches and diamonds from the property. That was despite the fact that a security guard actually caught three unmasked men in flagrante at around 11pm inside Ecclestone’s dressing room—known as “the vault”—after its six-inch steel door had been left unlocked. The thieves shoved past the guard and escaped the palatial mansion through a window.
Cops from the Met’s Flying Squad—the crack team that investigates London’s robberies—didn’t have much to go on at first. Security camera footage from the property’s garden showed the trio hot-footing it past a $12,000 replica of the main house used by Sophia as a playhouse. CCTV images then showed the group getting into one of London’s famous black cabs. Detectives set about contacting the 1,006 taxi drivers who’d worked in the area on the night of the robbery, asking if they remembered picking up a group who matched the burglars’ description.
One driver said he had, and provided information which led the investigation to a budget hotel called TLK Apartments. Detective Constable Thomas Grimshaw visited the hotel in January 2020 and asked the receptionist if she remembered a group of young men staying there in mid-December.
The chances of remembering particular guests were low, but she told the detective there was one group of potential suspects she remembered very clearly indeed.
One of the group had sent her colleague a string of lewd messages on the hotel’s out-of-hours iPhone—one of which was a dick pic. Staff at the hotel even saved the man’s number as “Weirdo.”
“Once I knew this, I felt like we’d identified the right group of people,” Grimshaw told the BBC.
The hotel had made a photocopy of his photo ID when he checked in, which gave cops their first suspect in the case: a 23-year-old Italian called Jugoslav Jovanovic. Once they had his identity, police were able to piece together Jovanovic’s movements after entering the U.K., and even found that his appearance matched that of a man caught on security cameras during the robberies carried out at the homes of other high profile celebrities, including a $70,000 burglary at a property belonging to Premier League coach Frank Lampard and a $410,000 job at the townhouse of late Leicester City soccer team owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
The investigation ultimately led to Jovanovic being arrested in Italy in October 2020 before being extradited to Britain in April last year. He and his associates Alessandro Maltese and Alessandro Donati—who were also arrested in Italy and extradited to the U.K.—pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and were jailed in November 2021. The alleged mastermind of all the burglaries—known by over a dozen aliases—is said to be still living as a free man after Serbian authorities refused extradition requests.