Two men who posed as police officers to steal from unsuspecting tourists have been jailed.
Florin Ionita and Laurentiu Ionita each received three-year sentences after admitting to 10 offences of conspiracy to steal.
They were arrested in west London in October as part of Operation Masterton - launched in September by police following a spate of robberies and thefts committed between August and October 2016, which saw men acting as plain-clothed police officers targeting tourists in order to steal.
Police, who were unable to say if the pair are related, said their actions meant what should have been an enjoyable visit for tourists unfamiliar with the legal system of this country turned into a nightmare.
Officers spotted the vehicle carrying the Ionitas in New Cavendish Street in Westminster on the evening of October 23. They followed the car as it drove into the W2 area of London, which includes Paddington , parts of Little Venice and parts of Notting Hill .
There, they saw Florin Ionita, 31, leave the vehicle and engaged two Chinese tourists in conversation about directions.
While this happened, Laurentiu Ionita, 47, approached the group and accused them of drug dealing. He produced a fake warrant card and demanded he search them.
As this happened, Westminster Crime Squad officers intervened and detained Florin, but the other suspect fled and assaulted officers before he was detained.
The investigation linked them to similar incidents where tourists were robbed and stolen from, dating back to October 2015 in Westminster and Camden.
Both men, of no fixed abode, were charged on October 24 with conspiracy to steal, encompassing 10 offences across central London. Laurentiu Ionita was also charged with two counts of assault on police which was ordered to lie on file.
'What should have been an enjoyable visit turned into a nightmare'
Detective Sergeant Vince Abrahart from Westminster Crime Squad said: “I am pleased that following an intelligence led operation these men have been handed down custodial sentences. They deliberately preyed on innocent tourists unfamiliar with police procedures in the UK, turning what should have been an enjoyable visit for them into a nightmare.”
They were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday (November 22).
Keep up to date with the latest news in west London via the free getwestlondon app.
You can even set it to receive push notifications for all the breaking news in your area.