Five in court over stolen school computers

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Five Romanian nationals, including a husband and wife and two brothers, were in court on Monday accused of handling IPads and a laptop which were stolen from a primary school.

Banbridge Magistrates Court, sitting in Newry, heard that police stopped and searched two vans “just a few miles from the border” and uncovered six IPads and a laptop which had been stolen during a burglary at St Joseph’s primary school in Antrim earlier this month.

Giving evidence to the court, Detective Constable Edwards said while the iPads and laptops had already been attributed to the burglary at St Joseph’s, there was a large number of other items recovered including mobile phones, cameras, furniture and DVD players, which police have not been able to trace but suspect were also stolen.

St Joseph’s Primary School on the Greystone Road had to close for a day after thieves smashed windows to get inside where they stole 50 iPads and around 30 laptops worth thousands of pounds.

First to appear in court were 41-year-old Christian Cirpaci and his wife Zorita Lacatus (38), both from Ashgreen in Antrim, jointly charged with handling stolen goods with Cirpaci further accused of permitting Paul Loza to drive his van without insurance on 13 February this year.

Loza (35), his brother Ciprian Loza (29) and 31-year-old Stefan Balogh, all with an address on Damascus Street in south Belfast, were next to appear, also charged with handling the stolen laptop and iPads.

Paul Loza faces a further count of driving an Ivecco van without insurance on the A1 dual carriageway.

DC Edwards told the court she believed she could connect all five to the charges and described how the two vans were stopped as they “had previously been circulated as being involved in the transportation of stolen goods”.

The married couple were in the first van with the other three defendants following close behind in a second van both of which are owned by Cirpaci.

She said the iPads and laptop, which had been traced back to the burglary at St Joseph’s school, “were wrapped in tinfoil and secreted in different packaging” and that many of the others items recovered “were covered in clingfilm, bubble wrap and parcel tape, give the impression the occupants had packed up their belongings and were leaving the country”.

The officer told the court the police were conducting enquiries to ascertain whether the other items had been stolen and whether “they can be linked to the burglary” itself.

Outlining that police were objecting to bail amid fears that the defendants would flee the country, the detective added that another concern “is that there has been a large number of burglaries at schools recently”.

DC Edwards revealed that the Loza brothers and Balogh were on police bail on suspicion of a burglary at a primary school in Lurgan last month when their van was stopped.

Under cross examination from the defendants’ defence solicitor, she agreed that the couple had ties to NI as their four children all attended school here but maintained the other three were flight risks and had no suitable bail address, describing how the proposed address at Damascus Street was “absolutely empty” of any furniture and had no power supply.

The solicitor contended the three “own very little else but the clothes on their back” and are “particularly destitute,” hence the lack of furniture or power supply.

Releasing Cirpaci and Lacatus on bail, Deputy District Judge Peter Magill said he had to base his decision on what was before him and while “it maybe the tip of an iceberg, this is not a court of suspicion”.

He released the couple in their own bail of £250, ordered them to surrender any travel documents and to report to police twice a week.

In relation to Barlogh and the Loza brothers however, Judge Magill refused to release them as “the case against them is very different”.

Remanding them into custody, the judge said they had no particular ties to NI, were on police bail for a similar allegation and there was evidence that despite a condition that he surrender travel documents, there was evidence that Paul Loza had successfully applied for a new travel ID.

“In all the circumstances, I can’t be satisfied that these men would answer to bail but I also have grave fears about further offences,” said Judge Magill.

All five are due back before the court on March 9.