Police believe that four Romanians remanded in custody in connection with a shop burglary are part of a crime gang which has carried out similar raids across Northern Ireland.
A police officer made the claim in court last Thursday as he objected to bail for the quartet who were found in a car near Coleraine in the early hours of Tuesday (July 21) following a report of a break-in at Milltown Spar in Ballymoney.
Three of the accused gave their address as Foyleview Apartments, Strand Road, Londonderry.
They are Iulian Cojocaru (30), Ionut Guita (26) and Iordan Stamate (26). A fourth man - Chiracu Dumitru (28) is of no fixed abode.
They are all charged with the burglary of Milltown Spar at Milltown Road, Ballymoney, where around £2,000 was stolen.
A detective constable believed he could connect the accused to the charge and opposing bail he said that around 4am a Milltown Spar employee disturbed a burglary in progress and a masked person was observed inside.
Entry had been gained via the roof and the alarm disabled and an “extremely large amount” of coins and an amount of notes were taken after the CCTV system was damaged.
Around 25 minutes later at Loughan Road near Coleraine police stopped a Vauxhall Vectra containing the four accused and a large bag containing cash was found.
The officer said staff identified it as a Spar bag which they believed was stolen from the store and it was estimated the coinage was similar to that taken from the Spar shop.
He said all four men had dirt and mud on their footwear and clothing which was wet and a police dog unit had followed a scent across a river leading to a nearby industrial estate.
And he said one of the defendants - Mr Cojocaru who had been driving the vehicle - claimed he had been in Ballymoney visiting a girlfriend but was unable to provide police with further details.
The policeman said a deleted message on a mobile phone belonging to one of the men was roughly translated as ‘We are at the industrial estate’.
The officer said he believed if released the men would be at risk of fleeing the jurisdiction as they were not believed to be working or in receipt of benefits and all had only been in Northern Ireland a short time where they have no ties.
The officer also believed there was a risk of re-offending and alleged there had been a number of similar burglaries in the police area and the PSNI suspected them to have potentially been involved in eight of those.
Defence solicitors said the men had no known criminal records in Northern Ireland.
Guita’s solicitor John Murphy said the police officer had “muddied the waters by bringing up other burglaries that have occurred” and the officer agreed Mr Murphy’s client had not been arrested in connection with any of them.
Objecting to bail, District Judge Liam McNally said: “All four of you were found in a recently purchased vehicle. A bag similar to that owned by the shop was found in the vehicle with a sum of money similar to that taken from the shop. One of the people committing the burglary was seen to have had a balaclava on and a balaclava was found in the vehicle.
“One of the defendants took out an insurance certificate at an address of the previous owner, not his own address.
“The fact of the matter is that each of you have been in this country for less than two months, you have not claimed benefits, you have absolutely no roots here and I believe that if I were to release you the likelihood is that each of you would be out of here as quickly as you came in and accordingly I refuse the application for bail.”
The men will reappear at Coleraine Court via video link on August 17.