By Edward Davenport

The leaders of a high-tech shoplifting gang that looted almost £50,000 in expensive bottles of spirits from supermarkets in Devon and Cornwall — including one in Launceston — have been jailed.

Marian Stoica and Robert Matei used special tools to remove security tags and worked with up to four other Romanians to distract security staff as they raided at least 19 stores over five months.

The gang used spotters to make sure they were not observed and communicated with each other through Bluetooth earpieces as they loaded the booty into bags for life.

They struck at stores all over Devon and Cornwall, even changing their clothes and going back in for a second raid on one occasion, Exeter Crown Court was told.

Their raid were at large supermarkets in Bideford, Barnstaple, Exeter, Exmouth and Seaton in Devon and Launceston, Truro and St Austell in Cornwall and netted high value alcohol worth £48,276, of which £5,800 worth was found by police when they were arrested.

Both men were Romanians although Stoica had been in Britain for ten years and Matei for just a few weeks. Stoica needed the money to fund a gambling addiction while Matei was sending some home to his family.

Stoica, aged 31, and Matei, aged 26, both of Alverstone Road, Coventry, admitted conspiracy to steal and were both jailed for two years by Judge David Evans.

He told them: “There was significant forward planning and preparation and the use of coordinated movements and the use of Bluetooth earpieces and the deployment of de-tagging equipment.

“This was on any view a very significant conspiracy to steal from supermarkets. Tens of thousands of pounds of good were stolen from multiple locations.”

The Judge said it will be up to the Government whether the men are deported when they finish their sentences.

Mr Michael Brown, prosecuting, said the thefts began in May last year and involved the two men and sometimes two to four others. They carried on until October although Matei was caught in August and held in custody.

They targeted top-end bottles of spirits which are routinely fitted with security tags but which they were able to remove before loading them into bags for life or trolleys.

The gang used diversionary tactics to confuse security staff in the supermarkets and mobile phones with Bluetooth earpieces to coordinate their raids.

In one raid they returned wearing different clothes and made off with alcohol worth a total of £17,000 in the two thefts.

Mr Dhaneshwar Sharma, for Stoica, said he had lived in Britain since 2012 and is married with two young children. He became involved after building up gambling debts.

Miss Francesca Whebell, for Matei, said he came to Britain to look for work last year and was lured into the conspiracy after failing to do so. He is now desperate to return home to look after his sick mother and frail father.