A man who committed a series of distraction thefts across the country has been sent to prison.

Stefan Balaceanu, 24, of Gordon Road, Ilford, Essex, has been sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to 53 offences of distraction theft committed in 15 different counties.

Balaceanu travelled across the country stealing mobile phones, purses and wallets from victims after distracting them between July 2018 and May 2019.

His technique involved approaching his victims with a piece of paper with writing on, while he’d speak a foreign language, point to the paper and ask for help.

While the victims were distracted in helping the defendant, he would steal their belongings.

He targeted innocent victims in Rickmansworth and Watford as well as other towns in Hertfordshire.

It included a phone theft at a hair salon in North Approach, Watford, on April 19, as well as multiple thefts on May 20 where he took mobiles from a hair salon in Courtlands Drive and a tattoo parlour in Vicarage Road, as well as an estate agents in Station Road, Rickmansworth.

On May 22, 2019, Balaceanu was arrested by officers from Hampshire Constabulary after they stopped a vehicle which flashed up on their ANPR system in Basingstoke. He was transferred to custody in Hertfordshire and remanded after identified as being wanted for several offences.

Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Specialist Investigation Team launched an inquiry, supported by fellow officers and staff on the Local Policing Command, to piece together the path of Balaceanu’s criminality.

DC James Kier, form the specialist investigations team, said: “The scale of Balaceanu’s offending was very significant. It was clear he had no qualms about targeting innocent members of the public after preying on their good natures.

“This was a protracted investigation and involved colleagues from elsewhere in the Constabulary as well as 15 different police forces. I would like to publicly thank them for their help in gathering evidence because their support ultimately enabled us to achieve a conviction.”