A GANG of thieves who stole clothes donated to charity were caught after police fitted tracking devices to the bags.

Detectives fitted the charity sacks with the equipment following a spate of similar thefts and it led them to the culprits’ van.

Last night, police and charity chiefs condemned the theft after the three admitted stealing the clothes.

Loading article content

Latvians Ivar Rasa, Uldis Stepins and Girts Ziemelis stole several bags of clothes that had been left at an Oxfam drop-off point at a supermarket in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, on Sunday, April 9.

The tracking devices led officers to their van, which was still in Newton Aycliffe, later the same day.

The three men had taken the bags after stopping at the town’s Tesco store to refuel while they were travelling to their homes in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, after visiting Scotland.

They all admitted the theft when they appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

Claire Brinton, prosecuting, said the clothes were all in bags marked with the Oxfam logo and there could be no doubt they were meant for the charity.

She said they were initially valued at £3,000, although that estimate was later reduced.

The clothes were all recovered.

Rasa, 30, has been in the UK for about eight years, but is not working or claiming benefits his solicitor, Ben Pegman, said.

Mr Pegman added: “This was an opportunistic offence.

How well Mr Rasa knows the work of Oxfam I am not sure, but he accepts they were Oxfam’s goods.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Stepins, 34, said: “I feel very sorry.”

Ziemelis, 26, also apologised through an interpreter.

Each was given an 18- month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £40 costs.

Speaking after the sentencing, Wendy Mitchell, from the Charity Retail Association, said thefts of donations cost charities about £50m a year, while charities in the North- East lose out by about £3m.

She said: “Getting enough donations of second-hand clothing and other unwanted items from members of the public is the number one concern for charity shops. We are pleased to see any action taken against people who are stealing from charities.”

Alistair Mclean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, said thefts of bags left for charities had risen in the past few years because of the value of secondhand clothing “going through the roof”.

He said: “We would urge anyone who is suspicious of where their donations are going to report it. Charities rely on donations, and the public has to have the confidence that what they donate is going to the right place.”

A police spokeswoman said: “Stealing donations of clothes and other items intended for charitable causes is a despicable crime.

“We are committed to tackling such activity and will use appropriate tactics to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.”