Pickpocketing gang of three Romanian women are jailed

Pickpocketing gang of three Romanian women are jailed for stealing phones and purses from up to 10 university students a day in Manchester

  • Ribana Mihai, 24, her sister Luminita, 21, and cousin Rebecca State, also 21
  • The women formed a family crime gang and pickpocketed in Manchester 
  • Admitted attempted theft after not guilty pleas for conspiracy to steal accepted
  • Mother-of-four Ribana, from Clarksfield, Oldham, was jailed for 20 months
  • Lumita got 16 months imprisonment while Rebecca was jailed for 14 months

Three Romanian women have been jailed after forming a pickpocketing gang to steal phones and purses from unsuspecting students. 

Ribana Mihai, 24, her sister Luminita, 21, and cousin Rebecca State, also 21, were caught by an undercover police operation after ten victims a day were targeted outside Manchester Metropolitan University.

The women – all Romanian nationals – loitered outside lecture halls and used hand signals to communicate as they selected students walking to or leaving classes.

Plain clothes officers pounced on December 1 last year after the thieves were spotted trying to steal a £1,000 iPhone XR and purse from the pocket of a female international student as she walked with a friend.

The victim was unaware she had been targeted until officers stopped her to ask if she still had all her belongings.


Ribana Mihai, 24, her sister Luminita (right), 21, and cousin Rebecca State (left), also 21, were caught by an undercover police operation after ten victims a day were targeted outside Manchester Metropolitan University

Police said the women would regularly switch clothing and cover their heads with hoods to confuse potential witnesses before selling the items they stole on the black market.

The thefts caused such widespread concern a Facebook group was set up to give international students advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.

At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, mother-of-four Ribana, from Clarksfield, Oldham, was jailed for 20 months. 

Lumita got 16 months imprisonment while mother-of-one Rebecca, who lives at the same address in Levenshulme, Manchester, was jailed for 14 months.

The three, who all have previous convictions for similar matters, were also banned from Manchester city centre until 2026 under a Criminal Behaviour Order. 

If they’re caught entering a forbidden area they could face another five years behind bars. 

They admitted attempted theft after their not guilty pleas for conspiracy to steal were accepted. A man they were seen with escaped capture and has not been traced.

Sentencing the women, judge Mr Recorder Mark Rhind told them: ‘All three of your have no real regret or remorse for what you’ve done and appear to be entrenched in a pattern of offending whereby you find it acceptable to go out and steal to make money.

 The women – all Romanian nationals – loitered outside lecture halls and used hand signals to communicate as they selected students walking to or leaving classes. Pictured, Brooks building at Manchester Metropolitan University

‘Previous efforts to correct your behaviour have been unsuccessful. In fact you have a history of completing sentences then reoffending again.

‘This area was a hotspot for pickpockets like you and the impact on the public, in particular students, has been significant and has caused a great deal of concern.

‘I am satisfied that there is a compelling need to treat this offence as more serious because of the area in which it occurred.

‘You were spotted and recognised by police because of your previous offending and because of intelligence they had about all of you.

‘You were acting suspiciously, you were walking up and down the street and clearly targeting students. 

‘You were pointing out students using hand signals between each other and changing clothes to make it more difficult for others to recognise and identify which of you was doing what.

‘In this case when the victim was stopped, she was surprised that she had not felt a thing but that shows how practised experts you were. It is clear you are an organised group and you went out to that area in order to steal together.

‘You were targeting students in an area where students were prevalent. You were stealing or trying to steal high value items to make significant amounts of money. This was not done out of desperation or need.’

The court heard Greater Manchester Police launched an operation codenamed ‘Orion’ following a spike in reports of pickpocketing outside the university.

At Minshull Street Crown Court (pictured), Manchester, mother-of-four Ribana, from Clarksfield, Oldham, was jailed for 20 months

Sarah Johnston prosecuting said: ‘At its peak there were ten such offences being committed every day in the city centre. On the day of the arrests, three officers were on plain clothes duty when they saw these three women shortly before 1pm clearly targeting members of the public.

‘They were communicating with each other via a system of hand gestures and would repeatedly come together then separate and change items of clothing. They were seen to pull their hoods up over their heads in attempts to evade detection.

‘One officer watched as Lunmita got close behind two young women and reached into the coat pocket of one of them. The officers radioed a colleague who stopped the complainant, identified herself and asked her to check her pocket. She produced an iPhone and a small purse and was unaware of the attempted theft upon her.

‘All the defendants were arrested and when interviewed gave no comment.’

Lumita had 16 offences on her record including theft from the person, shoplifting and begging and had just completed a community order imposed for obstructing police. 

Rebecca had four offences, including pickpocketing and begging, on her record whilst Ribana had six offences for pickpocketing and shoplifting. In 2019 Ribana was jailed for 28 weeks for stealing mobile phones.

In mitigation for Luminta, defence counsel Mr Martin Callery said: ‘There was some degree of planning but it was not significant or sophisticated planning. 

‘There was no property stolen in this instance and the targeted victim did not lose either phone or purse.’

For Ribana, defence counsel Mr John Kennerley said his client had been locked up since her arrest and had not been able to see her children aged four, three, 23 months and eight months.

Miss Gwen Henshaw said Rebecca, who came to the UK as a young child, missed her daughter’s fourth birthday since her arrest. She added. ‘She is still a young adult. She comes from a Roma background and was begging at the age of 15.’

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