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‘Wimbledon prowler’: Astrit Kapaj jailed for burglaries spanning a decade

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A prolific burglar, who was described as the "Wimbledon prowler", has been jailed for 14 years.

The sentencing of Astrit Kapaj comes more than a decade after he began a notorious crime spree that saw him raid almost two dozen homes in southwest London.

Astrit Kapaj even targeted the home of tennis star Boris Becker during a decade-long burglary campaign in southwest London.

Kapaj got the "Wimbledon prowler" label for the way in which he targeted the affluent community, regularly travelling from his home in Altrincham, Greater Manchester, between 2008 and February 2019 to steal cash and jewellery valued at almost £500,000.

He pleaded guilty to 21 burglary charges at Kingston Crown Court earlier this year - and one of two counts of attempted burglary was for trying to steal from the home of tennis star Boris Becker.

The 43-year-old would always carry out his raids under the cover of night, often arriving in his Mercedes car, before gaining entrance to properties through an open window and searching quickly and quietly for valuables.

His caution helped him evade arrest for years - he would leave many items behind to avoid arousing suspicion, including one instance in which he took £600 from a wallet but left £200 behind.

It left many homeowners thinking they had mislaid or spent the money themselves, and Kapaj - who worked at a chip shop - was also careful when it came to taking items like rings and necklaces.

He once even repaired a damaged window frame with a pot of matching paint from a nearby shed.

Police could not find a single Kapaj fingerprint in any of the houses he looted, but he was eventually arrested in February after being caught on CCTV with a snood, a pair of gloves and a torch.

Scotland Yard had previously linked him to 200 burglaries.

Kapaj has never revealed what happened to the money and jewellery, but police believe he may have lost a large amount of the cash to gambling.

Ahead of his sentencing at Kingston Crown Court, impact statements were read out from some of his victims recalling the "devastating" impact the burglaries had on their lives.

Kasumi Deru, whose home was hit by Kapaj in 2015, said she slept with her handbag in her bed after the break-in, adding: "Nothing will make me feel safe again."

Wendy Reifler, whose house was burgled in March 2013, said the incident had left her youngest son "afraid to sleep alone upstairs", and Rona Cruishank said she "feels like a prisoner in her own home" after she had a £2,000 diamond ring and £1,000 necklace stolen from her home in December 2015.

Sentencing him for a total of 24 burglary offences - 21 burglaries, two attempted burglaries and one charge of going equipped - Judge Peter Lodder QC told Kapaj he was a "prolific, persistent and professional burglar" who had "terrified the whole community" of Wimbledon.

Kapaj stared straight ahead and showed no emotion as he was told he would spend 14 years behind bars.