Teenager jailed for trying to sell on stolen Whitton church silver – but cousin cleared of same crime

St Mary and St Botolph church, in Whitton. Picture: JANICE POULSON

St Mary and St Botolph church, in Whitton. Picture: JANICE POULSON - Credit: citizenside.com

A teenager who tried to sell church silverware to a high street jeweller has been jailed for receiving stolen goods.

Ionut Avadanei was sent to prison for 26 weeks for handling stolen goods. Picture: SUPPLIED BY SUFFO

Ionut Avadanei was sent to prison for 26 weeks for handling stolen goods. Picture: SUPPLIED BY SUFFOLK POLICE - Credit: Supplied by Suffolk police

Ionut Avadanei was sent to prison for 26 weeks after watching his cousin cleared of the same crime by magistrates on Wednesday.

On January 2, he and Vasile Tecaru tried to sell items of silverware stolen from St Mary and St Botolph church, in Whitton, just days earlier.

Both denied knowledge of them being stolen when they attempted the sale at Boreham Christopher.

Representing himself, Avadanei, 19, of Crescent Road, claimed he was selling the items on behalf of an acquaintance called ‘Alex’, who had inherited the silverware from his priest grandfather.

Small Elizabethan communion cup. Picture: WHITTON CHURCH

Small Elizabethan communion cup. Picture: WHITTON CHURCH - Credit: WHITTON CHURCH


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Both were going to sell the items when Alex received an urgent phone call and left, according to Avadanei, who then persuaded Mr Tecaru, 20, of Mountbatten Court, to accompany him after a chance meeting in Ipswich.

After being offered a sum, Avadanei claimed to have phoned Alex, who declined and asked for the items to be returned.

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Reverend Mary Sokanovic, priest-in-charge of Whitton, Thurleston and Akenham, told the court she instantly recognised the silver in CCTV from the shop.

“When I saw it on the counter, it was like looking at the shelf of the safe at the church,” she said.

(L-R) Large ciborium with cross embellished lid, Large decorated chalice sterling silver with gildin

(L-R) Large ciborium with cross embellished lid, Large decorated chalice sterling silver with gilding and large flagon decorated in gold . Picture: WHITTON CHURCH - Credit: WHITTON CHURCH

Dino Barricella, representing Mr Tecaru, said his client had been en route to play football with friends when he met Avadanei.

Mr Tecaru said he had invited Avadanei along to play – agreeing to first accompany him to the jeweller, but having no reason to believe the items were stolen.

Prosecutor Sandra Dyer asked why he made no comment in an interview following his arrest.

“I was scared,” he answered.

Boxed Home Communium set. Picture: WHITTON CHURCH

Boxed Home Communium set. Picture: WHITTON CHURCH - Credit: WHITTON CHURCH

“I didn’t want to put my cousin in trouble.”

With Avadanei on the stand, she asked: “Didn’t you find it more than a little strange, being offered a bag full of silver in the street?

“I suggest you did it for a cut of the money.”

Avadanei agreed it was strange, but denied knowledge.

Mr Barricella said Mr Tecaru had been given an explanation for coming into the silver by his cousin, and that even if he was suspicious, mere suspicion was insufficient for a conviction.

Magistrates found Avadanei’s account incredible and found him guilty, but saw sufficient doubt over Mr Tecaru’s involvement and deemed him not guilty.

None of the silverware stolen from Whitton church overnight on December 30 has been recovered.

On January 9, the church safe was found, containing records of births, deaths and marriages, near Needham Market. The documents are currently being salvaged by the record office.

Rev Mary Sokanovic said the community had been significantly affected by the burglary.

“It robbed them of part of their history,” she told the court.

“We believe one of the items – a small Elizabethan chalice – had been in the parish for 450 years.

“It had a spiritual, financial and emotional effect on the community.

“It hurt them deeply to know that place – their place – had been violated.

“It hit the soul of the community. The shock and distress was tangible and remains so.”

The insurance cost of modern replacements for all the items has been estimated at £28,000, but the church considers the actual historical value to be significantly higher.

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