A man has urged the public to be vigilant after knife-wielding thieves stole his watch in Hampstead.
Gabriel Leung was walking home along Oak Hill Park in July 2019 when he was approached from behind by 27-year-old Junior Britto.
Britto brandished a large knife and told Gabriel to hand over his £250 Invicta watch.
“I was very close to my front door when I heard this car screech and pull up beside me and a man got out waving a machete,” Mr Leung said.
“He ordered me to give him my watch so I threw it to the ground and he took it before getting back into the car and speeding away.
“The watch wasn’t particularly expensive but had sentimental value as I was given it when I was a groomsman at a wedding.
“The experience was terrifying, I didn’t know what he might do. I was in total shock and disbelief, you see things like this on TV but never expect them to happen to you.”
Gabriel immediately rang police who came out that night to take his account.
“The police response was very quick, they were aware this could be part of a linked series and were obviously working hard to try and identify those involved,” he said.
“I got regular updates throughout the investigation and was very pleased to hear Britto had been caught and convicted, it was like closure. I do still feel safe going out but I would now always warn others to be more vigilant and to keep valuables out of sight if you can.”
The robbery was just one of eight carried out by Britto over a three-week period in June and July 2019.
Britto used a stolen Audi S3 with false plates to facilitate his offending, driving through streets in the St John’s Wood area with the sole purpose of identifying and following his next target.
On almost every occasion, the victims were threatened with weapons including a handgun and a machete before being forced to hand over items including high-value watches, one of which was worth £25,000.
Detective Sergeant Alan Biggs, who led the investigation, said: “Britto drove around affluent neighbourhoods on the lookout for people he thought may be in possession of valuable items including watches and jewellery.
“The level of violence used was absolutely shocking, including one couple being stabbed and others being threatened with machetes and firearms. The impact of what they have been through will remain with them for a long time to come and we thank them for their assistance during our investigation which was crucial in convicting Britto.
“We would urge anyone who is a victim of robbery to report it to police as soon as possible – the first few hours in any investigation are key for us to gather evidence and gives us the best chance of identifying those responsible.”
During the third robbery – in which a couple were threatened and had their watches stolen after driving their car into a carpark – a machete sheath was dropped at the scene.
This was forensically examined and proved a match to Britto. Blood found on the inside of the sheath also matched one of the victims of the first robbery.
Britto was arrested at Gatwick Airport in July 2019 and officers from the Met’s Operation Venice team continued to gather the evidence which would ultimately lead to his conviction.
Cell site data put him in proximity of the robberies at the time they took place and revealed he would often switch his phone off in the moments before a robbery took place.
On Friday, May 27 this year, Britto, of Kilburn, was jailed for eight years at Isleworth Crown Court after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery.
Detective Owain Richards, in charge of policing for Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, said: “In Central West BCU we have seen a rise in these types of robberies over recent weeks as criminals take advantage of the longer days and the busier streets.
“As this case shows, tackling violent crime of this nature remains our top priority and we will work tirelessly to get offenders like Britto off our streets.
“We are currently running a targeted operation in key areas to tackle these robberies head on, but we are also reminding people to remain aware of their surroundings and where possible, keep valuables out of sight.”