On December 13, 2019, Tamara Ecclestone was in Lapland. The British socialite and daughter of Formula 1 titan Bernie Ecclestone posed for photos in the snow with her husband Jay Rutland and their daughter Sophia.
He warmed her pedicured toes by a roaring fire in a cottage. She was idly chatting with a man dressed as Santa Claus.
Meanwhile, at her 57-room mansion in London’s Kensington Palace Gardens (known as Billionaires’ Row), a gang of thieves hid behind her daughter’s Wendy House.
They climbed through an open window at the back of their home. They stole 400 items, including jewelery and watches, valued at more than £26million (€30.5million).
It tells the story of the biggest burglary in British history Who Stole Tamara Ecclestone’s Diamonds?a rollercoaster ride of a BBC Three documentary.
Set against a murderous soundtrack – starring Wet Leg, Lana Del Rey and The Flamingos – director Ben Bryant and journalist Thomas Mackintosh join a ragtag crew of suspects and the heiress herself to solve the mystery.
“What I find super funny about this case,” Bryant tells me, “is that the burglars were so bold and clever in one way and in other ways they made some totally fatal mistakes — ridiculous blunders.”
On the night of the burglary, two security officers were on 24-hour watch.
But by the time the thieves arrived, one of them had gone to Tesco to get vegetables for his chicken dinner.
“The burglars’ path into the Ecclestone property was quite impressive,” says Bryant.
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“They entered a parking lot through a tunnel, climbed sheds, ran through back gardens, jumped a fence and hid.” Then three of the robbers, armed only with screwdrivers, stayed at the property for a full hour before the remaining security guard heard a noise and went to investigate.
Inside the house, he apparently chased the intruders before one of them threw a fire extinguisher at him.
After fleeing the scene, the gang hailed a black cab and proceeded to a hotel in St Mary Cray, Bromley, in London’s Zone 6.
Here they made one of their stupidest mistakes. One of the thieves, Jugoslav Jovanovic, sent a dick photo to the receptionist (he got the number at the reception for emergencies).
The receptionist immediately blocked him and saved his number on the phone as “Weirdo”. This unsolicited nudity meant police could track Jovanovic’s phone and search for the rest of the robbers.
When police investigated deeper, they found the break-in at the Ecclestone property was just one of several hits on the homes of high-profile Londoners in a matter of days. The thieves had also stolen £1million worth of belongings from the home of the late Leicester City leader Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. And they had stolen from footballer Frank Lampard when he was in Winter Wonderland with his wife Christine.
The burglars indulged during their time in London, once spending £800 on a meal at Zuma Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge.
Some members of the gang had also been sloppy at hiding their identities. Several were caught on CCTV at Patisserie Valerie in Victoria, while another man accused of helping them used his own bank card to knock at a train station.
Shortly after the Ecclestone home was searched, a picture surfaced on Facebook of a Romanian escort, Maria Mester, allegedly carrying Ecclestone’s stolen diamonds.
The image soon became widespread. “Jay showed me the picture of the lady, if you can call her that, with a necklace he bought me for my birthday a year ago,” says Ecclestone at one point in her interview. “That pig wore my jewellery!”
Mester – who is interviewed in the documentary wearing a Gucci T-shirt – was later arrested at Stansted Airport wearing what appeared to be a pair of Ecclestone earrings.
Mester’s son Emil-Bogdan, then 30, who was in London on the day of the burglaries, was also arrested by police while carrying Srivaddhanaprabha’s watch and Rutland’s bag.
However, a jury found both not guilty of involvement in the conspiracy after they claimed ignorance of the robberies.
As Mester left court in London, she smoked a cigarette and gave the paparazzi a “peace” sign before boarding the Rolls Royce that was waiting for her.
The documentary team traveled to Romania to interview another member of the gang’s alleged support team, Sorin Marcovici, the robbers’ driver in London.
Marcovici is described in the film as a “Del Boy Wheeler dealer” and has a tattoo of Marlon Brando The Godfather and wears Dolce & Gabbana everything.
“When I saw a picture of Marcovici, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy looks like a real character,'” Bryant tells me.
“He’s got all these tattoos, he wears all this designer stuff. It was definitely a lot of fun.”
Marcovici was acquitted of any involvement in the crime at the same trial as the Mesters – as was a man named Alexandru Stan, who gave the thieves new clothes after the Ecclestone house raid.
In a separate trial, an Italian trio consisting of Dick Pic broadcaster Jovanovic and two men named Alessandro Maltese and Alessandro Donati were convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary after pleading guilty. They were sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison.
One man the team couldn’t pin down was Daniel Vukovic. Police believe he was one of the three thieves, along with Maltese and Donati, caught by CCTV at the Ecclestone estate (Jovanovic is said to have been their lookout).
Vukovic has been linked to several high-profile burglaries over the years and has 19 different identities. He is believed to be living in Belgrade, Serbia, but authorities there refuse to extradite him, leaving him effectively a free man.
If the police get to Vukovic, they might be able to track down the diamonds – most of which were never recovered. But Bryant says there is another way to fill in the gaps.
“Mester’s phone was confiscated by the police and she said she couldn’t remember the passcode to unlock it,” he says. “They’re just trying to get in. Eventually, either Vukovic will be arrested, the jewels will be discovered, or they will end up in Mester’s phone. If they do, there could be another chapter in the story.”
“Who Stole Tamara Ecclestone’s Diamonds?” Premieres on BBC Three at 9pm tonight
https://www.independent.ie/style/celebrity/celebrity-features/who-stole-tamara-ecclestones-diamonds-the-story-behind-the-30m-burglary-on-billionaires-row-41857374.html Who Stole Tamara Ecclestone’s Diamonds? The story behind the €30m break-in on Billionaires’ Row