A GANG of cable thieves who caused major disruption for rail passengers on the Cotswold Line have been jailed for a total of 23 years.

Their crimes cost Network Rail between £450,000 and £500,000 for repairs and penalty payments to train operator First Great Western for disruption to its services on the route through West Oxfordshire over a six-month period.

The eight Romanians, who were living in Birmingham, were responsible for at least 22 incidents in the Vale of Evesham and Gloucestershire, stealing about 6,000 metres (more than three-and-a-half miles) of signal cables to sell as scrap metal.

Many of the attacks took place overnight, disrupting morning rush-hour trains along the line to Oxford, Reading and London.

British Transport Police began their investigation after an incident at Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire on November 3 last year, when power to the signal system was lost.

Officers found sections of cable cut up to be taken away hidden near the scene.

BTP stepped up overnight patrols along the route and shortly before midnight on February 5, officers spotted two men on the line at Blockley level crossing in Gloucestershire.

After they ran off, a police helicopter and dog handler were called in to track them in woodland, where officers arrested Stefanel Ruset and Marius Stana.

Stana is thought to have fled to Romania while on bail and is still wanted by the police.

Officers linked the pair to the other gang members and on May 24, they raided five homes in the Smethwick and Handsworth areas of Birmingham. Eleven men were arrested but three were released without charge.

Jan Trofin, 36; Alexandru Tofaleanu, 29; Mihai Mihart, 26; Mihai Binta, 27; and Florin Cojocaru, 19, all of Parkhill Road, Smethwick; Stefanel Ruset, 19, of Kentish Road, Handsworth; Christian Toader, 24, of Selsey Road, Smethwick; and Costinel Mijloc, 24, of Highfield Road, Smethwick, all admitted conspiracy to steal cables from the railway network.

Michael Duck, prosecuting, told Birmingham Crown Court last week that Trofin, Mihart and Tofaleanu were the key players, while Binta, Cojocaru and Mijloc were “willing foot soldiers”.

Judge Robert Orme said: “These are clearly very serious offences of theft involving sustained, professional offending which require, in my view, a deterrent element in the sentencing.”

He sentenced Mihai to four years and five months’ imprisonment, Trofin and Tofaleanu to four years, Toader to two years and nine months, Ruset to two years and six months, Mijloc to two years and Binta and Cojocaru to 20 months.

Judge Orme recommended that Trofin, Mihart and Binta should be deported on the completion of their sentences.

Detective Inspector Andy Irwin-Porter, who led the BTP investigation, said: “These sentences show that it simply is not worth considering stealing cable from the rail network.”