BY TOBY PORTER
A man has been jailed for 14 years after admitting making 500-mile round trips to carry out a string of burglaries on Wimbledon homes for over more than a decade.
Asdrit Kapaj, 42, from Woodfield Road, Altrincham, Greater Manchester, carried enough thefts to earn himself the nickname of the “Wimbledon prowler”.
It was the first time DNA testing was used in the UK in a case other than a rape or a murder – and these later proved crucial to the prosecution case.
Boris Becker is reported to have been one of Kapaj’s victims. He is said to have attempted to raid the address of the former Wimbledon tennis champion in October 2013.
The burglar was also reportedly chased across a garden by the former footballer Nicolas Anelka.
Kapaj pleaded guilty to 21 counts of burglary at Kingston crown court in April; to two counts of attempted burglary and a further count of going equipped.
A large group of residents were in court to hear the pleas. The burglaries began in July 2008 and lasted until February, when he was arrested.
The stolen items included a diamond ring and a gold necklace, as well as a dress and thousands of pounds in cash. Much of the evidence came from automatic number plate recognition technology tracking his car from Altrincham to South-west London.
Scotland Yard previously linked the ‘Wimbledon prowler’ to 200 burglaries – and The total value of the property stolen during the burglaries he admitted, was £497,300.
The Wimbledon offences he pleaded guilty to took place in Bathgate Road, Drax Avenue, Somerset Road, Leopold Avenue, St Mary’s Road, Atherton Drive, Lincoln Avenue, Home Park Road, Church Road, Arthur Road, Mackay Road, Atherton Drive; Copse Hill, Camp View and Belvedere Grove.
Cops who led the investigation have praised the commitment and innovation of the hundreds of officers and staff from across various teams in the Met, which enabled Kapaj’s arrest.
They also paid tribute to the support that the community in Wimbledon gave to officers throughout the investigation, including the Parkside Residents’ Association.
Kapaj had lived in the Wimbledon area in the late 1990s. He was arrested in February carrying a number of tools and a torch.
He was also wearing a snood. Detective Inspector Andy Durham said: “This man terrorised the community of Wimbledon for well over 10 years.
“He moved away from Wimbledon more than 15 years ago, to Greater Manchester, yet despite the almost 500-mile round trip, he returned to Wimbledon repeatedly.
“He targeted the same area, and often the same houses, to steal for his own personal gain.
Kapaj was controlled and well-organised as he carried out his sustained campaign of offending but what he didn’t count on was how much he would reveal about himself.
While the ‘prowler’ was the focus of our investigation, during our enquiries we also caught a number of other burglars in the act.
“Kapaj refused to relent from targeting this community, yet the police have shown more than equal tenacity in bringing him to justice.”
It was painstaking work, and included identifying eight key characteristics of the burglar’s MO, classifying a ‘circle of control’ in which he consistently offended and sharing daily intelligence with the local neighbourhood policing team.
No offences in other areas came to light. A big break in the case arrived when DNA from a scene in July 2015 matched one in December 2015 even though Kapaj never left behind a fingerprint and wore gloves during every burglary.
Detective Chief Inspector Dan O’Sullivan said: “It is with great satisfaction that we have seen Kapaj sentenced for his offences.
“For years, a community was targeted and left feeling vulnerable as he crept through their houses unchecked, helping himself to items which in some circumstances, were among their most prized possessions.
“It is a proud moment reflecting the work of the many hundreds of people involved in the enquiries. I hope the today brings comfort and a degree of closure to the many victims who felt the impact of Kapaj’s criminal activity.”
Laurie Porter, a resident who was instrumental in liaising with officers and the community throughout the enquiries, said: “We are so grateful and thankful to the Met for all their hard work.
From the specialist crime squad to the detectives working on the case to the local PCs in Wimbledon Village. They’ve been brilliant.
“There were times I lost hope that they would ever catch this man but I never lost faith that the Met would do everything it could to apprehend him.”
Alexandra Boshell, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: “For over a decade Astrit Kapaj remained anonymous.
“He carried out burglaries in Wimbledon totalling nearly half a million pounds over more than 10 years. A number of Kapaj’s victims had been at home at the time, leaving many feeling unsafe long after the burglaries.
“The prosecution case, including CCTV footage showing Kapaj habitually covering his lower face, meant he had little choice but to plead guilty.
“I hope this prosecution provides comfort to victims and shows the police and CPS work side by side to find and prosecute those who seek to invade and loot homes.”