In the end, the ‘vamoose’ burglary gang were not fast enough.

They may have been furious at being caught red-handed in a stolen VW Golf in central Banbury.

But they certainly ended up looking foolish when armed cops opened the door of the stolen VW Golf on May 5, 2019, to find gang leader Michael McDonagh red-faced and lying across the knees of four accomplices.

McDonagh, now 22, had spent the previous three nights evading police during raids from Coventry to Oxford in search of high-powered cars to steal.

The raids had become so troublesome that detectives launched ‘Operation Semester’ to tackle them and Thames Valley Police came up with a new name – ‘vamoose burglaries’ – to describe how the thieves would break into a home, swipe car keys then disappear into the night as fast as they’d come.


The spate of thefts began with the theft of a VW Golf in a burglary in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, near Wallingford, on April 19, 2019.

The black hatchback was then used by the gang to drive from Coventry to Oxford during another three overnight expeditions in April and May 2019, each time on a different false plate.

Over three nights, the thieves made off with BMWs, VWs and Audis. Some of the cars, like an Audi Q7 discovered in a shipping container in Milton Keynes, were recovered by the police – other vehicles were never seen again.

Prosecutors named Oxford-based Rimvydas Mazeika, who turned 24 during the trial at Oxford Crown Court, as the gang member who scouted out possible targets for the Coventry gang.

They included the owner of a white BMW 1 Series who just hours before her car keys were swiped in an overnight burglary had sold Mazeika an iPhone.

During the trial, the woman said two men had come to her door in Larkfield Road, Oxford, at around 8.30pm on May 2 to buy an old iPhone. She’d put the phone up for sale on listings website Gumtree and, earlier that day, had been in communication with one of the men.

Both men were around 5’10”, one stockier than the other. The stockier man, who she later identified as Mazeika, did the talking in accented English.

“I gave one of the males – I’m going to say the larger of the males – the phone. He was looking at it. He spoke to the other male in a language I didn’t understand,” she said from the stand.

“They had the phone. I don’t know what they were talking about. Once they stopped talking the male who had begun the communication with me asked if I had a phone charger. I said no.”

Mazeika handed over £130 in cash in a transaction said to have lasted four or five minutes.

Richard Davies, for Mazeika, suggested that the BMW owner had made an ‘honest mistake’ and the man in the Facebook picture she’d passed on to police was not the larger man that came to her door. “I disagree with that,” she replied.


The Facebook image of Rimvydas Mazeika shared with Thames Valley Police Picture: CPS

The Facebook image of Rimvydas Mazeika shared with Thames Valley Police Picture: CPS


Disposing of the cars

The cars that were eventually found by the police had been fitted with false plates.

A clue as to how that happened was revealed in a video snapped by a woman in Yarningale Road, Coventry, on May 3, 2019.

She got her phone out after spotting three men fiddling around with the numberplates of a grey Audi Q7 at around 4.30pm.

The men shouted warnings at her when they realised she was filming them – but sped off.

When police arrived at the scene they found the discarded numberplates of the Audi stolen overnight on May 2/3 from outside a house in Bodley Road, Oxford.

A photograph of the car was found in Michael McDonagh’s phone.


Opening the case to jurors at the start of November, prosecutor Oliver Weetch said the house break-ins aimed at stealing expensive cars had become ‘so prevalent’ that Thames Valley Police had dubbed them ‘vamoose burglaries’. “The idea is that you go in, you take the car and you vanish,” he said.

On their raids south, the burglars followed a similar route from Coventry, through Banbury and on to Oxford.

For the police, it was a matter of parking up and waiting for the thieves to drive past.

They struck gold on May 5. Two officers in a 4x4 were parked up off the A423 near Banbury when they were passed by a black VW Golf with several people inside.


Still from police chase through Banbury in May 2019 Picture: CPS

Still from police chase through Banbury in May 2019 Picture: CPS


The car initially pulled over when police illuminated the panda car’s blue lights - then made off at speed, driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong-way around roundabouts.

A spiked ‘stinger’ was thrown under the Golf’s wheels before another police car rammed it. McDonagh tried to drive it through a knee-high hedge then hopped onto the back seat, where men George Chadwick, Pray Maphosa, Harrison Tubman and his brother Bernie McDonagh were sat.

Inside the car, police found a number of tools – including a screwdriver linked to one of the Oxford burglaries. A number of nitrous oxide cannisters were also discovered in the vehicle.

Chadwick’s iPhone was the only mobile found in the car. Prosecutors suggested that the gang were savvy about how police could use phone location data to link crooks to their crimes and that Chadwick had ‘not got the memo’ about the importance of leaving his phone at home.

Lawyers for Chadwick, Tubman and Maphosa argued their clients had been out for a drive when McDonagh decided to make off from police.


The damage to the recovered stolen VW Golf Picture: CPS

The damage to the recovered stolen VW Golf Picture: CPS

Selection of screwdrivers found in VW Golf after police chase in Banbury Picture: CPS

Selection of screwdrivers found in VW Golf after police chase in Banbury Picture: CPS



Michael McDonagh was arrested again at the end of May. Police managed to crack into the smartphone found on him during that arrest.,

One picture on his iPhone showed wads of cash with the text: “Today’s wage. Can’t moan. What I make a day you don’t make a month. Only f*** with the 50s [£50 notes].”

A burner style phone seized when Mazeika was arrested in early May showed he’d been in contact with Michael McDonagh on April 24, 2019, the same day when CCTV showed him at Cherwell services, near Banbury, getting out the VW Golf stolen near Wallingford five days earlier. A tracksuit matching the one he could be seen wearing in the CCTV was found by police in a search of Mazeika’s house.

Also with Mazeika at the Banbury service station were two men, Joseph Holden and Owen Maughan, although they had not been charged in connection with the car thefts.


The tracksuit Rimvydas Mazeika was wearing when he was caught on CCTV with stolen VW Golf Picture: CPS

The tracksuit Rimvydas Mazeika was wearing when he was caught on CCTV with stolen VW Golf Picture: CPS



On Wednesday, jurors found all five men guilty of conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal. Michael McDonagh, who was tried in his absence after failing to answer bail, was also convicted of possession of criminal property.

Judge Ian Pringle QC remanded them into custody, telling the men: “I’m going to adjourn your case for sentence until Friday, December 10, when you will all appear here at this court.

“You have been convicted unanimously by this jury of two very serious offences and although I am ordering pre-sentence reports you can all expect significant sentences.”

After returning their verdicts, the jury heard about the defendants’ shocking criminal records.

Michael McDonagh, 22, of Longford, Coventry, had 21 offences on his record. They included two offences of dangerous driving committed in May 2019. He remains on the run.

Rimvydas Mazeika, 24, of Druce Way, Oxford, had nine convictions for 15 offences including a number of driving matters.

Harrison Tubman, 22, of Dunsmore Avenue, Coventry, was just 19-years-old at the time of the burglaries. He had 18 convictions for 32 offences. His rap sheet included entries for taking vehicles without consent and being carried in stolen cars.

Pray Maphosa, 19 now but just 16 at the time, of Featherstone, Wolverhampton, was given 25 years in September for attempted murder. He blasted a gang associate with a shotgun in Coventry in 2020.

George Chadwick, 20, of Earlsdon Avenue North, Coventry, had four convictions including matters for burglary. He awaits sentence at Warwick Crown Court for aggravated vehicle taking and dangerous driving.

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