Victim speaks out after Hampstead machete robbery
- Credit: Google Maps/Met Police
“The experience was terrifying. I didn’t know what he might do."
Those are the words of Gabriel Lung who was confronted by a man brandishing a machete as he walked home in Hampstead.
Gabriel Leung was walking along Oak Hill Park in July 2019 when he was approached from behind by Junior Britto.
Britto, 27, from Kilburn, was armed with a large knife and ordered Gabriel to hand over his Invicta watch, valued at around £250.
It was one of a series of watch and jewellery robberies, including in St John's Wood, where Britto often carried a weapon, including a handgun. On one occasion victims were stabbed.
“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,” said Gabriel.
“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.
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“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.”
He reported it and said the police response was very quick. He said officers were aware it could be part of a series of robberies.
“I got regular updates throughout the investigation and was very pleased to hear Britto had been caught and convicted, it was like closure," he said. "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 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 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 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.
In the last week, targeted operations have ben carried out in central-west London, with several arrests made.
Police advise people to be aware of their surroundings, plan a route home and, where possible, keep valuables out of sight.
More advice can be found at www.met.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/protect-yourself-from-crime/mugging-street-robbery