Police are urging holidaymakers to keep their eyes on their luggage when at airports after a man and woman who stole passengers' belongings worth around £25,000 were jailed for a total of three years.
Isleworth Crown Court heard how Gissella Caceres Diaz, 27 (23.03.90) from Puento Alto, Chile and Juan Abdon Flores Valenzuela, 50 (21.08.67) of Panguipulli, Chile targeted six people who had left their bags unattended, or out of sight, while in airport departure and arrivals lounges between March and October this year.
The pair were jailed on Wednesday, 6 December.
Investigating officer, PC Tom Blair, of the Aviation Policing Crime Squad, said: "Caceres Diaz and Flores Valenzuela took advantage of their victims' sometimes momentary distraction in order to steal their luggage.
"It's very easy to be distracted at a busy airport but you can help keep your luggage safe whether you're in the UK or abroad by always keeping it on you or within your line of sight. If you are carrying a large quantity of cash, keep it on you. If you must pack it in luggage, then spread it out between multiple bags.
"The Met has a very close working relationship with the airports it polices. Together we will do all we can to keep the airports safe and to identify and bring to justice anyone who targets passengers."
The thefts were brought to a halt when keen-eyed police officers patrolling Heathrow Airport recognised the duo from CCTV footage and arrested them.
Police have released CCTV footage of one of their particularly brazen thefts in order to show the public how easily their bags can be stolen when not kept in sight.
The footage from Friday, 3 March shows the victim sitting at a coffee shop in an arrivals lounge, with her back to her luggage and her handbag under her seat.
Caceres Diaz is seen standing next to the victim's luggage to shield Flores Valenzuela from view as he makes several attempts to scoop the victim's handbag from beneath her, using a walking stick as a hook.
He was successful, stealing the handbag and its contents which totalled more than £9,500.
This was the single highest value theft by the duo, who police believe had flown into the UK especially to target holidaymakers. On another occasion they stole a handbag containing goods worth £7,000 from the top of a suitcase at a shop in the arrivals area.
Together, the duo stole luggage containing goods including jewellery, cash and mobile phones worth a total of around £25,000, from their victims.
Officers from the Met's Aviation Command launched an investigation to identify Caceres Diaz and Flores Valenzuela. On Tuesday, 7 November an eagle-eyed police officer from the Aviation Policing Crime Squad recognised them from CCTV footage and swiftly arrested them.
They pleaded guilty to six counts of theft at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, 8 November. Flores Valenzuela was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and Diaz was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.