HEARTLESS thieves face deportation after stealing nearly £10,000 from a woman who had hoped to spend the money on IVF treatment for her daughter.

"Professional criminal" Remus Turturica stole bank cards from the mother during the distraction theft in a supermarket car park by pretending to ask for directions to the nearest hospital at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Together with his co-defendant, Marius Nitu, the two men then used the cards at CeX stores in Kidderminster, Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester and Cheltenham and at various cash points to "milk" her bank account.

The defendants said they were trying to raise money to buy a car to drive back to Romania because the airports had been closed due to Covid-19. However, where her money has gone remains a mystery, the court heard.

Turturica, 62, of Oxhill Road, Birmingham, admitted theft of the bank cards and three counts of fraud while Nitu, 37, also of Oxhill Road admitted three counts of fraud.

Both men appeared over videolink at Worcester Crown Court on Friday and were supported at the hearing by a Romanian interpreter.

Turturica had a string of convictions for similar offences in the UK, France, Spain and Austria.

Sophie Murray, prosecuting, said the victim, Julie Carter, had been in Morrisons in Hereford at around 10.40am on July 15 this year.

She had two bank cards with her - a Nationwide and a Barclays card - using them at the till and the cashpoint. She was approached by Turturica who asked for directions to the hospital, distracting her and stealing both bank cards from her handbag.

It was 3pm before she noticed the cards were missing.

The defendants used the Barclays card at CeX stores, including the one in Kidderminster, and at Cash Converters. The first transaction was at CeX in Hereford at 11.02am, very shortly after the cards were stolen.

In total they stole £9,654.99 from her account which included cash withdrawals.

The fraud at Worcester CeX alone was £1,825 and at the city's Cash Converters, the figure was £699.

Miss Murray said: "A concerted effort was made to extract as much money from the card as possible. Credit should be given to the police for acting quickly to pick up the defendants, arrest them and interview them within a day."

She said Turturica had "an extensive history of this kind of offending" across Europe.

In 2016, he was jailed for seven months in St Albans for doing the same thing, reading the victim's pin over her shoulder, following her and asking directions to hospital before stealing her bank card.

"As a result of that period of imprisonmentm he was given an order to be deported," said Miss Murray.

However, he returned to the UK and carried on offending. He had been back in the UK just eight days before he committed the latest offences.

"They used disguises by using baseball caps to avoid being identified on CCTV," Miss Murray told the court.

The victim, Ms Carter, said the theft and use of her bank card had caused her a great deal of distress and she was "beyond worried about the level of debt that had been run up". She felt anxious every time she spoke to the bank and found herself unable to sleep.

"On the day of the crime, I was due to pay for my daughter's IVF treatment," she told the court. "I was distraught and not able to do so because my daughter was due a consultation and it would not be able to go ahead without payment."

However, she said her biggest concern was the coronavirus. She added: "The man involved has stood uncomfortably within my personal space for several minutes. He showed no compassion for me."

Her parents, both in their 80s, were shielding because of the pandemic.

Judge Martin Jackson said: "This was an utterly selfish, callous offence committed against an innocent member of the public."

He said of Turturica: "I have no doubt you are a professional criminal. You did not care about the impact of what you were doing. You're only consideration was to milk as much money from her account as possible in the shortest time available."

The judge said he believed the defendants were involved in an organised fraud to buy a vehicle for export to Romania and that Turturica had come to the UK for the summer for the specific purpose of committing fraud offences.

He jailed Turturica, the "leading player" in the frauds, for 30 months and Nitu for nine months.

The judge told them they will serve half their sentences in prisons and half supervised by the probation service, if they are allowed to remain in this country.

A proceeds of crime timetable has been drawn up in an attempt to claw back as much of the cash as possible.

Clare Fear, defending Turturica, said she was not instructed about what had become of the victim's money but that it was "safe to say both individuals benefited from it".