On December 13, 2019, Tamara Ecclestone was in Lapland. The British socialite and daughter of Formula 1 titan Bernie Ecclestone was posing for pictures in the snow with her husband Jay Rutland and daughter Sophia.
She was warming her pedicured toes by a roaring fire in a cabin. She was engaging in idle chit chat with a man dressed as Father Christmas.
Meanwhile, at her 57-room mansion on London’s Kensington Palace Gardens (known as Billionaires’ Row), a gang of thieves were hiding behind her daughter’s Wendy house.
They were climbing through an open window at the back of her home. They were stealing 400 items, including jewellery and watches, valued at more than £26m (€30.5m).
The story of the biggest domestic burglary in British history is being told in Who Stole Tamara Ecclestone’s Diamonds?, a rollercoaster ride of a documentary from BBC Three.
Against the backdrop of a killer soundtrack – featuring Wet Leg, Lana Del Rey and The Flamingos – director Ben Bryant and journalist Thomas Mackintosh meet a motley crew of suspects, as well as the heiress herself, to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
“What I find super funny about the case,” Bryant tells me, “is that the burglars were so brazen and clever in some ways, and in other ways they made some totally fatal errors – ridiculous blunders.”
On the night of the burglary, two security officers were meant to be on 24-hour watch.
But when the thieves arrived, one of them had popped down to Tesco to get vegetables to accompany his chicken dinner.
“The burglars’ route into the Ecclestone property was quite impressive,” says Bryant.
“They got through a tunnel into a car park, climbed on to sheds, ran through back gardens, vaulted a fence and hid.” Then, armed only with screwdrivers, three of the robbers were in the property for an entire hour before the remaining security guard heard a noise and went to investigate.
Inside the house, he apparently chased the intruders before one of them lobbed a fire extinguisher at him.
After fleeing the scene, the gang flagged down a black cab and went to a hotel in St Mary Cray, Bromley, in London’s Zone 6.
It was here they made one of their most stupid mistakes. One of the thieves, Jugoslav Jovanovic, sent the female receptionist a dick pic (he had been given the number at the front desk in case of emergencies).
The receptionist promptly blocked him and saved his number in the phone under “Weirdo”. This unsolicited nude meant the police could track Jovanovic’s phone and hunt for the rest of the robbers.
As the police dug deeper, they realised the burglary at the Ecclestone property was just one in a series of hits on the homes of high-profile Londoners in the space of a few days. The thieves had also robbed £1m-worth of possessions from the house of the late Leicester City chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. And they’d stolen from footballer Frank Lampard while he was at Winter Wonderland with his wife, Christine.
The burglars were treating themselves during their time in London, at one point splashing out £800 on a meal in Knightsbridge’s Japanese restaurant Zuma.
Some of the gang had also been sloppy about hiding their identities. Several were caught on CCTV at Patisserie Valerie in Victoria, while another man accused of helping them used his own bank card to tap out at a train station.
Shortly after the Ecclestone house was ransacked, a picture emerged on Facebook of a Romanian escort, Maria Mester, allegedly wearing Ecclestone’s stolen diamonds.
The image was soon widely circulated. “Jay showed me the picture of the lady, if you can call her that, wearing a necklace that he’d bought for me for my birthday one year,” Ecclestone says at one point in her interview. “That b**** was wearing my jewellery!”
Mester – who is interviewed in the documentary, clad in a Gucci T-shirt – was later arrested at Stansted airport wearing what appeared to be a pair of Ecclestone’s earrings.
Mester’s then 30-year-old son, Emil-Bogdan, who was in London on the day of the burglaries, was also apprehended by police while wearing Srivaddhanaprabha’s watch and carrying Rutland’s bag.
A jury found both of them, however, not guilty of being involved in the plot, after they claimed to have no knowledge of the robberies.
When Mester left court in London, she smoked a cigarette and gave paparazzi a “peace” sign, before stepping into the Rolls Royce that awaited her.
The documentary team travelled to Romania to interview another member of the gang’s suspected support team, Sorin Marcovici, who was the robbers’ driver in London.
Described in the film as a “Del Boy wheeler-dealer”, Marcovici has a tattoo of Marlon Brando in The Godfather and wears Dolce & Gabbana everything.
“When I saw a picture of Marcovici, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy looks like quite a character,’” Bryant tells me.
“He’s got all these tattoos, he’s wearing all this designer stuff. He was good fun, for sure.”
Marcovici was cleared of any involvement in the crime in the same trial as the Mesters – as was a man called Alexandru Stan, who gave the thieves new clothes after the raid on the Ecclestone house.
In a separate trial, an Italian trio made up of dick pic-sender Jovanovic, as well as two men called Alessandro Maltese and Alessandro Donati, were convicted for conspiracy to burgle after pleading guilty. They were jailed for 28 years in total.
One man the team were not able to pin down was Daniel Vukovic. Police believe he was one of the three thieves caught on CCTV at the Ecclestone property, along with Maltese and Donati (Jovanovic is thought to have been their look-out).
Vukovic has been linked to several high-profile burglaries over the years and has 19 different identities. It is believed he is living in Belgrade, Serbia, but the authorities there are refusing to extradite him so he is effectively a free man.
If the police can get to Vukovic, they might be able to track down the diamonds – most of which have never been recovered. But Bryant says there’s another potential way to fill the gaps.
“Mester’s mobile phone has been confiscated by police and she said she couldn’t remember the passcode to unlock it,” he says. “They’re trying to get in at the moment. At some point, either Vukovic will be arrested, the jewels will be discovered, or they’ll get into Mester’s phone. If they do, there may well be another chapter in the story.”
‘Who Stole Tamara Ecclestone’s Diamonds?’ premieres on BBC Three at 9pm tonight