Judge speaks of ‘glimmer of hope’ for thief who stole Redbridge mayor’s chains

A serial thief broke into the Mayor of Redbridge’s car and stole ceremonial chains worth almost £100,000, a court has heard.

Azhar Zamir, 43, snatched a briefcase containing the “enormously significant” gold chains, as well as gowns and a camera, from the boot of Cllr Zulfiqar Hussain’s official car.

Cllr Hussain’s car was parked in his designated mayoral parking spot near to the town hall when the break-in took place, on October 12.

Zamir, a serial thief who is well-known to police, was caught on CCTV and swiftly arrested, and he then helped officers to recover the gold pendant bearing the borough’s crest which was attached to the chain.

However, the solid gold chain itself, which is worth around £35,000, has never been found, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

Handing Zamir a 22-month prison sentence suspended for 15 months on Friday, Judge Georgina Sharkey said: “Those chains are handed down from mayor to mayor. They have historical value and community value. The emblem was recovered by your own actions helping police. But the chains themselves have never been found. No doubt you sold them for a fraction of what they are worth. What a shame that history has been lost because of your actions.”

The gold chains were originally cast to celebrate Redbridge’s incorporation as a London borough in 1965, and were formally handed over to Cllr Hussain in May when he began his year in office.

Since the theft he has been wearing the Mayoral collar for Ilford Borough Council – used prior to 1965 – for ceremonies and official visits, and the council has no plans to make a replica of the stolen chains.

The court heard Zamir, from Ilford, sold them to fund his £500-a-day crack cocaine habit. He has 22 previous convictions including a string of thefts and an incident when he was caught with a knife.

He pleaded guilty to theft and also admitted possession of a bladed article on his arrest and a burglary of Empire College in Ilford on October 22 last year.

Judge Sharkey ordered Zamir into a 12-month drug rehabilitation course as part of his suspended sentence, and said he must hand over £887.26 found on him during his arrest to Redbridge mayor’s office.

She agreed to suspended the prison term after hearing positive reports from prison officers, including that he has been training to be a barber while awaiting sentence.

“I have been persuaded to suspend the sentence and take this exceptional course because of the references I have received from two of your prison officers”, she said.

“I am satisfied that there is a glimmer of hope for you.”

A Redbridge Council spokesman said: “Everyone in the borough will be appalled by this crime.  The chains are an important part of our heritage and of enormous significance to our borough.  We’ve supported police in their investigations to help them catch the perpetrator.  We thank the police in their efforts to recover the chains.”

Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter