A total of 170 rare books worth more than £1.3 million were stolen in an unusual heist near Heathrow airport.

First editions of Galileo and Isaac Newton were stolen by raiders who drilled holes through skylights and abseiled 40ft into a warehouse near Heathrow to bypass a complex security system, a court was told.

A group of men are currently on trial at Kingston Crown Court for the thefts.

The Romanian nationals are said to have smuggled the rare books to Romania via the Eurotunnel to be sold one the black market.

Other electronics and cash totalling to a minimum worth at least £1.5 million was stolen in 12 burglaries between December 2016 and April 2019.

Three of the men on trial were arrested in Harrow.

Prosecutor Catherine Farrelly said the heist involving the rare books took place at a warehouse in Feltham between January 29 to 30, 2017, as they were being prepared to be delivered to a book fair in the US.

She said: “Frontier Forwarding Warehouse is a large customs clearance agent and international freight forwarding company.

“The books belonged to three separate book dealers. Two of the book dealers were Italian.

“The third book collector was from Berlin in Germany.

CCTV footage captured three of the men - Narcis Popescu from Harrow, Victor Opariuc and Daniel David - in a blue Renault Megane on January 27 before the heist.

Ms Farrelly added: “They cut holes into the perimeter fence, gaining access to the vicinity of the warehouse.

“Holes were then cut into skylights situated in the warehouse roof.

“It appears they then lowered themselves from the skylights onto the shelving inside the warehouse.

“This enabled them to avoid activating the warehouses’ sensor-based alarms that were situated by the doors.

“David and Opariuc were then in the warehouse for a total of five hours fifteen minutes, and so, until around 2.15pm, in that time they stole a total of 170 books.”

It is believed that they then exited the warehouse through the holes in the skylights.

The prosecutor said the burglars were in contact with Gavril Popinciuc and Marian Mamaliga, who were in Romania at the time.

Footage showed the books were taken to an unknown address in near Garratt Lane in Tooting.

The following day, Popescu booked and paid for a house in Balham for four adults for five nights, where the books were boxed.

Ms Farrelly said: "Telephone cell site evidence shows that on February 5, Mamaliga and Ungureanu left the UK together in Mamaliga’s van.”

When the car was found abandoned at Tooting, it is reported there was a “strong smell” of cleaning fluid, but a DNA test later matched with Popescu.

In July 2017, three other raids happened targeting computer company XMA, who have warehouses in St Albans and Nottingham.

To enter the warehouse, holes were cut through the roof and around £150,000 worth of Lenovo laptops were stolen.

Mamaliga, the van driver, was stopped in his van by Romanian police on July 1 and 30 of the stolen laptops were found.

Police seized the laptops due to insufficient paperwork proving why Mamaliga was legally carrying that much equipment.

Narcis Popescu, Victor Opariuc and Daniel David pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in June

These defendants deny the charges:

• Gavril Popinciuc

• Vanilla Paragina

• Marian Albu from Harrow

• Traian Mihulca

• Marian Mamaliga

• Liviu Leahu

• One man cannot be legally mentioned.

Mohammed Enus, from Harrow, also stands trial and is accused of covering the ring and operations.

The trial, scheduled to last 18 weeks, continues.