FENLAND: Gang of six - including three from Fenland - jailed for £1million string of ATM robberies

PUBLISHED: 17:08 12 January 2009 | UPDATED: 08:50 02 June 2010

WESLEY SMITH.

WESLEY SMITH.

A GANG of thieves from Fenland who bagged nearly £1million in cashpoint raids across East Anglia and the Midlands has been jailed for a total of nearly 40 years. The gang of six – from Wisbech St Mary, Whittlesey and Peterborough – committed 55 raids over

JOHN SMITH.

A GANG of thieves from Fenland who bagged nearly £1million in cashpoint raids across East Anglia and the Midlands has been jailed for a total of nearly 40 years.

The gang of six - from Wisbech St Mary, Whittlesey and Peterborough - committed 55 raids over a 19-month period, with more than half of the burglaries carried out at Tesco stores.

The raids left Tesco with no choice but to implement sweeping changes to its ATMs after being terrorised by just a handful of burglars.

Four of the gang were handed nine-year jail sentences when they appeared today before Lincoln Crown Court. They are:

STEVEN UPTON.

Geoffrey Manning, 33, of Seadyke Bank, Wisbech St Mary, who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to burgle between April 1 2006 and October 31 2007.

John Smith, 35, of Edgerley Drain Road, Peterborough, and his cousin Wesley Smith, 26, of Palmers Road, Peterborough, who admitted the same offence.

Steven Upton, 27, of Seadyke Road, Wisbech St Mary, who acted as a gateway driver for Manning, also pleaded guilty to the same offence.

The two other members of the gang were given 15-month jail sentences for their part in the raids. They are:

GEOFFREY MANNING.

Jason Bingley, 29, of East Water Crescent, Peterborough, who admitted conspiracy to steal.

Ross Drew, 35, of Godwit Crescent, Whittlesey, who admitted the same offence as Bingley.

The court was told that Bingley and Drew, who ran a car dealership in the Peterborough area, supplied the raiders with their getaway vehicles.

Manning, John Smith and Wesley Smith stole from a string of big-name retailers during dozens of raids across the Midlands.

But they quickly identified Tesco as their "favourite" target because its machines were so easy to extract and empty, Lincoln Crown Court was told.

Some 28 of the trio's 55 crimes were committed at the company's stores - netting them around £640,000.

Even when the firm had anti-drilling devices fitted to its cash points, the gang switched to using oxyacetylene torches and continued their plundering.

They struck from Rugby, Warwickshire, in the west to Dereham, in Norfolk, in the east, hitting one Tesco branch - in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire - four times.

Gordon Aspden, prosecuting, told the court: "This was professional crime on a major scale. The motive for these offences was pure greed."

The gang, who hid their equipment under bales of straw in the middle of the countryside, were finally brought down by an undercover police operation.

Mr Aspden said each of the raids - carried out over the space of 19 months - was "well planned and executed with professionalism and efficiency".

"On arriving at their target they would try to smash the door down with a sledgehammer or, if that was unsuccessful, use a heavy-duty drill," he said.

"They used a series of high-performance getaway cars with stolen number plates. On some occasions they would be in and out within minutes.

"Tesco was their favourite target, with numerous stores broken into, and by the end of March 2007 the gang were using oxyacetylene equipment.

"The reason for that was that Tesco, as a result of their activities, had changed the mechanism on their machines and fitted anti-drilling devices."

Raids took place in Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Northants and Warwickshire.

Police detailed 55 separate incidents of either burglary or attempted burglary between April 2006 and October 2007, when the gang was finally caught.

Eighteen of the raids were in Lincolnshire - including three at the same Tesco branch in Boston, where the gang netted a total of £86,000.

Tesco stores in Sleaford, Grantham, Holbeach and Spalding, Heckington, Holdingham, Pinchbeck, Holton-le-Clay and Hemswell Cliff, were hit.

In Cambridgeshire they struck at the ASDA and Tesco branches in Wisbech, as well as targeting a filling station in Thorney.

The men's kit, including all the cutting equipment, was always stashed away in an isolated area near Elton, north of Peterborough.

The straw bales they used to hide it were eventually monitored with hidden cameras that allowed police to film them arriving and leaving with their tools.

Just a few days before they were snared the men stole £112,500 in a single night from two ATMs at the ASDA store in Wisbech.

But on their final raid, at the Springfields Shopping Complex in Spalding, they fled empty-handed and were later arrested after police swooped.

Judge Michael Heath told them: "This was serious, professional, organised crime which gained for you a lot of money. Greed was the motive.

"Each of these burglaries was well planned. They were executed with ruthlessness and efficiency. You knew exactly what you were doing."

Balraj Bhatia, in mitigation, said Manning, a father-of-five, became involved in crime in an attempt to pay off "substantial gambling debts".

The court heard both Smiths were "family men" who regretted getting involved and had avoided confrontation whenever possible during the raids.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing will be held at a later date to determine how much cash - or other assets - can be reclaimed from the gang members.


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