Four men have been sentenced to a combined total of 17 years in jail after they admitted being part of a conspiracy to burgle a number of Co-op stores in Northamptonshire.
Billy Foster, aged 26, and Wayne Loveridge, aged 24, both of Ecton Lane Park in Northampton, and Bobby-Joe Stanley, aged 28, and John Stanley, aged 39, were involved in the theft of more than £10,000 pounds worth of cigarettes from convenience stores during a three-week period in 2014.
Northampton Crown Court heard the owners of a Co-op store in Desborough, who live above the shop, were awoken by the sound of the metal security shutters being pulled up in the early hours of April 3, 2014.
The shopkeeper went downstairs to find a group of men wearing balaclavas, who were filling up empty bins with packets of cigarettes.
The owner was threatened with a sledgehammer by one of the burglars.
Roxanne Aisthorpe, prosecuting, said the shopkeeper used a metal pole to smash the window of an Audi car being used by the burglars. He also managed to remove one of the men’s balaclavas.
A total of £5,000 worth of cigarettes was stolen in the burglary.
Ms Aisthorpe said a Co-op in Croughton was then targeted on April 15.
Again, the owners of the store were awoken by the sound of the alarm going off and “banging and crashing”.
Looking out the window, the shopkeeper saw the burglars had attached a large industrial-strength strap to the cash machine in the store, which was then connected to a 4x4 vehicle.
The burglars attempted to pull the cash machine out of the shop but were unsuccessful and left the strap behind.
Police investigators were later able to connect Hadfield, Foster and Loveridge to the purchase of the strap, six days before the break in.
A boiler suit and gloves left near the scene were also forensically matched to Loveridge.
A week later, another attempted burglary took place at The Co-op in Hunters Way, Brixworth, shortly before midnight. The burglars failed to get into the store and then drove off.
Later the same night, thieves managed to broke into the One Stop Shop, Olney, Buckinghamshire, and stole a large amount of cigarettes, valued at more than £6,000.
Hours later, a burglary took place at the Budgens, Stagsden Road, Bromham, Bedfordshire. More than £1,700 worth of cigarettes was stolen.
An Audi S4 recovered by officers during the investigation was found with approximately £7,000 to £8,000 worth of cigarettes inside, along with a sledgehammer and a crowbar.
Police later arrested the four men and they were all charged with conspiracy to burgle. They all pleaded guilty on the first two days of a trial in February this year.
In their basis of plea, Loveridge and Foster admitted taking part in the burglary in Croughton.
Bobby-Joe Stanley, of West Road, Sandy, Bedfordshire, and John Stanley of Hitchin, pleaded guilty to offences in Brixworth, Olney and Bromham.
Her Honour Judge Lucking said the burglaries were “professionally organised crimes”
She said: “The premises attacked were vulnerable, smaller stores that played a valuable role in their communities. The damage caused to the stores and the subsequent disruption to the community was significant.”
Loveridge, Foster and Bobby-Joe Stanley were all sentenced to four years in jail. John Stanley was sentenced to five years in jail as he committed the burglary while he was on licence.
All four men are likely to serve half their sentences in jail before being released on licence.
Detective Constable Alex O’Meara, from the Organised Crime and Drugs Team, said: “We’re extremely pleased with the sentences handed down today. This is yet another firm message to those intending to commit crime in Northamptonshire and a reminder that our investigations are not obstructed by county borders.
“The team will continue to work tirelessly to robustly tackle cross-border criminality and thanks must go to our colleagues at Thames Valley Police and Bedfordshire Police for their assistance in this case.”