Two Peterborough cousins who carried out a string of raids on supermarkets across the east of England have been jailed.
Wesley Smith, 35, and John Smith, 44, both from Oxney Road, Peterborough, admitted a crime spree which ranged from commercial burglaries, to burglaries where homes were entered and high powered vehicles stolen, to ATM breaks and thefts of number plates in order to disguise the identity of the stolen vehicles that they were using to commit their crimes.
The men were convicted by a jury earlier this week of a charge of conspiracy to burgle between 29 March and 1 July 2017 at the end of a trial at Lincoln Crown Court. Both men denied the charge. Roy Langdale, 32, of Worcester Way, Royston, had earlier pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Today they were jailed for 10 years each - the maximum punishment available to the sentencing judge.
They also carried out a raid on a Santander Bank cash machine at Northampton University which netted them over £50,000.
The court heard that the cousins had previously been jailed for nine years in 2009 for a conspiracy to commit burglary charge involving over 50 raids on cash machines which netted them almost £1 million. At the time of the latest offences in the first half of 2017 they were both on prison licence having been released early from their sentences.
Judge Simon Hirst told them "I consider that you are professional commercial burglars. Both of you were still on licence at the time of this offending. I have no hesitation at all in passing the maximum sentence."
Many of the commercial burglaries relate to premises and large supermarket chains where vast amounts of damage were caused to the properties. From these sites, large quantities of cigarettes were stolen.
In total, their crimes amounted to a value of almost £500,000 and resulted in a police investigation that included 38 criminal charges, which was run as a conspiracy to commit burglary. The offences took place between March 30st 2017 and 30th June 2017and occurred in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, and Northamptonshire.
Roy James, for Wesley Smith, addressing the judge said "I ask you to have some regard to the fact that there was no actual violence used in these offences. If that enables you to come away from the maximum sentence I urge you to do so."
Nicola Devas, for John Smith, said "I ask you to consider that this is not the most serious criminality in the context that is set out."
Roy Langdale is due to be sentenced next week.
Speaking after the verdict was returned earlier this week, Deputy Senior Investigation Officer, DS Kerry Webb, said: “This has been a long and complex investigation involving officers from Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
“These criminals were well organised and tried to stay one step ahead of the police, but today’s verdict is testament to the hard work and dedication of the officers working on this operation.”
During the trial, Gordon Aspden, prosecuting, said the three men stole cars to transport them to the scene of their crimes and used stolen number plates to disguise the identity of the vehicles.
He told the jury "The offences had all the hallmarks of sophisticated professional crime. In the main all of the burglaries followed a similar pattern.
"Late at night or in the early hours of the morning a gang of three masked men who were dressed from head to foot in black, in a stolen high performance car displaying false number plates would drive to convenience stores in rural locations. The gang would break into the buildings using a burglars' kit of tools.
"Having broken in two members of the gang would ransack the premises stealing money and cigarettes while a third man would act as a sentry and a look-out ready to deal with any member of the public who tried to intervene.
"The gang was very conscious that the buildings they were targeting would be alarmed so they worked at great speed. The property they stole was often taken away in large black plastic bins they brought with them.
"The motive was pure greed. The total value of the items stolen was approximately £150,000. The gang also caused a quarter of a million worth of damage to the buildings and the fixtures and fittings.
"At the conclusion the gang would drive away at high speed to avoid arrest. The stolen vehicles they used were either abandoned or set on fire. The gang was aware of police investigative techniques and would go out of their way to avoid leaving any evidence such as fingerprints. They did not use any mobile phones on the nights of the burglaries.
"They believed they were above the law and that they were so clever they would get away with it. They were wrong."
The gang staged successful raids on Tesco stores in Market Deeping, Grantham and Ramsey. They also raided Waitrose in Oundle, Cooper's Convenience Store in Kirton , near Boston, and Kate's Cabin filling station at Chesterton, Cambridgeshire and carried out a number of other unsuccessful burglaries.
They were eventually arrested after police targeted a stolen Audi being driven in the early hours of the morning in Cambridgeshire.
Mr Aspden said "The stolen Audi drove over a police stinger device near the village of Great Staughton but did not stop. It continued with deflated tyres and then on wheel rims at speeds reaching 100 mph."
Items were thrown from the windows of the car which was eventually driven into a field and abandoned.
Wesley Smith and John Smith fled but Langdale was arrested. Clothing and other items were recovered by police. DNA testing linked the items to the three men.