An organised burglary gang in Sheffield who raided 45 properties in just five weeks, costing dozens of victims more than £180,000, have been jailed for more than 35 years.
The gang of five, consisting of Daniel Fenwick; Aj Ford; Bradley Watson; Joseph Lawrenson and Jack Wright, burgled homes across Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley, between February 3 and March 16 last year.
During a two-day hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, Judge Robert Moore heard how the group stole items that included a World War II medal; firearms; Rolex watches worth several thousand pounds; tens of thousands of pounds of jewellery including engagement rings; a number of motor vehicles such as a Kia Picanto; numerous high-end electrical items, cash, a digital safe and several pillow cases.
Det Con Philip Dean, the investigating officer in the case, estimated the value of the items stolen as being at least £155,820, with the true cost likely to be much higher, due to a number of the victims not being able to accurately value all of their stolen items.
Most of the items, including the firearms and war medal, have never been recovered.
The court heard how the gang had also caused £28,710 worth of damage to the dozens of properties they burgled and, in many cases, ransacked; bringing the total cost racked up by the five thieves to £184,530.
At two of the properties, the callous criminals splattered walls and furniture with whipped cream and food from the fridge.
Prosecutor Richard Davies described a number of the raids carried out during the 34-day crime spree as: "Hanoi-style burglaries where motor vehicles have been taken once keys have been stolen."
The vast majority of the burglaries were carried out in the Sheffield area, with the gang targeting properties in Grenoside; Dore; Parkhead; Norton; Millhouses; Bents Green; Hallam Head; Stannington; Greenhill; Whirlow; Chapeltown; Ecclesfield; Oughtibridge; Wadsley; Frecheville.
The gang also burgled four properties in Rotherham and two in Barnsley.
Mr Davies told the court how in many of the raids the 'organised' burglary gang gained entry to the properties they targeted through smashing patio doors, and in several occasions disconnected burglar alarms and CCTV systems.
The occupiers were present or disturbed by the burglars at four properties but most homes were specifically targeted because the men believed they would be unoccupied. The oldest burglary victim was 91-years-old.
Sentencing Ford, Fenwick and Lawrenson, Judge Moore said: “The sense of devastation and loss felt by each of these occupiers on their return can barely be envisaged - it's so awful.
“For six weeks you three were a very frightening local mass. You know that it's so serious that only substantial, immediate custodial sentences can be justified.”
There were tears and gasps from the public gallery as Judge Moore passed sentence. He said it was ‘worst case of its type’ he had ever seen.
The court was read devastating victim impact statements written by several of those affected.
In one particularly heartbreaking submission, a distressed Sheffield mum described how her family returned home to see three masked burglars fleeing their property, the memory of which has continued to terrify her eight-year-old son.
The gang were captured on CCTV at several of the properties. Cell site evidence and automatic number-plate recognition of stolen vehicles with false plates used by members of the gang, including a Land Rover Freelander, helped to place them at the scene of several of the burglaries.
CCTV and witness accounts suggested many of the burglaries were carried out by three or four individuals at a time, all of whom were wearing balaclavas and gloves.
All five defendants were caught in the Land Rover when it was stopped by police on March 2 last year, and officers found mole grips and a BB gun. Despite this, none of the defendants were arrested at that point and the gang went on to commit several more burglaries.
Fenwick, Watson, Ford, Wright and Lawrenson all admitted conspiracy to commit burglaries and conspiracy to steal motor cars, while Fenwick pleaded guilty to an additional charge of possession of an imitation firearm after traces of his DNA were found on the BB gun recovered from the stolen Freelander.
Dermot Hughes, defending Watson, said in mitigation: "He's a still a young man. He's not of good character, but he's not a man who could be said to have involved himself in very serious criminal activity. He was not the architect of the offences, and was not an early supporter of them."
Fenwick's barrister, Richard Adams, told the court he had three young daughters and a partner who will suffer as a result of his inevitable custodial sentence.
Laura Marshall, defending Lawrenson, told the court her client's motivation for becoming involved with the operation was the need to source money to fund his cannabis addiction.
Wright was described by his barrister, Ian Goldsack, as someone who suffered from learning difficulties and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Joy Merriam, defending Ford, said his client got involved to pay off debt after he became involved in a ‘vicious cycle’ of drinking and cocaine use.
Aj Ford, aged 18, of Stovin Drive, Greenland: nine years in a young offenders’ institution.
Bradley Watson, 22, of Greenwood Avenue, Littledale: jailed for four years, 12 weeks.
Daniel Fenwick, 28, of Spring Close View, Gleadless Valley: jailed for nine years, four months.
Jack Wright, 19, of Nursery Drive, Catcliffe: four years in a young offenders’ institution.
Joseph Lawrenson, 19, of Stovin Drive, Greenland: jailed for nine years, four months.