Preston men caused misery for businesses by plotting to burgle commercial properties

Four crime gang members who conspired to commit burglaries at commercial and retail properties were caught out by high tech ANPR and phone siting technology.

Tuesday, 31st August 2021, 4:15 pm

Gary Birtwistle, 40, of Kingsfold Drive, Penwortham, Preston, Patrick Gavin, 22, of Dorman Road, Ribbleton, Preston, Richard Bennett, 31, of Thurston, Skelmersdale, and Christopher Handley, 27, of Sherburn Road, Preston, appeared before Preston Crown Court in connection with crimes in the Preston area three years ago.

Prosecuting, Claire Larton said the burglary probe formed part of Operation Tigris - a Lancashire Police investigation into a catalogue of drugs, burglaries and sexual abuse of teenagers, for which several other men have already been sentenced.

She said: "It spanned September 9, 2018 to March 25, 2019, and relates primarily to offending by an organised crime group headed by a man called Thompson who had rented a shop and flat on New Hall Lane, both of which formed the central location for the criminal activities.

Crown Court

"Around 20 burglaries in total are detailed in the papers, together with thefts of caravans, and the majority of evidence relate to cell siting evidence."

The court heard a construction site on Eastway, owned by Storey Homes, was targeted, with offenders accessing the sites by hedges from D'Urton Lane and breaking into metal containers - causing £2,700 damage - to steal £4,200 goods.

Other burglaries were reported in the area at the time and on March 27, 2019, other criminals involved in Operation Tigris were arrested and items involved in the burglaries were seized including various phones, gloves, balaclavas, a sledgehammer and crowbar.

The defendants in the current proceedings were eventually identified as a result of phones found in Thompson's home.

Miss Larton described a series of other burglaries, including a housing development on Dawbers Lane, Chorley, that was broken into with cutting equipment in October 2019, with £10,685 goods stolen

On October 12 a £9,000 quad bike was stolen from Sharples Farm in Samlesbury, with CCTV showing three vehicles arrive and four suspects going up the track.

On same day, Mellow Yellow in Towngate Works, Mawdesley, was broken into via a skylight, with ANPR later linking defendants to the scene.

A £14,250 caravan was stolen from a driveway on Wigan Road.

Further burglaries were committed at a Tesco express on Leyland Road, a post office in Goosnargh, a Spar and an electrical spares shop.

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Birtwistle was linked to three burglaries and theft of a caravan and admitted two counts of conspiracy to steal and one of conspiracy to burgle.

He received two years, suspended for two years, on account of a significant change in his lifestyle in the three years since the crimes.

Gavin, who was linked to the theft of the caravan and two burglaries, admitted conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal and got 17 months, suspended for two years.

Handley, who was linked to six burglaries and thefts, admitted three counts of conspiracy to burgle, a domestic burglary and dangerous driving, and received four years and two months.

Bennett must serve nine months concurrently to his existing term.

Judge Andrew Jefferies QC said: " The lead offences arise from a long operating conspiracy that involve you and other defendants some of whom I tried last year on much more serious allegations.

"I repeat my assessment of the general conspiracy as it was at the time there were in excess of a dozen commercial burglaries committed by the gang, of which you were all a part.

"The activities of that gang involved burglaries committed at night, with evidence on some occasions of reconnaissance, some sophistication - and others with no sophistication at all - group planned activities and causing serious harm to local small businesses in Lancashire.

"Some offences were linked to leaders of that group's drug activities.

"Vehicles were disguised, balaclavas were worn and the damage ran into thousands of thousands."

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