A MERSEYSIDE gang who trawled the country to plunder cash machines and safes using power tools will spend almost 50 years behind bars.
The sophisticated and audacious heists saw the 11 raiders escape with £203,000 in cash and goods during their six-month spree.
At Liverpool crown court, Judge Brian Lewis described how the Wirral-based gang used angle grinders to break into safes and free-standing ATMs in a host of small and medium-sized businesses.
Convenience stores, garages, social clubs, a restaurant and a golf club were among firms targeted between July 2011 and January this year.
Judge Lewis told how, after disabling the alarms in broad daylight, premises were left destroyed when the men returned under the cover of darkness.
He said: “This was a large-scale, organised criminal enterprise based in Birkenhead which spread its tentacles nationwide.
“The targets were small and medium businesses and private clubs where both safes and ATMs could be found.
“It is, in my view, beyond credulity that an Italian restaurant in Cambridge and a miners’ club in Rotherham, involving hundreds of miles of travel, were selected spontaneously and without intelligence or research.
“This enterprise involved the active targeting of suitable premises.”
The gang, led by Birkenhead pair Stephen Martin, 31, and Lee Hodgin, 25, were responsible for 20 burglaries and attempted burglaries across the UK – as far away as Sussex, Newcastle and South Wales.
Describing the “similar pattern” of burglaries, Judge Lewis said: “In many cases the premises were visited while they were still open so that alarm systems and shutters could be deactivated. Angle grinders and other power tools were used to access safes and ATMs.
“Smoke alarms were pulled down so they wouldn’t activate by smoke generated by the angle grinders. Fire extinguishers were set off to frustrate any forensic examination of the scene.”
The first wave of raids in July last year saw the gang strike at convenience stores in Sussex, West Yorkshire and Humberside, with almost £110,000 in cash and stock taken. A diagonal angle grinder was used to slice apart an ATM that was full to the brim with cash.
In September last year, a Bella Italian restaurant in Cambridge was raided, though the gang fled empty-handed, followed by break-ins in Doncaster, the West Midlands – where £54,000 was stolen from a Co-operative store – and at Curzon Park golf club, Chester, where luxury watches worth £18,000 were taken.
A garage in Llandrindod, South Wales, two social clubs in Huddersfield, a bingo hall in Newcastle and a miners’ club in Rotherham were also targeted.
After a botched raid of Co-Op stores in Wallasey, Rainhill and Whiston, the gang were detained by police shortly after targeting a Spar shop in Pwllheli, North Wales, on January 14 this year.
Nicola Daley, prosecuting, told how more than £50,000 of damage was done in total and on many occasions, the cost of repairs and loss of trade was far greater to the business than what had been stolen.