Burglars sentenced for rural crime spree
Three burglars who travelled across Norfolk and Suffolk targeting farms and rural properties have been sentenced.
The group, who were based in Swaffham, committed burglaries and thefts in rural areas between August 2018 and February 2019, stealing property worth thousands of pounds.
A series of incidents in the Breckland and West Norfolk areas last summer prompted increased police patrols under a dedicated policing operation called Kingbird, targeting an organised crime group (OCG).
Local officers worked with detectives in Thetford CID to investigate the crimes, linking all three defendants to 16 offences. Arrests made in September 2018 trigged a lengthy investigation into burglaries and thefts across both counties, with CCTV linking the group to seven incidents while forensic evidence was linked them to five incidents.
John Watson, 32 and of no fixed abode; Tony Gaskin, 21, of Tennyson Road, Rushden in Northamptonshire; and a 17-year-old male who cannot be named for legal reasons, were each charged with conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal between August 2018 and February 2019. All defendants pleaded guilty at earlier hearings and were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court today (Tuesday 12 November 2019).
Watson was sentenced to a total of three years imprisonment while Gaskin was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. The 17-year-old received a 12-month youth rehabilitation order.
Investigating officer, Detective Constable Alex Gilmour, said: "This was a challenging enquiry, with offences spread across two counties in very isolated areas. This organised criminal activity had a massive impact on the victims they targeted, many of whom were farmers and rely on equipment and vehicles to do their work. I’m pleased that through our investigations, we were able to return a large amount of stolen property to the rightful owners.”
In August last year, the group targeted a farm in Hawkedon, Suffolk, stealing an anvil worth £200 as well as properties in Hindolveston and Langham in Norfolk, where tools and a quad bike were stolen.
In Wolferton on September 7 the group broke into a workshop, stealing a generator, quadbike and tools worth £10,000 and targeted a property in Scarning on 19 September stealing tools and a quad bike.
The defendants went to a farm in Necton on 24 September and entered a barn, before accessing a John Deer 4x4 Gator vehicle, which triggered a security alarm, alerting the farmer who went to inspect the barn. Shortly after arriving he witnessed three men leave the barn and get in a car which he followed a short time before losing them. CCTV captured all three suspects leaving the scene and resulted in all being identified by officers.
In October the trio committed offences in Burnham Deepdale, Ashill and Great Dunham, stealing in excess of £20,000 of tools, climbing equipment and a Ford Ranger.
Local policing commander, Inspector Jon Papworth, who led Operation Kingbird, said: "We are committed to supporting our rural communities by disrupting and preventing crime.
"Concerned by the rise in crime in the area last summer, we launched a dedicated operation using a range of policing and criminal justice tactics which, I’m pleased to say, resulted in the successful prosecution of all defendants.
"My officers recovered many items which had been stolen from farms and businesses, including quad bikes and power tools and were able to return them to their rightful owners.
"Operation Kingbird was successful in reducing crime, with burglaries down by 61% and acquisitive crime down by 44% following the arrest of the defendants.
"By its very nature, rural crime is challenging to police, however I hope this operation and outcome shows we will pursue criminal cases and bring those to justice who target rural communities.”
Note to editors:
A photograph of John Watson and Tony Gaskin are attached along with a CCTV image from the incident at Necton on 24 September