THREE men who travelled more than 100 miles from their homes in Leeds to ‘rob’ lorries or commercial units on the outskirts of Rugby have been jailed.
James Gallagher, Lee Wakefield and Andrew Wilson had been caught by chance after police officers spotted the car they were using had no tax or insurance.
All three pleaded not guilty to going equipped for theft, but were convicted by Warwickshire magistrates who then committed them to Warwick Crown Court to be sentenced.
Gallagher, 32, of Ring Road, Middleton, Leeds, was jailed for 16 months; Wakefield, 32, of Belle Isle Road, Leeds, for 18 months; and Wilson, 33, of Cross Flatts Mount, Leeds, for 14 months.
Prosecutor Scott Coughtrie said: “All three have addresses in Leeds, and they had travelled to the Rugby area because it is well known for HGVs to park up in the evening.”
He said it was believed the three were planning to target parked lorries by either slicing through curtain sides, cutting through doors or breaking locks to get to the cargoes.
At 1am on March 3, two police officers on a routine patrol in Newbold Road, Rugby, saw a Vauxhall Astra exceeding the 30mph speed limit.
They decided to stop it to speak to the driver, and carried out a check which revealed it had no tax or insurance.
Gallagher, who was driving, ignored their attempts to get him to stop – and as they followed it along Old Leicester Road, a black rucksack and other items were thrown from the front passenger window of the Astra.
But after turning into the Glebe Farm Road industrial estate, the Astra was unable to pass a lorry ahead of it, and the officers were able to block it in.
Gallagher, Wakefield, who was the front seat passenger, and Wilson were arrested, but made no comment when interviewed.
The rucksack was recovered, and in it the officers found a high-vis vest, a disc cutter and discs, Stanley knives, bolt-cutters, gloves and two ‘burner’ phones.
Judge Andrew Lockhart QC, who ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the items, commented: “It’s a proper inference that they were targeting commercial vehicles or commercial premises.”
The court heard Gallagher had convictions for offences including a non-dwelling burglary, Wakefield for matters including robbery and burglary, and Wilson was jailed in 2012 for producing cannabis.
Mark McKone, defending, said: “All three defendants recognise the court can justify immediate custody. They have travelled from Leeds today with their prison bags.”
He argued it was a case where the sentences could be suspended, but Judge Lockhart interjected: “There is significant planning, they come south as a team, and they are equipped.
“Mr Gallagher says in his pre-sentence report that he came south to rob. I don’t know whether he means to rob, or was using it in the vernacular sense.”
Mr McKone said Gallagher and Wakefield both work as scaffolders, although Gallagher also has his own business fitting gates, and they could both carry out unpaid work.
Wilson’s work as a tree surgeon ended in 2009 as a result of a head injury, and the father-of-five is now a house-husband while his wife works full-time, although she is currently off with psychological problems after getting trapped in a lift at work.
Jailing the three men, Judge Lockhart said: “It is hard to discern exactly what you were doing on March 3.
“Two of you say you should not have been convicted, and one of you says you planned to rob – but I will not take that to actually mean robbery.
“What must have happened is that the three of you got into a car in Leeds, and in the car was an angle grinder, cutting discs, bolt croppers, a torch, Stanley knives and a high-vis vest, and you set off to come south, in excess of a hundred miles.
“The safe inference is that you were targeting either commercial vehicles or commercial premises, and the type of property you’d have been able to obtain is very valuable indeed.
“I am afraid that, despite the powerful submission, I would be failing in my public duty if I did not impose immediate custodial sentences.”