POLICE today welcomed the jailing of a gang of shop thieves who took part in a £100,000 six-month crime spree.
Dubbed the “three-minute team” due to their speed and efficiency, the mob would carry out dry runs at Sunderland and Durham stores during opening hours and return after closing to snatch cigarettes and scratchcards.
The masked gang often prised open shutters with crowbars or would choose shops and garages with large fronts, hurling draincovers through windows and then driving off in high-powered cars, which were often stolen and had false plates.
On one occasion, they tried to ram a police car as they got away, and in another, crashed into the fence of a house. Detective Sergeant Claire Hepburn, from Durham Police, said: “They always had precise entry points and knew exactly what was in the store.
“They were all associates, and there was obviously a lot of planning that went into it. They targeted shops right across the region.”
Durham and Northumbria Police were able to prove the gang was responsible for 17 break-ins, although they made links between 32 crimes.
Det Sgt Hepburn added: “The investigation ran over the course of 10 months, and the sentences received by these men were pretty much what we expected they would be.”
Gary Rarity, 30, of no fixed abode, Lee Barnett, 36, of Clinton Place, Sunderland, Tony Trott, 24, of Oaklands Crescent, Sunderland, and Anthony Schofield, 33, of no fixed abode, were all arrested in a swoop last summer.
Shops which were targeted included Nisa stores in New Herrington and Fence Houses.
The men admitted conspiracy to burgle and were jailed for between 16 months and three years and four months.
Judge Peter Armstrong, at Teesside Crown Court, said the crime spree was “professionally planned and serious”.
Barristers for the men said they were not part of the “central hub” of the gang and had been drawn in because they were short of cash.