Armed gang 'targeted four counties'

AN ARMED gang stole and damaged property worth £1million during a string of ram raids and robberies at post offices and stores across four counties, a court has heard.

AN ARMED gang stole and damaged property worth £1million during a string of ram raids and robberies at post offices and stores across four counties, a court has heard.

The gang of travellers allegedly netted £500,000 cash and property and caused £500,000 damage during the year-long spree across Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, Ipswich Crown Court was told.

During one robbery at Lighters Post Office at Highwoods, Colchester, on November 16, 2004, staff were grabbed by the hair and forced to the floor as between four and six men burst into the premises armed with a gun and a baseball bat.

Frightened and hysterical customers were also forced to lie on the ground as the gang made off with more than £35,000 cash, said John Farmer, prosecuting.

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A week later, on November 23, four masked men smashed their way into Dersingham News in Norfolk with a sledgehammer and pickaxe handle while the owners and their children were upstairs in their living accommodation.

Hearing the sound of breaking glass, the owner of the premises and his son ran downstairs to confront the intruders.

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One of the gang struck the owner across the back, knocking him to the ground, the court was told.

The gang escaped despite an attempt by the owner's son to break the drivers window of the getaway car, said Mr Farmer.

Two weeks later, on December 7, four men both burst into the Post Office at Budgens in Fakenham, Norfolk, armed with sawn-off shotguns and escaped with between £25,000 and £30,000.

Violent threats were made to customers and staff and a glass partition was smashed.

“One customer was so frightened by what was going on that his legs literally gave way underneath him” said Mr Farmer.

Meanwhile, on January 7, 2005 the gang ram-raided the Tudor Stores at Jaywick in Essex and escaped with an ATM machine containing £10,000, it was alleged.

Eleven days later Dairy Stores at Great Cornard was targeted. Armed with a sawn-off shotgun, an axe and a sledgehammer, the gang caused “a high level of fear” and some injury before escaping with £1,400, said Mr Farmer.

Other major raids included a £24,000 aggravated burglary at the Spar Shop in Reynolds Road, Ipswich in February 2005, and a £28,000 ram raid at the Spar Shop in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire on October 29, 2004.

Mr Farmer described the raids, which sometimes happen at the rate of two or three a night, as “serious, professional organised crime”.

He said a police investigation coded named “Operation Arctic” led to the arrest of six men including 20-year-old Rocky Buckley, of Meadow Road ,Willingham, Cambridge.

Mr Farmer told the court that Buckley had admitted conspiring to steal cars and conspiring to commit burglaries and aggravated burglaries but denied conspiring to commit robberies and armed robberies.

He said the remaining defendants had entered pleas acceptable to the prosecution.

The trial, which is expected to last several weeks, continues today.

Premises targeted in Suffolk were:

One Stop Shop, Reynolds Road, Ipswich

Co-op, Clare

Co-op, Long Melford

Co-op, Bungay

Co-op, Woolpit

Dairy Stores, Great Cornard

Spar, Reynolds Road, Ipswich.

Premises targeted in Essex were:

Half Butt, Great Horkesley

Co-op, West Bergholt

Lighters Post Office, Colchester

Tudor Stores, Jaywick.

Premises targeted in Norfolk were:

Budgens, Harleston

Budgens, Fakenham

Budgens, East Dereham

Dersingham News, Dersingham

Spar Dersingham

Spar Wiggenhall

Fincham Store, Fincham

Countryside Services, Bale

Parkside Garage, Thursford.

Premises targeted in Cambridgeshire were:

Co-op Isleham

Co-op Soham

Co-op Fordham

Spar, Haddenham

Co-op, Burwell.

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