Suffolk: Computer gang targeted after nearly 30 schools raided in five months

Moulton Primary School have been broken into twice in one week. Thiefs stole 15 laptops worth thousa

Moulton Primary School have been broken into twice in one week. Thiefs stole 15 laptops worth thousands of pounds earlier in the week and in the second break-in a safe was removed from the school office. Pictured is headteacher Naomi Snowdon with empty laptop cupboard. - Credit: Archant

A SPECIAL police operation is being mounted after nearly 30 Suffolk schools were targeted by computer thieves over the past five months.

Headteacher, Anna Berridge (right) and deputy head, Sian Skevington, are pictured at Risby Primary S

Headteacher, Anna Berridge (right) and deputy head, Sian Skevington, are pictured at Risby Primary School next to the cupboard that their laptops were stolen from. - Credit: Archant

Detectives believe an organised gang could be behind a vast majority of the burglaries or attempted burglaries.

According to Suffolk Constabulary the haul of laptops and computers taken has an estimated value of around £110,000.

Since November there have been 28 break-ins or attempted break-ins relating to IT equipment at schools across the county, police have said.

As well as the enquiries in Suffolk, officers are also liasing with other forces in the region, although Norfolk and Cambridge constabularies said they are not running similar operations.

Raids on Kersey Primary School and Great Barton Primary School earlier this week are the latest to come under the investigative umbrella of Operation Justine.

More than 200 laptops, tablets, Apple iMacs and other types of computers have been stolen over the past year.

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At least two schools - East Bergholt High and Moulton Primary, near Newmarket – have been targeted twice since February 2012.

Since December last year thieves have also struck Hartismere High School in Eye, King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, and at primary schools in Monks Eleigh, Bardwell, Risby and Rougham.

Hartismere’s headteacher Jim McAtear said: “The police seem to think it’s a very organised group that are behind it.”

Although the majority of burglaries are likely to be linked, others may be the work of individuals.

Two boys aged 12 and 13, and a 23-year-old man from Beccles were arrested on suspicion of burglary when computers were taken during a break-in at the former Beccles Middle School last August.

Thieves have also struck just over the Essex border at Highfields Primary School in Colchester Road, Manningtree, on December 23 when 15 laptops were taken.

Lucy Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Suffolk Constabulary, said: “An operation, codenamed ‘Justine’ has been commissioned to tackle the issue of burglaries at schools across the county.

“Under the operation, enquiries will continue to analyse intelligence linked to the incidents and to identify potential suspects.

“The investigation will also be looking at possible ways in which the stolen equipment is being disposed of.

“Our roads policing officers will be deployed to areas around schools as part of their patrol routes and safer neighbourhood teams will be working with schools in their areas.

“We will continue to work with neighbouring police forces to share intelligence and information and would encourage anyone with information on who may be responsible for these crimes to come forward.

“An essential part of the operation involves ensuring that necessary crime prevention advice is provided to schools.

“In liaison with Suffolk County Council, every school in the county has been contacted and given advice on how to store equipment securely and to protect their buildings.

“Each school has also been offered a visit from a crime reduction officer, who can provide tailored advice on site security.

“We would encourage any school with concerns to request a visit as soon as possible, by contacting Suffolk Police on 101.”