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Burglars who stole almost £500K from Cheshire farms to pay back just 14%

And one of the gang to pay back less than 1% to the victims of his crimes

Chester Crown Court

A burglar who was part of a gang who pocketed almost half a million pounds during a year long crime spree raiding farms and even stealing canoes for disabled children – will pay back less than 1% to victims.

The criminal gang targeted farms, caravan sites and yards across Cheshire, Macclesfield, Staffordshire and Shropshire, stealing high value agricultural equipment, tractors and cars to order.

Last year Sean Fitzgerald, 36, and Joseph Harker, 42 – both of Marybyrgh Caravan Park, Hapsford – and Christopher Jackson, of Higher Heath, Whitchurch, were jailed for a total of six years.

But the gang, who were said to have made an estimated total of £476,202.94 from their criminal activity, will pay back just over 14% to their victims for their crimes.

The sum was revealed during a proceeds of crime hearing at Chester Crown Court on Friday (January 23).

The string of offences, including stealing a trailer full of canoes for disabled children from a yard in Ellesmere Port, caravans from fields across Chester, a tractor from a field in Malpas and even a welfare unit complete with a toilet, took place between July 2011 and July 2012.

Jackson, who is said to have made an estimated £142,793 from the thefts, will cough up just £97 – less than 1% of the stolen amount.

He will have six months to pay the sum, which may be raised from the sale of property, and will be jailed for seven days if he doesn’t pay.

Fitzgerald, who was said to have made a benefit of £146,225.34 will pay back £28,675, while Harker, said to have gained £121,593 will pay £4,746.

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It had been originally thought that the gang stole around £180,000 of property, but during a proceeds of crime hearing the court heard the total benefit figure among the men totalled close to £500,000.

During the sentencing hearing in July last year Chester Crown Court heard how between July 2011 and July 2012 the gang stole a vast amount of property, including:

  • A LandRover from a pub car park in Shrewsbury;
  • Caravans from fields in Broxton, Chester; Hargrave and Northwich;
  • A horse box from Christleton;
  • Water ballast rollers from a field in Malpas;
  • A welfare unit – with toilet – from a plant in Stafford;
  • A tractor worth £43,000 from a farm in Malpas;
  • A trailer containing canoes for disabled children from the yard in Ellesmere Port;
  • A trailer from Nantwich containing 1,500 sponges.

Property was stored in a disused farm out-building close to the Travellers’ site in Common Lane, Hapsford, which the gang used as an overnight warehouse for the stolen goods before transporting it around the country.

In autumn 2011, police placed covert cameras on Common Lane, situated close to the M56. All three men could be seen towing stolen items to the warehouse.

“In addition a number of mobile phones were seized and telephone numbers attributed to each defendant,” said Mark Conner, prosecuting, who said walkie-talkies were also recovered.

“The cell site analysis evidence indicates that the defendants’ phones were in the areas of many of the thefts, often in communication with each other.”

The goods were often only stored in the warehouse overnight before being taken away the next morning, the court heard.

All three men – who pleaded guilty to a total of 23 charges of theft and handling stolen goods – claimed they were not the masterminds behind the organisation, but were paid in cash by another individual, who they refused to name.

They had all been searching for work at the time.

Father-of-two Harker said he became involved to fund a £400 cannabis addiction and was deeply ashamed of his actions. All three men said they were trying to move on with their lives.

Fitzgerald was jailed for a further six months for conspiracy to conceal criminal property, after selling his family home Pip Cottages to his brother-in-law, just days before a restraining order was put in place.

His brother-in-law William Tudor, of Whitchurch, was handed a six month sentence, for attempting to conceal criminal property; made subject to a supervision requirement and ordered to partake in 120 hours of unpaid work. He made a estimated profit of £36,916.60 from the offence and will pay back £33,870.60 - this was included in the almost half a million pound total.
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