A notorious ‘cat burglar’ who spread “fear like a disease” through villages as he raided homes in a £250,000 burglary spree, has been jailed for 10 years.

Darryl Kennedy targeted at least 100 homes across Cheshire and Manchester and even raided family homes on Christmas Eve during the eight month crime spree last year.

The professional crook raided homes in Vicars Cross, Hoole, Guilden Sutton, Cuddington, Mickle Trafford, Frodsham, Barnton, Tarvin, Northwich, Warrington, Knutsford, Holmes Chapel, Crewe, Poynton, Grappenhall and Lymm – claiming he used his knowledge from his time working as a professional chauffeur to map out his route.

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The heartless criminal targeted five villages on Christmas Eve and stole an engagement ring from a Hoole couple – just two weeks before their wedding day.

Driver Winston Bell drive to 56 of the burglaries
 

The 51-year-old even raided the home of a Chester family while they were visiting a dying relative in hospital, in the week before Christmas, leaving them feeling vulnerable and frightened to leave the house.

Kennedy, nicknamed the ‘Sydney Cat Burglar’ due to his elaborate criminal past in Australia, masterminded his “professional enterprise” from a Salford bail hostel – and is said to have gambled the proceeds away.

Today (Friday, August 15) prolific criminal Kennedy was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment at Chester Crown Court, for the offences which blighted villages around the A556.

Two of his drivers, whom he paid to drive him to the crime scenes, were sentenced to a total of seven years.

Ajaz Ahmed, of Rochdale, drove Darryl Kennedy to 27 burglaries
 

Villagers in Tarvin were left “living in fear” as the burglar targeted multiple homes in the same street in the days running up to Christmas, seeking out empty properties along the A556 while villagers were on holiday, at work or out shopping.

On Christmas Eve Kennedy broke into homes in Kelsall, Ashton, Mickle Trafford, Davenham and Vicars Cross, forcing PVC windows and back doors to steal jewellery, laptops, tablets, expensive watches and cash.

Homeowners were forced to cancel plans to visit their families on Christmas Day in a bid to protect their properties from Kennedy, who kicked in their windows, leaving them boarded up and vulnerable over the festive period, the court heard.

Victim Philip Miles, who lives in a village near Chester, had his home raided by Kennedy in the week before Christmas as his family were out visiting a dying relative in hospital.

Mr Miles, who appeared in court, said the whole village became suspicious and on guard during the spree between April and December 2013.

“It left us feeling vulnerable and panicked about leaving the house,” said Mr Miles, who said the items taken were personal to his wife and irreplaceable.

“During the festive period I would not leave the house or the dog behind for fear of being a repeat victim.”

But Kennedy prided himself on being a “good burglar” and only targeted houses that were empty, pinpointing houses with no lights on, before knocking on front and back doors repeatedly to make sure no one was in.

He was described as the “ringleader” who ran the criminal enterprise “like a business”, according to Recorder of Chester Judge Elgan Edwards.

Driver Winston Bell, 56, of Failsworth, Manchester, was sentenced to four years behind bars, while former charity champion and landlord Ajaz Ahmed, 46, of Rochdale was sentenced to three years – after claiming he was pressured into driving for the prolific burglar.

Rosemary Pollard, 57, of Cheetham Hill, who drove Kennedy to the burglaries on Christmas Eve and 46 of the burglaries in December, failed to attend court – after being infested “with lice”.

Pollard, who drove Kennedy in a car which was leased to her under a mobility scheme as she was a carer for her mother, was arrested following an extensive investigation by Cheshire police at her home on January 22, wearing a Pandora bracelet stolen from one of the houses on Christmas Eve.

The Recorder of Chester said it was “such an unusual reason” not to attend court “it is possibly true”, after hearing that Pollard’s grandson had infected her house with the lice and that her house needed to be fumigated by the council.

All three drivers and Kennedy pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to burgle during a hearing in April last year. Kennedy and driver Bell were caught on New Year’s Eve in Wilmslow with a car full of stolen items – taken from two burglaries that night.

When stopped by Greater Manchester Police, Bell, who admitted driving in 56 of the offences, shouted “he’s the thief, Darryl’s the thief”, before admitting the crimes, the court heard.

“The offences on Christmas Eve were particularly serious because of timing,” said Simon Parry, prosecuting.

“There was inevitable distress to the victims but that was compounded by the fact that many of them had to have their doors and windows simply patched up over the festive period.

“Of course, Kennedy’s tactic of travelling into Cheshire from Manchester and back again on quick and easy routes did make it very difficult to detect the offences.”

Kennedy, who committed the offences to fund his gambling addiction, had an extensive criminal past, with four other convictions for burglary dwellings from his time living in the UK.

He suffers from emotional issues which he says were caused during his childhood when he stayed at a children’s home in Rochdale where MP Cyril Smith allegedly abused young boys, Nicholas Clarke, defending, said.

“He wishes to reunite with his children. He does not see himself any longer as the man he was when he was arrested,” added Mr Clarke.

Handing the 10 officers from Cheshire Constabulary involved in the case a court commendation, Judge Edwards sympathised with Kennedy’s victims saying: “It must have been like a disease, leaving behind it the fear of repetition.

“I must send a message to people like you, who think you can have organised crime from the relative safety of Manchester and start invading and attacking this county.”