Three men who stole more than £100,000 worth of copper cables from an industrial building in Northwich will spend Christmas behind bars.
Police have thanked the public for responding to an appeal which helped bring Burnley trio Michael Ashe, 30, and Damien Whitton, 35, both of Albert Street, and Bruce Lee Knowles, 27, of Dall Street, to justice.
TATA’s former chemical plant in Winnington Lane was targeted nine times over a five-month period; leading to the theft of thousands of pounds worth of copper cables.
This prompted a CCTV appeal by Northwich Pro-Active CID which led to the men being identified and arrested.
All were subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal. Knowles was also charged with production of class B drugs after officers discovered a number of cannabis plants at his home.
On October 5 the men appeared at Chester Crown Court where, as a result of the overwhelming evidence against them, they were left with no option but to plead guilty to all charges.
And on Thursday (December 21), the trio appeared again at the same court where they were each sentenced to two years and four months in prison.
Detective Constable Chris Palmer, from Northwich Pro-Active CID, who led the investigation, said: “Knowles, Ashe and Whitton believed that they were above the law. They travelled more than 60 miles to specifically target this site, and often went to extreme measures to enable themselves to steal over £100,000 of copper cable.
“Not only did they put their own lives at risk, but they also put at risk the lives of innocent members of staff and police officers who were left to deal with the consequences of their selfish actions. However, thanks to the information provided by a member of the public, along with the dedicated work of the officers from Northwich Local Policing Unit, Knowles, Ashe and Whitton are now facing significant prison sentences.”
A Tata Chemicals Europe spokesperson said: “The safety risks of trespassing on our sites in order to steal assets is severe. Some of the cabling was stolen from a considerable height, and there are also dangers involved due to the structure of the buildings, and hazardous chemicals stored on site. The risks are life-and-death.
“Because of these thefts, our staff and police have also had to expose themselves to these risks in order to conduct their investigation. A special thanks must go out to all involved from Cheshire police , their commitment and hard work has made it possible to catch the culprits.
“We would also like to thank all of the papers who publicised the appeal, as well as those who came forward to help identify the culprits. This whole incident sends out the message that cable and asset theft simply is not worth it.”
Detective Sergeant Simon Parker added: “This case shows how important information from the public can be and I would like to take this as an opportunity to express my gratitude those who came forward in this case, without their support this conviction would not have been possible.”