A JUDGE described them as “a plague on the people of Hampshire”. But now a gang of crooks behind a £300,000 crimewave have been jailed for a total of more than 20 years.
The gang, which was at least five-strong, stole cars, cash and cigarettes between June 2010 and July last year – burgling more than 40 homes and businesses in north Hampshire and Berkshire.
Winchester Crown Court heard how Mark Bicknell, Richard Ashman, Stephen Dossett, Michael O’Leary and Daniel Malcolm stole cars from homes and used them to raid newsagents to steal cigarettes. The cigarettes were then sold on the black market.
The court heard that Bicknell was the “lynchpin” of a gang which at first targeted cash machines in Berkshire, before moving on to burglaries.
The gang opened the doors of people’s homes with crude tools, stealing keys so they could make off in the homeowners’ cars.
James Newton-Price, prosecuting, said: “During this phase, the modus operandi was to target homes in the Basingstoke and Reading areas with uPVC front doors that could be easily opened if they were not double-locked at night.
“The general pattern was to steal car keys for cars parked outside, and then those cars were used in a sequence of offending that involved the burglaries of shops.”
The plan to target cash machines, which involved Bicknell, led to £44,000 being stolen from a Co-op, in Thatcham, on June 30, 2010, and £32,000 stolen from a Co-op, in Wokingham, on October 7, 2010.
The raids on houses started the following year. On the night of May 10, 2011, two vehicles were stolen from houses in Lychpit – a Ford Fiesta, in Lambs Row, and a Triumph motorcycle, in Pimpernel Way.
The two vehicles were then used that night by a gang including Bicknell, Ashman and O’Leary to raid a garage, in Hurstbourne Tarrant, near Whitchurch. They stole a safe containing £1,200 and 100 packets of cigarettes.
Mr Newton-Price said the safe was found the next morning at an address, in Heath End Road, Tadley, where neighbours had heard cutting sounds.
Other addresses in The Gazette area that were targeted by the gang were in Pennine Way in Buckskin, The Crofts in Hatch Warren, Farringdon Way in Tadley, and Little Copse Chase in Chineham.
Shops targeted included McColls, in Giles Court, Tadley, Martins, at the Chineham Shopping Centre, and the Co-op store, in Bell Street, Whitchurch.
At the end of a month-long trial, Bicknell, 29, of Martin Close, Oakridge, Basingstoke, was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to burgle, while Ashman was found guilty of one charge of conspiracy. The other defendants had pleaded guilty at previous hearings.
The jury in the trial heard the evidence against the gang included CCTV images, DNA evidence left on recovered clothing, and analysis of the defendants’ mobile phones. These showed their locations when the burglaries took place.
Sentencing the gang, Judge Keith Cutler said: “Hampshire was subject to a sustained period of criminality. The whole case is one of widespread misery and anguish. It involved widespread loss and significant amounts of money. The value of your crimes is high and must be met by significant prison sentences.”
The judge added that he accepted the defendants were not the only members of the gang.
Bicknell was sentenced to eight years imprisonment plus six months for a breach of a suspended sentence.
Ashman, 25, of Poppy Field, Lychpit, Basingstoke,was jailed for five years, and he also received an additional three-month sentence for breaching bail conditions by disappearing on the day the jury returned its verdict and failing to turn up for five days in total.
Dossett, 26, of Cotswold Close, Buckskin, Basingstoke, was jailed for three years and seven months for the conspiracy, and for attempting to smuggle a mobile phone into Winchester prison for Bicknell. The sentence was also for a separate common assault offence. In May, this year he was jailed for nine years for a violent street robbery in Basingstoke.
O’Leary, 23, of no fixed abode, and Malcolm, 33, of Dankworth Road, Brighton Hill, Basingstoke, were each jailed for three years for one count of conspiracy to burgle.