A gang of armed robbers who targeted 22 banks and post offices across Merseyside and Cheshire leaving staff and customers terrified have been jailed for a total of 83 years, four months at Liverpool Crown Court today (Wednesday, 25 May 2016).
The six men stole up to £1.5m in a six year period where they committed offences in Sefton, St Helens, Liverpool, Wirral, Warrington, Neston and Great Sutton.
The offenders used sledgehammers to force their way into premises, usually while staff were preparing to open for business or were cashing up at the end of the day, or used the element of surprise to drop in through the roof, having removed roof tiles.
Employees described the robberies as ‘terrifying’ with one victim saying she feared for her and her colleagues lives when the men burst in. Some victims were man-handled and injured by the robbers, others were threatened while being ordered to provide access to the bank’s cash.
The six men were arrested in a co-ordinated strike at dawn in Liverpool on November 26th last year following a joint investigation by Merseyside Police and Cheshire Constabulary.
Just two days earlier members of the gang had struck at a bank in Hull stealing a large amount of cash. During searches of homes in Aigburth and Toxteth on November 26th large amounts of cash, some drugs and CS gas were found. A Subaru Impreza was also seized.
All six men were charged and five pleaded guilty in January and February of this year. However Gary McNeill, aged 35, of Upper Pitt Street, Liverpool, denied any involvement in the robberies until his trial date approached and he changed his plea to guilty.
At the gang’s sentencing hearing at Liverpool Crown Court Judge David Aubrey QC read extracts from the personal statements of many of the victims. Judge Aubrey also heard the 999 calls that bank staff made to the police while the robberies were in progress.
Police call handlers were heard trying to keep the victims calm while patrols were deployed to the scene.
One victim, who was working in the Prescot Road branch of Halifax in Old Swan, Liverpool, when the gang burst in through the roof, said in her statement: “The incident was terrifying to the point where I actually thought my colleagues and I were going to die. It went from a normal day to instantly a lot of banging and screaming. I locked us all into a room and turned off the light. We were absolutely petrified stood in the dark, basically waiting for the robbers to come and get us. Some of our friends were trapped in an area with the robbers. We could hear them screaming. We did not know at this point if the offenders were armed and I genuinely feared for our lives.”
“Even though a couple of years have passed I’m still stuck with the effects of the incident."
The woman told officers that since the robbery she had suffered months of sleepless nights and needed counselling as she was fearful about going to work and of being on her own. She added: “Even though a couple of years have passed I’m still stuck with the effects of the incident. Every time anything like this is reported in the industry it all comes flooding back.”
Another employee at the same bank described the incident as ‘absolutely petrifying’ and said she was dragged down some steps and knocked to the floor by one of the offenders causing a neck injury. The woman said the incident had a wider impact on her family and she had to finish her job as she was so traumatised. “I really feel that I have a lifelong issue that I can never ever get over. There is not a day goes by when this doesn’t affect me.”
A young mother who was working in a Lloyds TSB branch in Wavertree, Liverpool when four gang members dropped in through the roof said the trauma of the incident had affected the early years of parenting. She said in her statement: “I feel very strongly that they not only robbed the bank but also robbed me of what should have been a very happy time for me and my child.”
“After the incident I started having panic attacks and couldn’t sleep. It was so bad that I needed sleeping tablets and beta blockers to deal with the stress."
A victim from one of the Cheshire bank robberies (Nat West in Neston on November 14th, 2013) said in her statement: “After the incident I started having panic attacks and couldn’t sleep. It was so bad that I needed sleeping tablets and beta blockers to deal with the stress. I wouldn’t go out at night and only went out if I had to during the day. On a number of occasions I had panic attacks when I saw anyone come near me wearing a hoodie. If there was ever a loud noise I would jump and panic. This continued and led to me having counselling. I wasn’t able to work for 12 months. I worked at the bank all my life and loved it but after this incident I hated my job. I will never fully get over it.”
Merseyside Police Detective Inspector Mike Dalton who led the joint investigation called on the public to share any information they had about people involved in robberies. He said: “This gang enjoyed a criminal lifestyle on the back of the misery of many decent, hard-working people who were simply doing their job when these men burst in and changed their lives forever.
“The impact of these robberies on all the people who witnessed them cannot be underestimated. Innocent members of staff who were petrified at the time have remained too traumatised to return to work. Victims have needed counselling and medication to help them deal with what happened. A young mum was robbed of the enjoyment that having a young baby brings. Another who had a baby long after the robbery feared the stress she still felt could harm her unborn child. People’s families have suffered too. One victim told us her husband was in shock when he saw her in hospital wearing a neck brace after one of the offenders had manhandled her.
“This gang was completely ruthless in what they did. They used brute force to smash open external doors or the element of surprise to drop in through the roof. They carried sledgehammers and wore masks which added to the fear the victims felt. In short, they did not care who they harmed or what damage they caused as long as they got the money.
“It is hugely satisfying to see them jailed today following our investigation with Cheshire Police and I hope the victims feel reassured that they are now behind bars. I would like to thank the investigation teams and the legal team for all their hard work in this lengthy case. I am also grateful to the financial institutions for their co-operation during our enquiries.
“Bank robberies are not victimless crimes and it is in everyone’s interests to work together to stop them happening in our communities."
“Bank robberies are not victimless crimes and it is in everyone’s interests to work together to stop them happening in our communities. The public can play a big part by calling 999 if they see a crime in progress or 101 if they see anyone acting suspiciously near a bank, building society or post office. Bank robbers like these men live in our communities and can damage them so much so please help us stop them by telling us what you know.”
Detective Sergeant Rob Grantham from Cheshire Constabulary said: “The sentences handed down by the court today reflect the severity of the crimes and the impact on the victims. The gang targeted a number of financial institutions across three force areas, forcing entry mainly at opening or closing times and stealing significant quantities of cash. The gang was subsequently linked to four offences in Cheshire via forensic enquiries.
“This was a complex and lengthy investigation by a dedicated team of officers from Cheshire Police working alongside colleagues in Merseyside Police. Today sees the successful conclusion of that investigation with a number of men being handed lengthy custodial sentences.
“The impact upon the victims should not be underestimated. It was significant and will be long lasting with many deeply traumatised by what happened. Some have been unable to return to work because this has had such a big impact on their lives. I would like to thank the victims for their co-operation and bravery throughout what has been an extremely difficult time for them. I hope that the conclusion of this case now helps them to move on with their lives.
“Armed robbery is a serious offence and one that Cheshire Police is committed to tackling. We want to reassure the business community that we take any incidents of this nature extremely seriously and we will do all we can to trace those responsible and ensure they are brought to justice.
“This is a significant result and we hope that it serves as a warning to others that if you choose to come into Cheshire and break the law you will be actively targeted, caught and punished.”
The sentences are as follows:
- Ian John Stewart, aged 49, formerly of Stonegate Drive, Toxteth – 13 years
- Kieron Anthony Whittle, aged 35, of Little Parkfield Road, Aigburth – 15 years
- John Paul Stewart, aged 30, of Waverley Road, Aigburth – 13 years, six months
- Alan Robert Lea, aged 38, of Verney Crescent, Toxteth – 16 years
- Shaun James McDonald, aged 38, of Charleston Road, Toxteth – 13 years, four months
- Gary Thomas McNeill, aged 36, formerly of Upper Pitt Street, Liverpool city centre – 12 years, six months