A Leeds gang involved in the organised theft of more than £1.5m of goods from lorries across the country have been jailed for a total of 43 years.
Two of the group, John Kitchen and Kieran Marshall, were also sentenced over an "audacious" ram raid at a jewellers in Leeds city centre as part of their crime spree.
A police investigation into the organised supply of drugs initially saw officers focus their attention on the home of Jade Brannan in Finch Drive, Colton, close to junction 46 of the M1.
Enquiries identified that a number of different vehicles linked to the members of the gang were attending the address and making regular overnight journeys to other parts of the country including Thames Valley, Northamptonshire, the West Midlands, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, Durham, Hampshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.
Checks with the relevant police forces in those areas found that many of the overnight journeys coincided with thefts from heavy goods vehicles.
Further work showed some of the identified vehicles travelling in convoy to and from the locations.
It soon became clear that those linked to the address in Finch Drive were involved in the organised theft from HGVs on a large scale nationally and the house was being used as their base.
In each of the incidents, the vehicles were targeted while the drivers were parked up on rest breaks.
The offenders either slashed open the curtain side of the targeted vehicle or forced the rear doors and unloaded pallets of goods and drove off with them.
On occasions drivers initially challenged those involved but feared for their safety when faced with a large group armed with knives and metal bars.
The items stolen by the gang included thousands of pounds worth of alloy wheels, tyres, power tools, hair straighteners, cosmetics, face cream, jewellery and men’s
and women’s clothing.
A detailed and comprehensive investigation by officers from the Leeds East Neighbourhood Policing Team built up a clear picture of vehicle movements and mobile phone use that linked the group to the offences.
Quantities of the stolen goods were found when officers executed search warrants at addresses, storage containers and other lock-ups linked to members of the group.
They were arrested and charged with conspiracy to steal from HGVs between November 22, 2017, and May 23, 2018.
The offences involved in the conspiracy included lorries parked at Hartshead Moor Services on the M62; Roach Bank Road, in Bury, Greater Manchester; Cherlwell Valley Services, Bicester, Oxfordshire; Reliant Close, Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire; Trowell Services, Nottinghamshire; Keele Services, Staffordshire; M6 Stafford Services; Corley Services, Coventry; M6 Hilton Park Services, Essington; Michigan Drive, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire; and the M1 at Sheffield.
Although eight defendants were convicted of the conspiracy, it is believed a number of other unidentified individuals were involved in offences comprising a much greater value than the incidents that could be linked to the group.
Enquiries showed the ringleaders were John Kitchen, a north-east Leeds based offender, and south Leeds-based criminal Dominic Bailey, who had joined forces to run the criminal enterprise.
Kitchen was also found guilty at a trial in February last year of a ram-raid robbery at Hyman’s Jewellers, in Call Lane, Leeds.
On October 25, 2017, a red Ford Ranger 4x4 was reversed into the front of the shop, terrifying staff and causing significant damage.
Kitchen, who was armed with a sledgehammer, was captured on CCTV footage warning staff to stay back as he rifled through the window display before stealing a Rolex watch.
Accomplice Kieran Marshall, at the wheel of the 4x4, saw the shop’s security shutter closing and reversed again to block it, knocking Kitchen down in the process but helping him to avoid being trapped.
Kitchen was also convicted of an armed robbery which took place at a branch of travel agent Thomas Cook, in Rothwell, on August 18, 2017.
Three suspects, armed with an axe, a knife and baseball bat, had threatened staff before stealing a large amount of cash.
Members of the public at the shopping centre intervened and attempted to tackle the men outside, resulting in a one of the offenders leaving a baseball cap behind. It was forensically examined and Kitchen’s DNA was found on it.
Kitchen, 28, of Tarnside Drive, Seacroft, was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in relation to the robberies and the conspiracy to steal from HGVs.
Dominic Bailey, 30, of Potternewton Lane, Chapel Allerton, was jailed for four years and six month for his part in the conspiracy.
Kieran Marshall, 29, of Hawkshead Crescent, Seacroft, was sentenced to 14 years and six months for the Hyman’s robbery and the conspiracy.
Jade Brannan, 29, of Finch Drive, Colton, was sentenced to six months for the conspiracy.
She was given to two years and six months for possession of cocaine with intent to supply in relation to the drugs investigation when she appeared at court in October last year.
Liam Bellwood, 33, of Sutherland Terrace, Burmantofts, was jailed for four years and four months for the conspiracy and for the robbery of a woman at Hetchell Wood, in Milner Lane, Thorner, in October 2018.
Shane Henriques, aged 30, of Grange Close, Hunslet, was sentenced to 19 months.
Benjamin McCarron, aged 31, of Zermatt Street, Chapel Allerton, was given an 18-month suspended sentence.
Kieran Smith, aged 28, of Scott Hall Avenue, Chapeltown, was sentenced to two years for the conspiracy.
Inspector Mick Preston, who heads the Leeds East Neighbourhood Policing Team that led the investigation, said: “The ringleaders of this group are prolific criminals with long offending
histories who have been negative role models of the worst kind in their communities over a number of years.
“As these offences clearly illustrate, they are motivated purely by greed and care nothing for the harm and fear their behaviour causes to their victims.
“We hope the significant prison sentences they have received will help to reassure their victims and the wider community, and also send a warning to others who think
they can commit serious crimes such as these without having to face the consequences.
“The successful conclusion of this case is an excellent example of the investigative police work undertaken by some very dedicated officers from my Leeds East
Neighbourhood Policing team. I am very pleased with the outcome which is a direct result of all their hard work to bring to justice lawless individuals such as these and
keep people safe.”