THREE members of a violent gang who carried out robberies at two Co-op stores and a petrol station, escaping with a total of more than £90,000, have all been handed extended prison sentences.
A Warwick Crown Court judge branded Ashley Bell, Marcus Cohen and Connor Sanderson as dangerous offenders after they had all pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to rob.
Bell and Sanderson also admitted handling tobacco taken in a burglary at another supermarket, while Cohen and Sanderson admitted a house burglary and Sanderson also pleaded guilty to possessing heroin with intent to supply it.
Bell (33) of Crediton Close, Cheylesmore, Coventry, was jailed for 18 years, of which he will have to serve at least two-thirds and will then only be freed when the Parole Board considers it safe to do so.
If he is released before serving the whole sentence, he will be on licence for the rest of the term and for an extended period of four years after that.
Cohen (39) of Allen Close, Hinckley was jailed for 17 years, also with a four-year extended period of licence.
Sanderson (21) of Brathay Close, Coventry, was jailed for ten years and nine months, with an extended licence of three years and three months – and both will also have to serve two-thirds of their custodial sentences before being considered for release.
With them in the dock was Ryan Black (28) of St George’s Road, Coventry, who pleaded guilty to the burglary charge and was given an 18-month community order with 80 hours of unpaid work after spending some time in custody on remand.
Prosecutor Edward Hollingsworth said the first robbery in the conspiracy took place at the Co-op store in Stretton, near Burton-on-Trent, shortly after staff had arrived just before 6am.
The previous evening Cohen, Thomas Bruce, who was found guilty of the conspiracy charge and will be sentenced at a later date, and others, met up at the Britannia Hotel in Coventry.
Cohen was in contact with Bell who was likely to have gone there to collect them before travelling to Stretton.
Bell, Cohen, Bruce and another man burst into the shop, masked and armed with crowbars and an axe, and female staff members were bound with cable ties.
Bell and Cohen took the manager to an office and ordered him to open the safe from which they stole £13,000 in cash before making off with the money, stamps and other goods.
Mr Hollingsworth pointed out that one female staff member suffered a panic attack, so was not tied up and Bruce (29) of St Columbas Close, Coventry, got her a drink of water.
The second robbery was at the Texaco garage in Black Prince Avenue, Cheylesmore, as two ‘cash in transit’ guard arrived to restock an ATM machine.
A few days earlier Bell had obtained a Ford Puma and used his own Mini with false number plates for a surveillance operation at the garage, in which Cohen and Sanderson also played a part.
On the day of the robbery Cohen’s girlfriend Charlene Shaw (39) also of Allen Close, Hinckley, acted as lookout, keeping watch as the two guards took cash boxes into a rear room and tipping off the team when the last box was being taken in.
The four men carrying out the actual robbery, which Judge Anthony Potter said he was satisfied included Bell, and which Mr Hollingsworth suggested included Cohen, then moved in armed with weapons including an axe.
One of the guards who was in the room was hit in the face, breaking his nose and cheekbone, and the other was grabbed as he made his way in with a cash box and was hit to the helmet with the axe before they escaped with a total of £76,000.
The third robbery was at around 6.20am on May 10 at the Co-op store in Shepshed, Leics, after Cohen had been involved in carrying out surveillance the previous evening.
Although Cohen then remained in Hinckley the next day, Bell and two others travelled to Shepshed where, wearing masks and gloves, they forced their way into the store and threatened the female staff members with crowbars before escaping with £2,000.
Mr Hollingsworth pointed out that all the victims have been badly affected by their ordeals, with one of the guards having quit his job and one of the women in Shepshed moving to a different store after working there for 22 years.
In addition to the robberies, Bell and Sanderson had handled a quantity of cigarettes and tobacco taken in a burglary at the Asda store in Cheylesmore on March 3.
Cohen, Sanderson and Black had taken part in a burglary at a house in Arundel Road, Cheylesmore, in July while the couple who lived there were away, and stole jewellery and other items.
And when Sanderson was arrested, at his home the police found 16 street deals of heroin and a further wrap containing £970 worth of the drug.
Mr Hollingsworth added that Bell and Cohen were ‘career criminals,’ with long records for offences which included robbery, while Sanderson’s conviction included attempted robbery at a shop.
Ian Suggett, for Bell, said although he took part in the planning, he did not accept being involved in the Texaco robbery – which Judge Potter rejected.
Balbir Singh, for Cohen, said he was not one of the four at the petrol station, and the judge accepted he ‘could not be satisfied so I am sure’ that he was.
Simon Hunka, for Sanderson, said there had been ‘an explosion of offending’ by him early last year, but he had not played a part in the two Co-op robberies.
Jailing those three, Judge Potter said he found them all to be dangerous offenders and was therefore passing extended sentences on each of them.