A gang of armed robbers who targeted post offices and banks have been jailed for a total of 83 years.
The six men stole up to £1.5 million in 23 robberies across Merseyside and Cheshire, including two raids on the same bank in St Helens, over a six year period and were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday, Wednesday.
The gang targeted Lloyds TSB on Ellamsbridge Road, St Helens, twice in just over two years, the first on January 2, 2013 and second on March 23, 2015.
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 last year following a joint investigation by Merseyside Police and Cheshire Constabulary.
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 but Gary McNeill, 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, Judge David Aubrey QC read extracts from the personal statements of many of the victims and heard the 999 calls that bank staff made to the police while the robberies were in progress.
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.
“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.”
The sentences are as follows:
Ian John Stewart, 49, formerly of Stonegate Drive, Toxteth – 13 years
Kieron Anthony Whittle, 35, of Little Parkfield Road, Aigburth – 15 years
John Paul Stewart, 30, of Waverley Road, Aigburth – 13 years, six months
Alan Robert Lea, 38, of Verney Crescent, Toxteth – 16 years
Shaun James McDonald, 38, of Charleston Road, Toxteth – 13 years, four months
Gary Thomas McNeill, 36, formerly of Upper Pitt Street, Liverpool city centre – 12 years, six months