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Supermarket manager foils alarm code gang
A MANAGER at an Oxfordshire supermarket helped foil a gang of serial criminals who plotted to raid Co-ops throughout the county.
The three men, who have 72 convictions between them, posed as security staff to gain the alarm codes for a string of branches.
But the manager at Bicester’s Barberry Place store got suspicious and the gang were caught in the act in the early hours of January 25.
Darren Whitehouse, William Kelly and Paul Gardner were jailed for a total of almost seven years at Oxford Crown Court on Monday.
Prosecutor Jonathan Stone said: “The modus operandi of these defendants was that alarm codes are obtained and then stores are broken into.”
The gang broke into a Co-op in Worcestershire on January 12, leaving the company with a £21,000 bill for damage and lost stock, and were caught with a list of 14 other Co-op stores in Oxfordshire, Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire and Gloucestershire, featuring their opening times and alarm codes.
The Oxfordshire stores listed were in Wootton near Abingdon, Long Hanborough, Charlbury and Didcot.
Mr Stone said the plot was rumbled when one of the men spoke to a duty manager at the Bicester store on the pretence of resetting the branch’s security system.
The store manager overheard the phone call and immediately phoned the Co-op’s real security company to be told the call did not come from them.
The manager then informed police.
Early the following morning, CCTV picked up Whitehouse, 40, and Gardner, 35, approaching the store and looking through its security shutters.
When officers arrived, both men, who wore balaclavas and gloves, gave conflicting reasons for their presence at the scene and Whitehouse was carrying drill bits and a torch.
Police found Kelly, 52, in the back of a nearby car along with power tools, screwdrivers, pliers and safety goggles.
All three men, from Coventry, admitted a charge of conspiracy to commit burglary and Whitehouse also admitted taking £16,000 in cash in a similar burglary at a Marks & Spencer in Tamworth in June 2010.
Mr Stone said this offence occurred just six days after he was made redundant from his job as an engineer at security-alarm firm Challenger.
Clare Evans, defending Whitehouse, who has 22 convictions, said her client “was clearly upset and frankly panicked when he was made redundant”.
Jennifer Edwards, defending Gardner, who has 35 convictions, said her client “has a sad history of offending and a sad history of dependency on substances, from opiates to alcohol”.
Nicholas Aldridge, defending Kelly, who has 15 convictions, said his client was a gambling addict who joined the gang after losing his job.
Whitehouse was jailed for 32 months, Gardner for 26 months and Kelly for two years.
A spokesman for Midcounties Co-operative said: “We are happy the matter has been dealt with by the courts and that the offenders have been sentenced appropriately.”