Raiders in dock

A GANG of travellers – including four from Wisbech – who embarked on a year-long armed robbery spree were snared following one of the largest cross-border police operations the region has seen. An 18-year-old traveller from Christchurch, Rocky Curtis, was

A GANG of travellers - including four from Wisbech - who embarked on a year-long armed robbery spree were snared following one of the largest cross-border police operations the region has seen.

An 18-year-old traveller from Christchurch, Rocky Curtis, was arrested at the same time and pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.

The balaclava-clad raiders armed themselves with sawn-off shotguns, baseball bats, pick axes and sledgehammers as they toured the region netting huge sums of money.

They terrorised shopkeepers and postmasters across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex as they stole property and caused damage totalling £1million.


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Despite their youth, the men did not balk at 130mph car chases or pointing a shotgun at a bystander during a robbery in November 2004, and warning: "Stay away - or you'll get it."

Brian Farmer, prosecuting at Ipswich Crown Court, said: "We are dealing with professionals here. We are not dealing with boys doing these things on the spur of the moment."

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Working from an incident room at Bury St Edmunds, a 28-strong team of officers investigated a total of 32 robberies, 67 cashpoint thefts, 42 smash and grab raids and 126 vehicle thefts, where getaway cars or vehicles used as battering rams were stolen.

As the raids continued throughout 2005, sometimes at the rate of three a night, the gang might have thought they were invincible.

Mr Farmer highlighted their professionalism, as he showed the jury CCTV footage of a raid in early 2005.

"The members of the gang acted very systematically together as a team. Nobody is running around wondering what to do; everybody knows what to do.

"They are going out together and coming back together. They are fulfilling the opposite role to shelf fillers in supermarkets - they are deliberately choosing the shelves they empty."

At the height of the gang's violent campaign, more than 100 delegates including police and representatives from banks, the Post Office and cash machine companies met to discuss ways of combating the crime wave.

Police moved in September 2005, raiding traveller's sites in Elm, Willingham and Mildenhall. More than 500 officers, many of them armed, took part in the operation.

From the summer of 2004 until their arrest, Rocky Buckley and his gang - which included Stacey Smith, 22; John Smith, 23; John Curtis, 29 and Thomas Curtis, 23; all of Kirkham's Lane, Wisbech, and Rocky Curtis, 18, of Christchurch - were linked to up to 60 robberies, ram raids and break-ins.

Their trail of misery led to a massive joint police operation, which culminated in court on Tuesday when the last gang member was convicted of conspiring to commit robbery after a two-week trial.

Buckley, of Willingham, was remanded in custody until he is sentenced with the six other travellers, who had already admitted their part in the raids.

Detective Inspector Graham Moss said: "It is certainly the biggest police operation I've ever been involved in. When we started to work together the pieces of the jigsaw started to come together."

He described the gang as "very violent and determined" and said the raids had had a tremendous impact on people caught up in them.

It had led to some shop owners closing their premises and moving away because they had been so frightened by what had happened.

Peter Gair, Crown Prosecutor, said: "This gang preyed on the public, making money through stealing and often using violence and weapons, including firearms, to achieve their purpose.

"This was a large scale operation and it is through the strength of joint policing and collaborative work with the CPS that these results have been possible.

"Through the combined efforts of the CPS and the financial investigation unit, we have ensured that these individuals do not profit from their crimes.

"By separate court action we have frozen certain assets and we are applying for a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act."

Buckley had admitted taking part in a series of burglaries and ram raids, but claimed that he had refused to take part in armed raids because the stakes were too high. However, the jury took less than two hours to find him guilty of conspiring to commit armed robbery.

The members of the gang will appear for sentence at Ipswich Crown Court at a later date.

THE OTHER DEFENDANTS

- Thomas Curtis admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle, conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle.

- John Smith admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle.

- Barry Street admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and conspiracy to burgle.

- Stacey Smith admitted conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle.

- John Curtis admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and conspiracy to burgle.

- Rocky Curtis admitted one count of money laundering.

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