A trio of robbers involved in an epidemic of planned and frightening armed robberies at Kenilworth shops, among others, have been jailed.
Anthony Collier, 31, of Murray Road, Coundon, Coventry, was jailed for 18 years after pleading guilty to robbery, two charges of conspiracy to rob and one charge of dangerous driving.
Thomas Rawbone, 26, of Brinklow Road, Binley, and Darren Irwin, 34, of Delia Street, Tile Hill, were both jailed for 11 and a half years after admitting conspiring to rob the shops.
Mary Loram, prosecuting, said the conspiracy involving all three began with a robbery at the One Stop store in Caesar Road, Kenilworth, shortly before it was due to close at 10pm on December 22, 2014.
Two men burst in wearing masks and dark clothing, one of them armed with a crowbar, and staff and customers were ordered to a storeroom and told to put their phones on top of a freezer.
The safe was opened and £296 in cash and 180 packets of cigarettes worth £5,840 were taken before the raiders, Collier and Rawbone on that occasion, left via the rear fire escape.
On January 8 2015 all three men staged a raid at the Tesco Express store in Leyes Lane, Kenilworth, this time armed with a machete, and one female staff member felt something cold put to her neck.
She and a male colleague were ordered to open the tills and to hold carrier bags while the robbers emptied the tills into them, and then to open the safe.
The raiders escaped with a total of £2,900 in cash and cigarettes worth a further £2,000.
They made off in a stolen Mini before switching to a Vauxhall Insignia they had left elsewhere in Kenilworth – and which Irwin had been stopped in four days earlier.
He and Rawbone were arrested on suspicion of taking part, but were granted bail and went on to take part in more robberies.
The next one on February 3 was back at the One Stop in Caesar Road, earlier in the evening but with the same two staff members working who had been the victims of the first raid.
Two men, one them Rawbone, burst in with a crowbar, ordered the employees into the storeroom and took £329 in cash and £3,000 worth of cigarettes – again leaving via the fire escape.
The three defendants returned for a third robbery at the Caesar Road store.
That time they escaped with £305 in cash and cigarettes worth £5,222 – but by then concerned managers had planted tracker devices among the cigarettes.
As a result the movement of the haul could be followed, and it was found by the police in a pillow case with Rawbone’s DNA on it in the abandoned getaway car later that evening.
Further robberies undertaken by the three included stores in Coventry, Solihull, Meriden and Nuneaton. A total of 13 raids were carried out by the gang.
Police eventually caught Collier on May 18 2015 after a high-speed pursuit through Coventry.
Although he got away after ramming his way past an oncoming vehicle and parked car, he was later arrested at his home, with the other two also being arrested at their homes the next day.
Jailing the three men, Judge Richard Griffith-Jones told them: “You three are part of a professional, planned and ruthless conspiracy to take advantage of the ease with which these soft targets can be hit. What you did was frightening. It was designed to be frightening.”