Three men responsible for a series of cash machine gas explosions in several different locations, including Bexhill, have been jailed for a combined total of 53 years.
Police said Joel Spears, 31, of Becket Close, Wimbledon, London, and Ermias Fekade, 36, of Moyne Close, Hove, were both found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions and steal after a six-week trial at Croydon Crown Court.
The pair were sentenced last Wednesday (April 18), along with Stephen Fahri, 36, of Mayfield Crescent, Brighton, who had previously pleaded guilty to the same offence.
Spears was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, Fekade was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment and Fahri was sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment.
Police said the men were caught as the result of an investigation by the Met’s Flying Squad into a linked series of cash machine thefts between January and April 2017.
On January 31 at Bexhill train station just after 3.40am a standalone ATM outside the station was blown up and £5,000 stolen.
The explosions caused by the gang were uncontrolled and, in most of the incidents, caused a considerable amount of damage to nearby buildings including post offices and petrol stations.
Police said the total amount stolen was £148,250 and the value of damage caused and repair costs as a result of the explosions was £150,466.97.
The equipment used to commit the offences was stored in a falsely registered Ford Mondeo estate parked up in the village of Poynings.
Inside the vehicle gas cylinders, electrical wire and a sledgehammer were found.
Police said the gang also used high-powered stolen vehicles with stolen number plates and wore balaclavas to conceal their identities.
Detectives linked the gang to the offences through CCTV, mobile phone records and forensic evidence.
All three were arrested on April 20 last year after an attempt to explode a cash machine inside a post office in Tunbridge Wells.
Detective Inspector Vicki Tomlinson, of Sussex Police investigations, said: “The defendants targeted small Sussex towns and villages, causing substantial loss to local businesses, in addition to disruption and concern for the local communities. Through our evidence gathering and close working relationship with the Metropolitan Police, we are pleased with the hefty sentences quite rightly imposed on these men.”
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Blackburn, of the Met’s Flying Squad said: “The lengthy sentences handed out by the judge today reflect the high-risk nature of the offending.
“These defendants caused extensive damage to the cash machines but also the surrounding buildings which included residential premises.
“The Flying Squad has once again made it clear that we will relentlessly pursue those with the audacity to conduct such criminality.”
Police said as the offences were carried out across a number of police areas, the Flying Squad was assisted by the work of Safercash, a not-for-profit intelligence-sharing initiative, which completed regional checks for similar offences.
Sarah Staff, the head of Safercash, said: “The outcome of this investigation is an excellent example of the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad’s dedication and ability to tackle serious and organised crime at the highest level. Safercash continues to support the partnership work between the UK Police Service and the financial and security industry whose staff and employees are affected by these serious crimes.”
Dates and locations of offences:
1) Bexhill Train Station, Bexhill. January 31, 2017 at 3.41am. A standalone ATM outside the station is blown up and £5,000 stolen.
2) Esso, Bromley Road, Bromley. February 2, 2017 at 3.18am a standalone ATM on a garage forecourt was exploded and £23,000 was stolen.
3) Esso Lent Rise Service Station, Lent Rise Road, Burnham. February 10, 2017 at 3.50am the standalone was exploded and £10,000 was stolen.
4) Texaco. Dovers Green Road, Reigate, Surrey. February 21, 2017 at 4.29am the standalone ATM was blown up and £440 stolen.
5) Post Office, 26 Longbridge Avenue, Saltdean. February 28, 2017 at 2.46am the ATM on the shop front of the post office was exploded and £33,000 stolen.
6) Post Office, 61 Mansell Road, Shoreham. March 3, 2017 at 4.48am the ATM on the shop front of the post office was exploded and £20,000 stolen.
7) Post Office, High Street, Hurstpierpoint. March 23, 2017 at 3.47am the ATM on the shop front of the post office was exploded and £54,000 stolen.
8) Post Office, London Road, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells. April 20, 2017. Attempt made to blow up cash machine.