Cunning thieves caught by sharp-eyed cashier

PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 October 2015 | UPDATED: 15:54 22 October 2015

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A gang of cunning professional thieves has been jailed after a sharp-eyed Exmouth B&Q cashier caught them red-handed.

The three men travelled from London to the South West to carry out a series of raids on the DIY stores - where they removed toilet units from their boxes and filled them up with more valuable items.

Exeter Crown Court heard the gang wheeled the boxes through the checkout, paying just £53 for the toilet plinth - while stealing £2,000 worth of smoke alarms and Yale locks.

The men all came from Kent and south London; two of them previously carried out identical thefts at other stores around Britain, Exeter Crown Court was told.

They were part of a wider scam, which is thought to have cost B&Q tens of thousands of pounds. They were caught after staff were alerted to be vigilant.

They struck three times in the West Country, stealing more than £2,000 worth of goods at Launceston and fleeing empty-handed at Newton Abbot when a member of staff became suspicious.

They were caught when a quick-witted cashier at the Exmouth branch of B&Q noticed the hand-holds on the side of a large box had not been pushed in and that tape appeared to have been re-sealed. He called security and one of the group fled, while two others were arrested shortly afterwards when they were identified from CCTV images.

The court heard the men operated as a group, with one removing the toilet unit, another filling the box with stolen items, and the other keeping watch or obscuring the view of CCTV cameras.

Steven Bailey, 58, of Pendragon Road, Bromley, Daniel Cosgrove, 26, of Bakers Avenue, West Kingsdown, Sevenoaks, and Paul Kewley, 28, of Albemarle Road, Beckenham, all admitted three thefts.

They were all jailed for 20 months by Judge Francis Gilbert, QC.

The judge told them: “This was organised, professional crime for profit in which the modus operandi was to enter B&Q stores together and to fill a large box with stolen items.

“The checkout operator in Exmouth was alerted by a staff briefing and noticed the box had been resealed and the hand-holds were closed so nobody could see what was inside.

“He examined the box and found it had been resealed and contained items worth £2,102.79.”

Mr Paul Grumbar, prosecuting, said the first theft was at the Newton Abbot B&Q in March last year, but was foiled when a member of staff found the toilet unit, which had been taken out of the box, and went to investigate.

The gang carried out an identical raid at Launceston, getting away with more than £2,000 worth of goods, but Kewley was caught by the cashier at Exmouth.

He ran off, but was later identified from CCTV and fingerprints. Kewley and Cosgrove had previous convictions for similar thefts in Bristol and Chester in 2012, the court heard.

Mr Kenneth Aylett, Miss Heather Hope, and Mr Mark Robinson, defending, said all three defendants had moved on with their lives in the 19 months since the offences and suspended sentences would help them stay out of trouble in the future.

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