Arthur Gaskin (left) and Lee Leatherbarrow

An organised crime group who ripped out cash machines from stores across England and Wales have been jailed for a combined total of 29 years.

The four men appeared at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday 24 April where they were sentenced, after all pleading guilty at an earlier hearing.

The court heard how, between 11 March 2022 and 7 July 2022, there were 19 incidents where a forecourt store and supermarkets containing standalone ATMs had been targeted.

It is estimated more than £500,000 in cash was stolen from machines during the spate of attacks.

They included an attack at the Co-op Service Station at Duckmanton, Derbyshire, on May 11 2022, in which £10,070 was stolen.

Cheshire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit launched an investigation in April 2022 following an ATM attack at a store on Longshaw Street, Warrington, during which attending police officers were rammed by the group as they fled the scene.

During their enquiries into the gang, named Operation Hades, officers identified links to offences spanning the width of the north of England down to the Midlands and crossing the border into North Wales.

On each occasion the gang would conduct a reconnaissance of the ATM machines with one of the group using one of the machines in the weeks prior to the offence and once an exact location and day was identified this would start a specific chain of events.

On the chosen day, the group would use mobile phones to communicate and co-ordinate a meeting place before they left these devices at home or at an agreed meeting point. This meant, or so they thought, officers couldn’t track their location through their mobile devices.

They then would use stolen vehicles – two BMWs and a Volkswagen Golf Type R­­ – to get to their rendezvous points. One of these vehicles was found to be stored in a garage in Lowton, Wigan, which the group thought was a secure location.

In another bid to try and cover their tracks, they also used multiple cloned number plates relating to similar car makes and models.

They would then steal Ford Transit vans and follow in convoy with one of the other vehicles to travel to the store that was to be targeted.

When at the location, the gang would use power tools such as an angle grinder to gain entry to the stores, the members would then target the ATMs by dragging the machines out which caused huge damage, before loading up the stolen vehicles with cassettes containing cash.

Their downfall came when officers from Cheshire Constabulary entered a pursuit with the getaway BMW which reached speeds of up to 90mph in a 30mph zone, after the final burglary at a Co-operative store in the village of Moira, Leicestershire.

Members of the gang attempted to injure officers and stop the pursuit by throwing items such as a fire extinguisher and bricks out of the vehicles.

Once reaching an area of safety, officers performed a tactical stop on the vehicle resulting in the arrest of Crimea and John Price and Arthur Gaskin.

Inside the BMW, seven sets of number plates, four bottles of disinfectant, numerous bricks used to attack police and items stolen from the shop were discovered alongside a sledgehammer and circular saw.

Further enquiries led to a warrant being executed in St Helens with Lee Leatherbarrow arrested. Shortly after they were all charged with conspiracy to commit burglary.

Detective inspector Nick Henderson, from Cheshire Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit, said: “This case shows that no matter how hard you think you have worked to cover your tracks, our officers will always be one step ahead of you.

“This gang left a trail of destruction for their own selfish gain – they may have stolen in excess of £500,000 in cash but this does not account for the damage caused to the shops, ATM machines and around 20 vehicles that were stolen in order to commit the offences. In total this investigation identified a loss of £1m.

“This was by no means a victimless crime, this gang ruined businesses and caused huge disruption to local communities and residents, but thanks to our investigation we were able to put together an extensive catalogue of evidence which left the OCG no choice but to plead guilty to the offences put to them – even if it took some time for them to agree.

“They will now be behind bars for a combined total of 29 years and I hope this acts as a lesson to those who think they can come into Cheshire to commit crime – we will find you and bring you to justice.”

Lee Leatherbarrow, 33, of Lascelles Street, St Helens was sentenced to seven years and six months imprisonment. Crimea Price, 32, of Southworth Road, Newton-Le-Willows was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Arthur Gaskin, 35, of no fixed address was sentenced to seven years and six months imprisonment, and John Price, 27, of Newport Street, Burslem was sentenced to six years imprisonment.