Three men responsible for a series of cash machine gas explosions in seven different locations, including three attacks at petrol stations, have been jailed for a combined total of 53 years.
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, 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.
The men were caught as the result of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad into a linked series of cash machine thefts between January and April 2017.
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.
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.
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 20 April after an attempt to explode a cash machine inside a Post Office in Tunbridge Wells.
Detective chief inspector Nick Blackburn of the 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.”
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.”
The petrol filling stations attacked by the gang were:
Esso, Bromley Road, Bromley, 2 February 2017 at 3:18am, a standalone ATM on the forecourt was exploded and £23,000 was stolen;
Esso Lent Rise Service Station, Lent Rise Road, Burnham, 10 February 2017 at 3:50am the standalone was exploded and £10,000 was stolen; and
Texaco, Dovers Green Road, Reigate, Surrey, 21 February 2017 at 4:29am the standalone ATM was blown up and £440 stolen.
The trial concluded shortly after three other men were jailed for more than 30 years for attacks on ATMs in Leicestershire and neighbouring counties.