A gang of burglars who targeted homes across West Sussex have been jailed for a total of more than 30 years.
A pond behind the home of Mark Coop and Robert Mayers became a dumping ground for items the thieves couldn’t sell but officers were able to link possessions dredged from the water to crimes across the county.
Coop and Mayers - along with Daniel Oliver, Darren Hebberd and Sam Beeney - broke into at least 14 homes in Worthing, Climping, Lancing, Ferring, Findon, Angmering, North Chailey and West Hoathly and used the victims’ own pillowcases or boxes to carry away their haul of jewellery and other items.
The crimes they have now been convicted of happened between June 2013 and June 2014.
Police first stopped the suspects in November and December 2013 in a blue Seat Leon. On each occasion officers searched the vehicles and found items that seemed out of place, including a pillowcase, a camera and a knife sheath.
Crime scene investigators were able to link fragments of glass on the men’s clothing to a broken door at a house in Findon and officers were able to link the Seat Leon to other crime scenes.
When a dog pulled a man’s jacket from a pond in Whitebeam Woods just yards from Mark Coop and Robert Mayers’ home in July 2014, a team from Sussex Police’s specialist search unit searched the water and recovered more than 850 items.
Thanks to work by detectives and calls from members of the public, officers were able to link items such as watches, necklaces and rings from the pond to six burglaries and to the offenders.
All five men were charged with conspiracy to commit 14 burglaries. They each pleaded guilty when they appeared at Brighton Magistrates’ Court and were sentenced when they appeared at Lewes Crown Court on Monday (6 July).
Oliver, 25, of no fixed address, was jailed for six years.
Hebberd, 21, of Church Way, Worthing, was jailed for four years and eight months.
Coop, 27, formerly of Whitebeam Road, Durrington, was jailed for seven years and 10 months after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary and a separate charge of burglary.
Mayers, 19, of Whitebeam Road, Worthing, was jailed for nine years after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary and separate counts of burglary, robbery, possession of a kitchen knife and possession of knuckledusters.
Beeney, 18, of Offington Drive, Worthing, is to be sentenced on 31 July at a court to be decided.
The picture shows (left to right) Coop, Mayers, Oliver and Hebberd.
Sussex Police launched Operation Magpie to tackle burglary across the county.
Detective Constable Emma Fields, from the force’s priority crime team, said: “The jailing of these men is a great result for their victims and for the residents of West Sussex.
“We were helped by the media publishing appeals and the public responding with information that meant we could show the gang were responsible for a series of burglaries.
“We have been able to link the men to more than a dozen burglaries.
“They were a prolific gang and having them off the streets for several years will reduce the chance of people becoming a burglary victim.”
If you have any information about burglaries, call 101 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For crime prevention advice visit www.sussex.police.uk.
If you see or hear a burglary taking place call 999 immediately.
Residents can also being encouraged to register their items on the world’s largest property database so that if they are stolen, they can be reunited with the owners - and so the offenders can be prosecuted.