DETECTIVES investigating the thefts of essential gas cylinders from hospitals across the region have welcomed gang's jailing.

The four thieves travelled from Norfolk to target three hospitals in the North East after already breaking into two other hospitals in the North West.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the professionally planned raids were carried out at a time of 'national crisis' in March just following the announcement of Covid lockdown restrictions in March.

Oliver Zak Henry Evans, 22, of Sandy Lane North, Wallington; Harry David Bradley Goodrum, 23, of Norwich Road, Dereham; Jake Alexander Roberts, 23, of Chestnut Hill, Norwich; and Wayne John Grady, 42, of Sallhouse Road, Panxworth, Norwich, all admitted a single charge of conspiracy to commit burglary.

The Northern Echo: The gang: Top left, Oliver Evans; top right, Harry Goodrum; bottom left, Jake Roberts; and bottom right, Wayne GradyThe gang: Top left, Oliver Evans; top right, Harry Goodrum; bottom left, Jake Roberts; and bottom right, Wayne Grady

Detective Constable Helen Hudson, from Durham Constabulary, welcomed the four year sentences passed down by Judge Paul Watson QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough.

“This was an absolutely despicable crime," she said.

“They deliberately targeted hospitals at a time when they were under enormous pressure because of the ongoing pandemic.

“These men showed complete disregard for anyone else when they removed these cannisters from the hospitals.

“Their actions could have posed a huge risk to the health and wellbeing of a significant number of people at a time when medical attention was needed.

“Hopefully this sentence will give these men the opportunity to think about their actions.

“We would like to thank our colleagues at North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Greater Manchester Police for their help and support with bringing these criminals to justice.”

The gang travelled to the North East and smashed their way into a storage unit at Chester-le-Street Community Hospital to steal more canisters in the early hours of the next day.

Similar thefts were also committed at Bishop Auckland Hospital and Darlington Memorial Hospital, where the gang took 14 canisters from the latter, and drove off with them in the back of a BMW fitted with stolen number plates.