TWO men with previous convictions for targeting gaming machines in licensed premises in the North East spread their field of crime to West Yorkshire, a court heard.

Rhys Stobbart, 27, and 30-year-old Kevin Skelton were among a number of men involved in previous crimes in pubs and clubs in the region, where fruit machines were emptied of cash by offenders gathering round them apparently playing legitimately, while staff were distracted at the bar.

The pair were subject to criminal behaviour orders (CBOs) forbidding them, “engaging in groups of two or more near any gaming machine”, following a 2019 conviction.

But they were back before Durham Crown Court having been arrested in Leeds, following further offences of a similar nature, late last year.

Stobbart had already, by then, committed a similar offence at the Apollo Bingo Hall, in Sherburn Road, Durham, on July 12, last year, six weeks after being made subject of a suspended prison sentence for motoring offences.

Chris Wood, prosecuting, said he and an unkown female entered apparently inquiring about membership.

While that was being dealt with, Stobbart turned his attention to slot machines in the premises, which he managed to smash and remove £400 in coins, placing them in plastic cups and causing £288-worth of damage in the process.

Dr Wood said Stobbart was involved in other thefts, of £100 and an amount unknown, from Quick Silver and the Viaduct Showbar, in Leeds, on October 20 and November 2, respectively, last year.

Stobbart, Skelton and an unknown third male entered Walkabout, in Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, at about 2pm, on December 22.

Dr Wood said while their accomplice distracted bar staff, Stobbart and Skelton forced open a fruit machine and removed money, putting it in a bag, before all left.

The incident was captured on CCTV and the trio were later spotted in a white BMW, bearing false number plates, with Stobbart at the wheel despite being disqualified from driving.

His erratic driving around the car park led to concerns for shoppers and other pedestrians in the car park, of which police had blocked the exit and entry point.

Dr Wood said in trying to evade police, Stobbart drove over the foot of an officer, who escaped uninjured.

The car was eventually abandoned as the trio tried to escape on foot.

When Stobbart was detained he was found in possession of a padlock, grips and £85 in coins taken from Walkabout earlier.

Skelton was also arrested and struggled both outside and once placed in a police vehicle, injuring an officer’s fingers.

Read more: Organised crime group convicted after stealing £40k from gaming machines

Stobbart, of South View, Craghead, near Stanley, admitted four offences of theft, plus dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, and assaulting an emergency worker, putting him in breach of both the suspended sentence and the CBO.

Skelton, of Front Street, Perkinsville, near Chester-le-Street, admitted theft and assaults on emergency workers, as well as the breach of the CBO.

Judge Ray Singh said he was sentencing them, “for a whole host” of criminal offending and breaches of court orders, to which he said they paid only, “lip service”.

Stobbart was given a total prison sentence of 34 months, with a 41-month driving ban, while Skelton received a one-year sentence.

The judge also made a deprivation order of the BMW seized by police after Stobbart’s arrest in Leeds.

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