Four gang members have been jailed after their ambitious ram-raid burglary of a discount store was aborted as alarms activated.

In what was described as a “well-planned, but unsophisticated” attempt to remove the safe from the manager’s office at Poundland in Bishop Auckland, probably based on "inside information", the quartet “sourced” vehicles to use in the raid and did a prior “recce” of the premises in Newgate Street.

Durham Crown Court heard that organiser Barry Nicholson and his “right-hand man”, Shaun Whittaker, travelled to Scotland to steal a Ford Transit van and drove it back to County Durham, in October 2019.

A few days later, Ryan Arthur Sutton and Paul Anthony Glynn stole a Manitou telehandler vehicle from an industrial estate in Coundon and that night the raid took place.

Read more: Poundland shop ram-raided with loader in Bishop Auckland

Helen Towers, prosecuting, said they smashed their way into the rear of the building, from Kingsway, with two masked men strapping the safe to the blade of the telehandler, intending to place it into the open rear doors of the waiting van.

But as alarms were activated at the premises and with police en-route, the gang “bolted” in a Ford Focus, belonging to a relative of Sutton, driving back to his mother’s address.

The Northern Echo: Stolen telehandler still in situ at rear of store after bid to steal safe from Poundland in Bishop Auckland in October 2019Stolen telehandler still in situ at rear of store after bid to steal safe from Poundland in Bishop Auckland in October 2019 (Image: Stuart Boulton)

The abandoned stolen vehicles were found at the scene with the safe, containing more than £20,000 in takings, still attached to the telehandler.

Miss Towers said the estimated damage to the store in the aborted raid was £34,716.

An investigation was launched and the gang members were implicated by a combination of phone communication, on the prosecution case that Nicholson was giving the directions.

Glynn’s DNA was found on the ignition of the telehandler, while further investigative work revealed the regular phone/messaging contact between the quartet before and after the attempted burglary.

All four were subsequently arrested and charged with conspiring to commit burglary.

Read more: Poundland boarded up following Bishop Auckland ram-raid

Twenty-nine-year-old Sutton, of Snowdon Crescent, Bishop Auckland, pleaded guilty at a plea hearing at the court in July last year.

Whittaker, 36, of Howard Close, Bishop Auckland, made his admission when the case was “mentioned” at court on August 31 last year.

Fifty-three-year-old Glynn, of Lambton Street, Langley Park, only put in his guilty plea on June 9, by which time he was in the early stages of a 19-year prison sentence for firearms offences, imposed at the court in April this year.

Forty-year-old Nicholson, of Lowther Road, Bishop Auckland, denied the burglary conspiracy charge, but was convicted after a trial concluding on Tuesday (June 20).

They were all sentenced at the court on Friday (June 23).

Recorder Tom Moran told the defendants: “This was a highly organised and planned offence and I have no doubt that the principle organiser was Mr Nicholson, although everyone played an important part."

Recorder Moran said they appear to have received “inside information” as to the location of the safe and both Nicholson and Whittaker were seen at the store on cctv on September 21, 2019.

“It wasn’t an innocent mission, it was a reconnaissance mission.”

He said Nicholson, the "organiser", kept the gang members informed of events as the various vehicles were “acquired” in readiness for the raid.

But the Recorder said he appeared to be trying to be conspicuous throughout events, in a bid to "distance" himself from the offence.

He said Nicholson has, “an appalling history of offending”, and sentenced him to four-and-a-half-years' imprisonment.

Whittaker, who Recorder Moran described as, "the right-hand man, involved with Nicholson in all crucial events” in the conspiracy, was given a three-year prison sentence.

Sutton was sentenced to 27 months in prison and Glynn was given an 18-month sentence to be served following completion of the 19-year firearms' sentence.

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Durham Police said this type of crime will continue to be investigated as part of the force’s involvement in Operation Sentinel, a partnership initiative targeting serious and organised crime across the region.

Detective Inspector Amanda Howe, said: “This was understandably a shocking incident for the residents of Bishop Auckland and it has been a lengthy investigation.

“I’d like to thank the staff whose diligent work and tenacious efforts brought about the charges to remove these criminals from our streets.”