POLICE officers who brought down a gang of boys who "traumatised" victims and "besmirched" their neighbourhood when they stole cars and burgled homes to the value of £200,000 have been praised for their work.
Members of Sussex Police’s Brighton Organised Crime Investigation Team were responsible for bringing an 11-strong gang of boys as young as 16 from the Whitehawk estate to justice.
During sentencing last week, Judge Anthony Scott-Gall praised the team and Detective Constable Jane Walker.
He recommended them to Chief Constable Giles York for a commendation after a four-month long investigation to capture the youths trying to sell stolen property valued at £209,000.
At a trial for two of the gang members in August, the court was played recordings and video footage of the youngsters taking part in the racket which they ran as a business, using the money to buy cigarettes and cannabis.
The undercover officers earned an introduction to the gang after handing out leaflets offering cash for second- hand goods.
Some were later caught on camera sealing a deal for a stolen car with an undercover officer and others phoned them to offer up other items for sale before they were arrested and charged.
On Saturday The Argus revealed each boy’s involvement in the ring, the extent of their crimes and their punishments.
Today, the officers behind the operation speak exclusively about to explain how they brought the gang to justice.
VITAL, CLANDESTINE WORK OF UNDERCOVER OFFICERS
WHEN detectives launched Operation Barge they did not know what they were going to find.
They knew homes were being burgled and cars stolen but not where the goods were going.
So they left bait in the form of leaflets offering cash for second hand goods and waited to see who would bite.
In addition to last week’s sentences, which saw an 11-strong gang of teenagers brought to justice, police detectives told The Argus the tactic secured a further 20 convictions for selling stolen goods.
But the biggest fish the leaflet drop netted was Marcus Nye, who led undercover officers to discover a stolen goods ring run as a business by 11 Whitehawk youths.
Over four months between November 2014 and March 2015, officers built up a full sequence from the theft or burglary, to the conspiracy to sell on the stolen goods.
Detective constable Jane Walker, of the Brighton Organised Crime Investigation Team, told The Argus: “We went into it with quite an open mind, not really knowing what we would find. The officers were sent into Brighton city centre to get themselves known.
“We knew burglary was taking place and the impact on victims but not really knowing who was committing the sprees, where the goods went or who was handling the stolen goods.
“We wanted to gather information, find out who had bought or kept the goods and targeted areas where they would try to sell them.
“We didn’t know what we were going to find. The officers just went with the leaflets and left their contact details on the bottom. The key behind this was it offered people the opportunity to contact us. It was just a matter of time until someone did.”
They picked busy shopping areas such as London Road and St James’s Street with cash converter-style stores.
Some of the leaflets attracted sellers offering reputable goods but it was a successful way of attracting the criminals too.
When Marcus Nye picked up a flyer and provided the contact name to associates it earned undercover officers “Mo” and “Manny” an introduction into a group. Many were already prolific offenders and had records stretching back a number of years. It was more for fun than for money although they made a bit of money out of it too, DC Walker said.
What followed was a period of months during which the officers earned the trust of the gang, taking phone calls, sharing texts and meeting to view cars and other items before sealing a deal. This allowed the undercover officers to work out who played what role in the conspiracy, how the gang operated and piece together clues to find their victims.
In total the team made contact with 11 youths, establishing who were the leaders, the second in command and the others who were just “dragged along” for the ride.
The detectives discovered a pattern, a “snap shot, but a very detailed one”.
The investigation uncovered 31 offences, ten burglaries – nine of which involved cars being stolen – nine thefts from cars and cars being taken from streets or driveways.
Around 20 cars were recovered during the operation and the crimes affected around 31 different families.
DC Walker said the crimes had a “shocking effect” on the victims, many vulnerable.
Two undercover officers and a team of detectives were headed up by senior investigating officer Julie Wakeford and led by DC Walker with detective sergeant Ariana Giles worked on the case.
It would consume the team for four to five days a week over the four months. Once information led to stolen property, uniformed officers were despatched to recover it.
The arrests were carried out simultaneously so the defendants could not warn each other, and involved 50 officers raiding ten addresses.
Even when some were in custody, others picked up the pieces and carried on undeterred.
DC Walker said: “One of them going inside did not stop the rest of them. We found everyone we wanted to find but if we had not taken action they would have just carried on and found other means.
“They’ve obviously had people they can sell to previously. They have no respect for the law.”
In court judge Anthony Scott-Gall spoke of most of the defendants coming from “wholly broken homes”.
A handful were supported by their parents and came from a stable family.
“You can see some had a hard upbringing with no parental control,” Judge Scott-Gall said.
“But when we met some of the other parents it became clear they just want to stop their lads from behaving this way. Some had just been following the actions of their friends. There is hope for some of them. We are hopeful two or three of them might change their ways.”
During sentencing the judge told the boys if they ever appeared in court again they would face even more severe consequences.
Meanwhile DC Walker left a warning to the ones who go away: “There were other friends we didn’t come across during the four months. They were lucky – don’t think we didn’t notice you.”
MEMBERS OF THE GANG
Marcus Nye, 22, of Chelwood Close, and Henry King, 19, of Ninfield Place, Brighton, were convicted of conspiracy to convert criminal property after a jury found them guilty. Both received 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, and were ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Wiliam Westein, 19, of Blackman Street; Guiseppe Baker, 19, of Romsey Close; Bradley Martin, 20, of Plaistow Close; Dylan Lovatt, 18, of Ninfield Place; Harry Hall, 18, of Moulsecoomb Way; Jake Hall, 19, of Widdicombe Way; Harry Avis, 17, of Swanborough Drive; and a 17-year old boy, all of Brighton, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to convert criminal property.
Westein was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, Martin and Lovatt to nine months’ imprisonment suspended for two years, Harry Hall to 12 months’ imprisonment in a young offenders’ institution, Jake Hall to six months imprisonment and Avis to a 24 month detention and training order.
Previously Avis could not be identified by court order but this was lifted after The Argus challenged the decision.
The 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given a nine month youth rehabilitation order.
Lewis Gent, 22, of Robertson Road, admitted two counts of handling stolen property and was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment suspended for two years and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.