Gang's year-long terror spree
PUBLISHED: 22:26 19 September 2006 | UPDATED: 11:41 22 October 2010
Rocky Buckley and his gang of travellers robbed and ram raided their way around East Anglia in a year-long spree of terror. They stole £500,000 in cash and did £500,000 damage to shops and properties across Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex, before the net closed in.
Rocky Buckley and his gang of travellers robbed and ram raided their way around East Anglia in a year-long spree of terror.
They stole £500,000 in cash and did £500,000 damage to shops and properties across Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex, before the net closed in.
“We are dealing with professionals here. We are not dealing with boys doing these things on the spur of the moment,” prosecutor Brian Farmer told the court early on in the trial of Buckley, who lived on a traveller's site in Meadow Road, Willingham, Cambs.
Despite their youth, these were men who did not baulk at 130mph car chases or pointing a shotgun at a bystander during a robbery in Essex, in November 2004, and warning: “Stay away - or you'll get it.”
“They were sophisticated, organised criminals - some of them quite young in age,” said DS Graham Moss, of Suffolk police, who worked on the combined police operation to catch the gang, dubbed Operation Arctic. “Some of them had no previous convictions.”
All in their 20s, with the exception of one member who was just 17 at the time of his arrest, the gang had two specialities.
One was armed robbery, confronting terrified staff in village stores and post offices, tooled up with sawn-off shotguns and pickaxe handles.
The other was stealing 4x4s and smashing them into shops which contained the small, freestanding cashpoints, before making off with the entire machine.
From the summer of 2004 until their arrest, Buckley and his gang - Barry Street, 22, of Skelton's Drove, Beck Row, Mildenhall; Stacey Smith, 22; John Smith, 23; John Curtis, 29 and Thomas Curtis, 23; all of Kirkham's Lane, Wisbech and Rocky Curtis, 18, of March - were linked to up to 60 robberies, ram raids and break-ins.
One of the worst-hit communities was the village of Dersingham, in West Norfolk, where a newsagent's, a Spar convenience store and Budgen's supermarket were attacked within months - while the gang were not charged in connection with the latter raid, police believe they were also behind an attack in which a tipper truck was literally driven through its walls, before a cashpoint was stolen.
Hearing the sound of breaking glass in November 2004, newsagent Michael Rivers, the owner of Dersingham News, ran downstairs with his son to confront the intruders, who attacked them with pickaxe handles before fleeing the scene empty-handed.
Later that night Budgen's stores in Fakenham and Dereham were ram raided.
Two weeks later, on December 7, four men burst into the Post Office at Budgens in Fakenham, Norfolk, armed with sawn-off shotguns and escaped with between £25,000 and £30,000.
Violent threats were made to customers and staff and a glass partition was smashed. One customer was so terrified he collapsed.
In the New Year, the gang switched their attentions to Jaywick, in Essex, where they escaped with an ATM machine containing £10,000, after a text-book ram raid.
Eleven days later Dairy Stores at Great Cornard, in Essex, was targeted. Armed with a sawn-off shotgun, an axe and a sledgehammer, the gang threatened customers and assaulted before they fled with £1,400.
In January 2005, a hand-picked team of detectives from four forces had been assembled under the leadership of Det Chief Insp George Barr, from Cambridgeshire police, under the umbrella of Operation Arctic.
Working from an incident room at Bury St Edmunds, the 28-strong team of officers investigated a total of 32 robberies, 67 cashpoint thefts, 42 smash and grab raids and 126 vehicle thefts, where getaway cars or vehicles used as battering rams were stolen.
As the raids continued throughout the summer of 2005 - sometimes at the rate of three a night - the gang might have thought they were invincible.
During Buckley's trial, Mr Farmer highlighted their professionalism, as he showed the jury CCTV footage of a raid on a Spar store in Ipswich, in early 2005.
“The members of the gang acted very systematically together as a team. Nobody is running around wondering what to do, everybody knows what to do.
“They are going out together and coming back together. They are fulfilling the opposite role to shelf fillers in supermarkets - they are deliberately choosing the shelves they empty.”
At the height of the gang's violent campaign, more than 100 delegates including police and representatives from banks, the Post Office and cash machine companies met to discuss ways of combating the crime wave.
Shop staff were warned to empty ATM machines at night and watch for any strangers who may have been gang members casing their premises.
Police moved in September 2005, raiding traveller's sites in Wisbech, Willingham and Mildenhall. More than 500 officers, many of them armed, took part in the operation.
Buckley's co-defendants admitted conspiracy to rob, conspiracy to commit robbery with a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles, between June 1, 2004 and May 24, 2005.
While Buckley admitted his part in around 20 ram raids and stealing vehicles for use in the attacks, he claimed in court he drew the line at armed robbery.
He claimed whenever there was talk of carrying out an armed robbery, he told other gang members: “Leave me out - I'm happy with smash and grabs and ram raids.”
Buckley told the jury he had never owned a shotgun, adding: “I made it clear that armed robbery wasn't for me, there was too much at stake.”
Just how much was at stake was revealed in a taped conversation between Buckley and another defendant, in which he confirmed he had taken part in the armed raid in Fakenham.
Mr Farmer said: “You told him what you thought the sentence might be for armed robbery. You said: 'I'm telling you now, you get ten years for that.”
All that now remains to be seen is whether the judge proves him right at their next meeting.
t Stores which were ram-raided or robbed by the gang in Norfolk included Budgens, at Harleston; Fakenham and Dereham, Dersingham News and Spar, at Dersingham, Spar at St Germans; Fincham Store, Fincham; Countryside Services, Bale, near Fakenham and Parkside Garage, Thursford.
Premises targeted in Cambridgeshire included Co-op stores in Isleham, Soham, Fordham and Burwell, and a Spar at Haddenham.
Premises targeted in Suffolk included Co-ops, at Clare, Long Melford, Bungay and Woolpit, and Dairy Stores, Great Cornard and Spar in Reynolds Road, Ipswich. The gang were also linked to a string of raids in Essex.
t Thomas Curtis admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle, conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle.
John Smith admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle.
Barry Street admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and conspiracy to burgle.
Stacey Smith admitted conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle.
John Curtis admitted conspiracy to commit robbery in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and conspiracy to burgle.
Rocky Curtis admitted one count of money laundering.