Raids near Harrogate - Video shows police catching burglars hiding up a tree

Three “professional” thieves have been jailed following a quick-fire series of raids on farmsteads near Harrogate in which thousands of pounds’ worth of tools and other items were stolen.

Monday, 24th February 2020, 2:36 pm
Updated Monday, 24th February 2020, 2:36 pm

The masked gang - travelling in a “pick-up-type” 4x4 said to have been stolen - targeted isolated properties on a “burglary expedition” in the tiny hamlet of Plompton where they broke into outbuildings and bagged more than £2,000 of loot.

At least one of the victims spotted the raiders circling his property in balaclavas in the dead of night, York Crown Court heard. They then sped off, sparking a chase involving the police helicopter and dog unit.

Prosecutor Rob Galley said the 4x4 went off-road during the pursuit and the three men - Abraham Fox, 28, William Lowther, 48, and 29-year-old Ross Sutcliffe, all from Bradford - ran off into a field.

Ross Sutcliffe.

Officers unleashed police dog ‘Bobby’ who sniffed out Lowther hiding under a footbridge below the A1. Fox and Sutcliffe were found hiding up a tree. They were both shoeless after discarding their boots nearby.

They were arrested and each charged with three counts of burglary and one of aggravated vehicle-taking. They each admitted all the burglary offences, which occurred on January 15, but denied taking the vehicle, which was said to have been stolen in November last year.

The prosecution accepted their pleas and the three men appeared for sentence on the burglary charges on Friday. Mr Galley said the masked gang had targeted isolated properties looking for rich pickings including steel saws and long bolt croppers.

One of the named victims said she and her husband were woken by their dog barking in the early hours and found their garage and barn had been broken into. The raiders had stolen over £2,000 of items including ski boots worth £1,500, a high-pressure washer, a petrol strimmer and even a disco ball.

William Lowther.

The victim said that until the raids, she and her husband felt “safe and secure” in their “dream home” near Plumpton Rocks. “Since the incident, my partner and I have hardly slept,” she added. “We have had to (upgrade) home security at great cost to us.”

The raiders quickly moved on to a farm in Low Grange where they plundered over £400 of items including tools, a strimmer and bolt croppers, and damaged a workshop window.

The named victim, a livestock farmer, said he was now worried about the lambing season and feared that “someone could be watching us (and) planning (further offences)”.

The third victim said he could see the masked gang on CCTV and had to spend over £3,000 on security following the raids.

Abraham Fox.

Mr Galley said police were alerted at about 3.20am and spotted the Toyota around the A1 near Wetherby. The gang sped away and a police car was struck during the pursuit, but then the police helicopter took over the chase.

The Toyota was found abandoned in a lane off the A1 after going off-road, in among woodland near Kirk Deighton and Wetherby Service Station. Heat-detection cameras used by police air support spotted the victims in a field and directed officers to the fugitives.

Officers found the stolen items, as well as break-in tools, inside the Toyota. The three men were brought in for questioning but initially claimed they were out on the night in question after “losing a dog” while lamping.

Fox, of Rowanwood Gardens, Bradford, had a record dating back 14 years for offences including “Hanoi-style” burglaries, aggravated vehicle-taking and dangerous driving. He was on prison licence at the time of the raids in Plompton.

Bobby the police dog.

Lowther, of Copgrove Road, had a record dating back nearly 30 years including theft, damaging property, threatening behaviour and cruelty to animals.

Sutcliffe, of Stirling Crescent, also had a long rap sheet including conspiracy to burgle and handling stolen goods. He was also on prison licence.

Defence counsel for the three defendants urged judge Sean Morris to keep the sentences to a minimum.

The judge described the burglary spree as a “professional expedition”. He said it must have been “absolutely terrifying” for the victims, adding: “To be woken up in a remote farm, to look out of a window or (at) CCTV and see three men lurking around your property in balaclavas, must have been traumatic.”

He told the defendants: “Setting off from Bradford, you were tooled up, (wearing) balaclavas (and you targeted) isolated farmsteads where people actually worked. It was like a shop to you.”

Ross and Fox were each jailed for 32 months. Lowther was jailed for 28 months because he had no previous convictions for burglary.