BBC show reveals how GMP tracked down ‘extremely dangerous’ gang
Police unearthing a violent burglary gang who stole more than GBP1m worth of goods and threatened police with sledgehammers has been highlighted in a new BBC documentary. Officers from GMP’s Oldham district helped track down a group of 13 criminals involved in 58 burglary and robbery offences across Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, West and South Yorkshire and Lancashire between July 2018 and May 2019. The group used weapons – namely sledgehammers – to threaten both members of the public and police officers when challenged.
: Man found unconscious at bus stop ‘attacked by another man who then fled scene’ At around 11.30pm on October 25th, 2018, 12 men armed with axes and wearing balaclavas pulled up in a convoy of cars outside Oldham’s Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre. The men then smashed their way into the front doors of the shopping complex before breaking into two mobile phone shops and stealing GBP38,500 worth of goods and causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.
The gang then fled off but officers in a police van were quickly on their tail. During the pursuit, a man got out of one of the cars and wielded an axe towards the van, smashing the front window just narrowly missing an officer’s face.
The gang broke into two phone shops at Oldham’s Spindles Town Square Shopping Centre (Image: BBC)
“It was a terrifying incident,” Detective Inspector Rachel Smith said in the latest episode of BBC’s Caught Red Handed. “I manage these police officers and I don’t want them to have to suffer that when they’re at work.”
A week later, three gang members were spotted on CCTV cameras wielding axes and crowbars outside Armstrong’s fish and chip shop in Shaw, Oldham. When police officers Olly Mayall and Craig Hannelly arrived at the scene, the three men tried to run away. As PC Hannelly chased the three men with a taser, PC Mayall saw another man.
He told the BBC programme: “I could see another male that Craig hadn’t seen that was running towards him with an axe so I knew his intention: he’s aiming to put an axe in my colleague’s head. “Then I just screamed at the top of my voice and shouted out as loud as I could “axe” and he turned and looked at me still with the axe in the air.”
The men then sprinted off. As the officers returned to their vehicle, they noticed a car parked up nearby that included a mobile phone, keys and an open beer can – which could help provide DNA clues to the suspects.
Tracking the insurance details of the vehicle, police were led to three suspects who were later arrested and interviewed. DI Smith said: “Bearing in mind at this point, these three are only linked to the one job at the Fish and Chip shop when there’s clearly a much larger group we need to target.” Another incident saw a couple try to stop a gang of men after seeing them trying to steal their cars.
In the process, the men drove at the victims and hit one of them. A few days later, the gang used a stolen Audi vehicle to steal a safe containing GBP13,000 from a restaurant.
BBC’s Caught Red Handed found out how police tracked down the ‘extremely dangerous’ gang. (Image: BBC)
A police officer spotted the stolen car parked up nearby in passing and arranged for a recovery truck to come and collect it. But, as the truck driver began to retrieve the vehicle, he was attacked by three men carrying sledgehammers.
The men smashed the windows of the truck and warned both the police officer and driver to back off before driving away in the stolen car. “To come and steal that car back was something I’ve never seen in my 22-year career,” DI Smith said. “Clearly, there was something in that vehicle that’s important, be it weapons, be in forensic evidence.”
Detective Inspector Rachel Smith (Image: BBC)
The severity of the crimes resulted in a strikeforce being set up across the North West and Yorkshire called Operation Hansford.
24 hours after stealing the car from the recovery truck, the gang were spotted in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire after a burglary at a Co-op where they stole a ‘sack-load’ of cigarettes. A police helicopter was soon able to track the gang down in a vehicle on the A672. The four men tried to make a run for it but two were apprehended after police punctured the car’s tyres with a spike device.
The other two men were later caught and arrested. “We had a breakthrough here,” DI Smith told the BBC show. “These four were different offenders to the three that we previously dealt with.”
The men were jailed after police launched Operation Hansford (Image: GMP)
During the arrests, officers seized a number of mobile phones from the men.
One was a ‘gold mine’ of evidence and helped police crack the case. The phone contained incriminating text messages, photos of stolen goods and videos bragging about the crimes. “You don’t expect to get that level of evidence from one item,” DI Smith said.
“It led to evidence on a much wider scale linking them to 58 offenses.” Last year, 13 men were charged for varying roles in the crimes and were sentenced to a combined 118 years, the BBC show reported. DI Smith said: “They’ve stolen over GBP1.5m worth of property and caused over GBP230,000 worth of damage.
“Not to mention all the hurt and fear that they’ve struck into the people that came across them when they were committing the crimes.” She added: “The investigation identified 13 offenders that were linked in various roles. “We could see people’s phones coming together at certain times when crimes were committed.
“It felt great that we were getting all the evidence together.”
Caught Red Handed airs on BBC and is also available to watch on iPlayer. You can watch the episode here.
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