A GANG of thieves who burgled homes, ram raided shops and stole vehicles during a nine month crime spree have been jailed.

A total of five men will all serve time behind bars for their involvement in 52 offences which occurred across the south east, including in Halstead, Braintree and Maldon, between March and November last year.

Among the list of crimes was the ram raid of the Co op shop in Colchester Road, Halstead, on August 7, 2018.

The crooks used a lorry to smash their way through the front wall of the shop before snatching a cash machine inside and fleeing.

The ATM and three vehicles, including a rare postal van which had been stolen from a garage nearby, were all recovered by police.

Following an extensive joint investigation by Essex, Kent and the Metropolitan Police, five men were arrested and then charged.

Having admitted or been convicted of their crimes, they were sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court.

Alfie Smith, 41, of Staines Road West, Ashford, Alfie Stanley, 41, of Beech Drive, Cambridgeshire, and Levi Smith, 36, of Yeldham Road, Halstead, all admitted the charges brought against them and were jailed for 14 years and eight months, seven years and eight months, and six years respectively.

Kiah Roberts, 42, of Glamorgan Road, Ipswich, initially denied the offences but admitted one count of residential burglary just before trial. He was jailed for 15 months.

Alfie Smith and Stanley also admitted to another charge of aggravated criminal damage. They were jailed for a further two years and eight months each, to run consecutively to their original sentences.

Jimmy Broomfield, 32 of Yeldham Road, Halstead, was charged with conspiracy to commit a residential burglary, conspiracy to commit a non-residential burglary and conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle in relation to offences between June 27 and August 7, 2018. He denied the offences but was convicted and sentenced to five years behind bars.

Speaking after sentencing, Det Con John Richards from the Met’s Flying Squad, said: “This group of individuals showed a complete disregard for the owners and occupiers of the houses they stole from. Moreover, the danger they put the public and themselves in whilst committing these ram raids was mindless.

“It is only through sheer luck that nobody was injured.”

“They were responsible for causing large amounts of damage to local businesses resulting in large financial losses, and on many occasions the damage to property has been such that the business had to close down, causing a loss of jobs.”