Gang of ‘brazen’ burglars jailed for a total of 29 years after stealing luxury cars

A gang of ‘brazen’ burglars including a convicted killer on prison licence have been jailed after carrying out a series of break-ins to grab high-value vehicles worth nearly £750,000.

Families across Kent and south east London were left terrified by the ‘vile and immoral invasions’, often carried out as they slept.

The thieves, wearing ski masks or balaclavas and armed with axes or crowbars, targeted 29 homes in the space of three months and stole 39 vehicles – including several Mercedes, BMWs and VW Golfs.

At times, more than one car would be taken from a property and then driven away in convoy, having already been fitted with false plates. A stolen vehicle would also be used to commit other thefts.

The raiders were also audacious enough to carry out several break-ins in one night or even target neighbouring properties.

In a bizarre twist of fate, two of the gang later found themselves behind bars with the husband of one of their victims and were made to ring her to apologise.

The grovelling call was said to have been ‘organised’ by the fellow inmate, serving 17-and-a-half years for drug smuggling offences, who discovered the pair had confronted his terrified wife in an attempt to steal her Audi Q7 outside the home she shared with their young child in Dartford, Kent.

On Monday at Maidstone Crown Court, convicted killer Michael Johnson, 21, his brother Alfie Johnson, 22, and fellow siblings Rikki, 23, and Danny Webb, 21, were jailed after pleading guilty to conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal vehicles worth £722,000.

Michael Johnson, who lives on a traveller site in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, was locked up for seven years

Michael Johnson, who lives on a traveller site in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, was locked up for seven years

Fifth gang member Oliver Cooke, 22, admitted one offence of burglary, four of attempted burglary and one of theft – all committed on November 5, their final night of crime.

The men, except Alfie Johnson who has no criminal record, have a staggering 149 previous offences between them, including numerous burglaries and some dating back 10 years despite their youth.

Michael Johnson, who lives on a traveller site in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, was locked up for seven years.

The convicted killer, described by his barrister as ‘impulsive and illiterate’, reacted angrily to the sentence and twice branded Judge David Griffith-Jones QC ‘a mother’s c**t’.

The court heard he was on licence at the time from a five-year and three-month prison term imposed in 2017 for manslaughter, theft and dangerous driving.

Johnson was just 17 when he killed stable handyman Trevor Hadlow, 70, during a trailer theft from Capstone Stud Farm in Gillingham, Kent, in November 2016.

He was towing the stolen vehicle in a van, while unlicensed and uninsured, when it struck a gate, causing it to swing back and hit the pensioner, who then suffered a fatal head injury on falling to the ground.

Ricky Webb

Oliver Cooke

Families across Kent and south east London were left terrified by the ‘vile and immoral invasions’, often carried out as they slept (pictured left: Ricky Webb. Right: Oliver Cooke)

Just four months earlier, the teenager had run over a traffic warden trying to give him a parking ticket in Eastchurch High Street.

Alfie Johnson, a pub barman from Leysdown, Sheppey, was jailed for five years and three months.

Rikki Webb, from Sittingborne, Kent, was jailed for six years and nine months.

He was also on licence at the time for burglary and theft offences, and became a father for the second time three weeks ago while in custody.

Dad of three Danny Webb, said to be of no fixed address, was jailed for six years and five months.

Cooke, from Orpington, Kent, and who also missed the birth of his child while on remand, was sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment.

He and Danny Webb were arrested following a police pursuit in a stolen Mini bearing false plates and were the gang members who made the apologetic prison call.

The court was told the prosecution was unable to say who, if any of the defendants, was the ‘mastermind or ringleader’.

But on jailing the men, Judge Griffith-Jones said they had been part of ‘an organised criminal team in a concerted, professional, carefully planned and implemented operation.’

‘Burglary of a dwelling house is a vile and immoral offence, the seriousness of which has to be marked not just because of the value of items taken – here, in most cases, considerable – but also for the fact it involves the invasion of the owner’s most precious, personal space – their home,’ he said.

Danny Webb

Alfie Johnson

The court was told the prosecution was unable to say who, if any of the defendants, was the ‘mastermind or ringleader’ (pictured left: Danny Webb. Right: Alfie Johnson) 

‘A place where they ought to feel safe and secure. Such a violation is always liable to be disturbing and unsettling. Indeed, it is clear that such distress was caused to many here.

‘The fact each of you was only too willing to break into people’s houses and take items of value and personal belongings, and to do so for your own personal enrichment, reveals something about each of you as a human being which is both troubling and depressing.’

Houses in Eltham, Chislehurst, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Sevenoaks, Chipstead, Keston, West Kingsdown, Edenbridge, Hildenborough, Dartford, New Ash Green, Strood, Cliffe, Twydall, Hempstead and Faversham were targeted between August and November last year.

As well as stealing vehicles, the homes were often ransacked and other items including house keys, televisions, cash, golf clubs and bank cards were nabbed.

Damage was also caused to doors, windows, CCTV equipment and video-recording doorbell systems.

One brave homeowner who confronted the gang as they stole his Camper van from his driveway was threatened into ‘backing off’ by a crowbar-wielding thug.

Prosecutor Danny Moore told the court: ‘This was a conspiracy to burgle houses and steal cars, mostly using the keys stolen from the burgled houses.

‘The conspirators worked mostly at night when the occupiers were asleep in their beds, caused damage to their houses, and left them scared. 

‘They were at times brazen, willing to take as many vehicles as they could and dump cars if they had to.

‘They were masked, CCTV-aware, and also tried to reduce the chances of leaving forensic links, but didn’t always succeed.

‘They were also aware that police could track number plates so would, on occasion if they could, change the number plates on the stolen vehicles, as well as the vehicles they were using to travel to the crime venues.’

One particularly untidy burglary left a homeowner describing his property as being hit by ‘a wave of waste’, others were said to be feeling ‘on edge and paranoid’, while children feared ‘the return of the men’, said Mr Moore.

The five men were eventually linked to the crime spree through a combination of eyewitness accounts, automatic number plate recognition cameras, mobile phone data, surveillance and, on occasion, their ‘distinctive and discernible’ clothing.

DNA and fingerprints matching some of the defendants were also found on a variety of items including a discarded balaclava, rubber gloves, a steering wheel, plastic carrier bag and even an inflated airbag following a smash involving a stolen Mercedes.

Danny Webb’s phone also contained internet searches relating to stolen cars, said the prosecutor.

He was arrested with Cooke after trying to steal the Audi from a property in Dartford at approximately 1.20am on November 5 last year.

Mr Moore said the householder, Louise Atkins, was confronted by a masked man at her front door and three or four others standing by a neighbour’s fence.

Terrified they would break-in, she locked her home and called police.

Webb and Cooke were arrested less than an hour later following another attempted burglary in nearby West Kingsdown and remanded in custody.

Two days later they phoned Mrs Atkins to apologise.

‘Her husband was in prison with them and effectively had organised a telephone call between Webb, Cooke and Mrs Atkins so they could reassure her that all they were doing was trying to steal the vehicle and nothing else,’ said Mr Moore.

‘She was obviously very worried about masked men being at the premises.

‘They apologised to her and told her they were targeting the vehicle.’

Detective Constable Nicola Emery of Kent Police who investigated the case, said: ‘The offenders each played a part in burglaries which caused a huge amount of distress to the victims.

‘Their offending was exceptionally prolific, and I am of little doubt that more crimes would have been committed if they were not apprehended when they were.

‘The sentencings imposed are a fantastic result for residents across Kent and surrounding areas. It sends a clear message that we have the resources and expertise to bring organised offenders to justice.’

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