BOOKIE STAFF CATCH LONDON GANG - Wednesday 16th of May 2007

Members of a west London gang who stole from 85 bookmakers were caught thanks to the vigilance of staff at a Derby betting shop.

The 16-strong crew made more than £55,000 in the scam against Ladbrokes shops from Yorkshire to Devon.

Ladbrokes staff in Derby were instrumental in ending the four-month scam after three members of the gang tampered with a cash quest machine in the St Peters Street shop last October. They got away with £1,255.

Manager Simon Gilbert, 26, and cashier Brad Snape, 21, realised the equipment had been interfered with after the men left the shop and immediately called the police.

Derbyshire police established that the gang were from London, leading to an investigation by the Metropolitan police.

In November, officers swooped on 13 addresses in Paddington and arrested gang members. Eight of them were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court this week, with the ringleaders receiving jail terms.

Working in groups of three to six, the crooks devised a way of plundering a gaming machine only used by the betting chain.

While some of the thieves surrounded the Cash Quest machine, another gang member would split the plastic cover on the front of the terminal to gain access to the internal workings.

Prosecutor David Hewitt said: "This would, in effect, fool it into producing vouchers which could be exchanged for cash."

The court heard that nowhere was safe from the gang, which hit as many as five shops a day.

Often high on cocaine, the men would travel by car or train to a variety of destinations during their four- month blitz.

Judge Paul Dodgson said: "This was a sustained period of offending over about four months in which no less than 85 betting shops were the victims of thefts. I do take into account, however, that no violence and no threat of violence was used in the offences."

After the hearing, Mr Gilbert said the men had distracted members of staff by chatting to them.

He said: "It wasnt until theyd gone that we noticed the note acceptance slot on the machine had been broken.

"Im pleased theyve been prosecuted."

Because of the gang, Ladbrokes has replaced every one of the terminals in the country with more secure versions.

At this weeks hearing, Denzil Rochester, 19, Christopher Melim, 19, Ashley Hutchinson, 19, Sean Murphy, 26, Stephen Koya, 29, Lee Johnston, 33, Mark Riley, 24, Shane McCleod, 22 and David Carey, 22, all pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to steal between July 18 and October 30.

Rochester, Riley and Koya were jailed for 12 months. Melim, McCleod and Hutchinson were ordered to complete 150 hours community work.

Johnston was given an 18- month community supervision order and Carey was given an eight-month sentence.

Murphy is being assessed for possible drug treatment.

The remaining gang members will discover their fate at a date to be decided next month after also admitting conspiracy to steal.

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