17:17 Wednesday 15 May 2013  Written by COURT REPORTER

Masked gang jailed for total of 54 years for raid on Langford brothers' farm

Members of a masked gang who subjected two elderly brothers to a violent robbery in their secluded Langford farmhouse have been jailed for a total of 54 years.

Edward and George Heathcote were terrorised by up to five men who burst into Hill Farm, in Langford, two days after they had raised £113,000 in an auction of farm machinery.

But, Luton Crown Court heard today (Wednesday May 15) that Edward, 75, and George, 68, had not received the money at the time their home was raided.

Prosecutor Will Noble said. “It was a well-planned, violent, well-organised robbery of people in their own home.”

The brothers had lived on the isolated farm, which is a mile from the village’s main road, since 1949. On October 19 last year, they held a sale that was attended by 400 people. The prosecutor said he could not say if any of the four robbers were at the auction, but when the raid was carried out the brothers had not received the proceeds.

Mr Noble said the Heathcotes were watching television at around 7pm on October 21 when their dog barked after hearing a noise. Edward went to investigate, but could see nothing and returned to the house. In fact, the gang had hot-wired the brothers’ Land Rover and used it to smash through the padlocked gates of the farmhouse.

Shortly afterwards, four or five men in balaclavas and wearing gloves burst in. Edward was hit on the head with a scaffold pole. They threatened to kill the brothers and said they would burn the house down. One robber said: “We want your guns. We want your thousands of pounds.”

One man stood over George, who had been pushed to the floor, while Edward was taken upstairs, bleeding profusely from his head.

Edward was made to hand over the keys to the gun safe. The bedroom was ransacked and six sawn-off single and double-barreled shotguns were taken, along with ammunition, £1,000 in old English bank notes and a walking stick with a dog’s head on it. One of the guns was worth £3,000. In all, £5,000 worth of property was taken.

As the gang left, they again threatened to burn the house down and set off a bird scarer detonator in the house, which filled with smoke.

Edward was treated for a two-inch wound to his head, pain to his ribs and groin and had swollen eyes. The brothers no longer feel safe in their own home, the court was told.

The police were able to track down the gang, as they had attached a device to a silver Audi A6 car that had been stolen from Potton. It had been found in an out-of-the-way location in St Neots two days before the robbery. A decision was made to track the car and the gang’s movements were monitored as they collected false number plates from an address in Peterborough.

When the alarm was raised after the raid, officers tracked the Audi as it drove off into Cambridgeshire and a high-speed chase began. The car stopped for just nine seconds in Fen Drayton where the guns, ammunition and walking stick were dumped. It was caught by the police in the village of Over, where it was rammed before being abandoned in a driveway. Three arrests were made that night.

Joseph Upton, 39, from Wisbech, Cambs, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rob on October 21 last year.

The other three defendants: John Smith, 38, from Upwell, Cambs; Albert Smith, 37, of Potton Travellers Site, Common Road, Potton; and Alfred Stanley, 35, of Sandon Close, Sandy, pleaded guilty to two robberies.

For Upton, Mark McDonald said the prosecution accepted he was not present when the violence was carried out. “He was involved in the planning and disposal of the items. He accepts the harm he has done,” he said. He said the married father of four accepted he had made a very bad mistake.

Patrick Maggs, for John Smith, said: “I acknowledge it was a tremendously ugly offence. He understands he did a terrible thing.”

Alison Morgan, for Alfred Stanley, said the father of five had got involved to try to secure finances for his family. “He now understands the impact of the crime on his victims. He is extremely sorry for the hurt and distress he has caused those two men,” she said.

For Albert Smith, Kevin Molloy said his remorse was genuine. He asked for credit for his client’s guilty plea, saying it meant the brothers did not have to go into the witness box. He said he has a wife and two children.

Judge Stuart Bridge told them: “It was a pre-meditated, cynical, violent and cowardly robbery at a remote farmhouse in the early evening.

“You terrified your victims. Both have suffered considerable psychological trauma. Both have found it very difficult to continue to live in the farmhouse where they have lived most of their lives. All of you deserve long prison sentences.”

All defendants received 13-and-a-half years in jail.

After sentencing, the judge commended the police operation. He said: “It was an outstanding police operation, intelligently carried out and carefully organised which showed skill, tenacity, bravery and a great deal of hard work.”

In particular, the judge praised the actions of Detective Sergeant Phill Gray, DC Stuart Dolan, DC Kate Mowles and police analysist Victoria Kitchingham.

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