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A trio of men who used stolen shotguns to commit a string of armed robberies across Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire have been jailed for 55 years.
The gang carried out raids on homes and businesses across the three counties during a five-month crime spree that only ended thanks to coordinated work between Derbyshire and Staffordshire detectives.
Derby Crown Court heard how Benjamin Hughes and Jamille Marsh had carried out a string of armed robberies between August and November 2019.
The shotguns the gang used were stolen from the Twinlakes Theme Park, near Melton Mowbray, where Hughes and Marsh tied up and threatened to shoot a security guard in August 2019. A fire was started which caused £2m worth of damage and the pair made off with a substantial amount of cash - along with four shotguns.
The pair then used two of the stolen guns in a series of robberies across Moira, Sutton Coldfield and Burton.
In one of the most terrifying moments of what Judge Shaun Smith KC called a “reign of terror” the postmaster of Stretton Post Office was hit in the head with a crowbar as he fought with the pair, before they fired a shotgun into a wall.
They then tied the postmaster up, along with his wife and two children, before threatening to pull out his teeth.
They then carried out further break ins at two more post offices in Staffordshire – before they targeted a Domino’s pizza shop in Hilton where they stole a safe.
There was then a significant month-long break during which Hughes used his part of the stolen cash to fund a trip to Mexico.
Upon his return to the UK, Hughes recruited a third man to join the gang – Antonio Olivieri – and the brazen nature of their offending continued – along with the violence used.
Over the course of a few hours on the night of January 19 and the early hours of January 20 2020, the trio broke into the Bonnie Prince pub in Chellaston, the Tap House in Annwell, the Overseal Post Office, near Swadlincote, and forced their way into the flat of an elderly widow in Rolleston on Dove.
Five days later, on January 25, the gang struck in Staffordshire at the Cheadle Post Office, targeted another post office in Hollington before finally breaking into four separate premises in Hixon on January 29.
Detectives from Staffordshire and Derbyshire quickly linked the offences across both counties – as well as into Leicestershire – and began finding evidence about who may have been responsible.
In Derbyshire officers had combed the crime scenes for clues as to the identity of the masked men.
In Overseal the trio had left a trail of stolen cigarettes to a nearby street where they found a till receipt from Tap House in Ashby.
DC Matt Bullen, who led the Derbyshire Constabulary investigation into the trio’s offending said: “The first real break in the case came when a member of the public, who had seen the reports that the Overseal post office had been robbed, came forward to tell us that they had been overtaken by a VW Golf at around 6.45am on the Moira Road.
“As the car overtook him, he said he could see the boot was partially open and a bin liner was hanging out the back.
“After work to check vehicles in the area we were able to find a Golf that matched the description, and we had our first name.”
Ben Hughes, 38, had brought the car for cash on 18 January – just two days before the robberies – and used his own Facebook profile to arrange the purchase.
DC Bullen said: “A check of Hughes found that he had previous offences for burglaries and we felt that we were on the right track.
“Further investigation found that the same car had been in the Chellaston area on January 20 and, after asking colleagues in the region about similar offences, found it had also been in the Ashby area on the same night as well.”
On 31 January Hughes was arrested after he was spotted in another VW Golf that was being driven on false plates. Inside the car another vital piece of evidence was found – his phone.
Detective Sergeant Ritchie Parkins, who oversaw the case, said: “Thorough work on that phone then led us to Jamille Marsh and eventually Antonio Olivieri.
“When we were able to then look for other numbers and vehicles that were associated to them, we found more evidence of their criminality.
“We found evidence that placed Hughes and Marsh in the Hilton area two months before – the same night that a Domino’s pizza shop was burgled – and then in the Melbourne area on 19 January when the Sports Pavilion in Cockshut Lane was broken into.
At the same time the case was being built by officers in Derbyshire, across the border DS Alison Barker and a team of detectives were linking the Hughes and Marsh to the series of robberies in 2019.
DS Barker said: “Through some extremely thorough detective work the team were able to trace back through the crimes that the pair had carried out across Staffordshire in the second half of the year.
“From the incidents in Hixon a burnt-out Golf, that was linked to Hughes, was located – along with a sledgehammer that had been used at one of the incidents.”
With the pieces of the jigsaw beginning to fall into place Marsh and Olivieri were soon arrested, but there was still the matter of the guns.
A search of Hughes’ house in Woodville had recovered shotgun cartridges but not the firearms themselves.
However, some six months later a fishing bailiff was to make a surprising discovery at a pond in the Derby suburb of Heatherton.
DC Bullen said: “Out of the blue on 28 June 2020, there was a report that two sawn-off shotguns had been found in a bag in a pond that was just a quarter of a mile away from Marsh’s house.
“The guns matched exactly those used in the offences on 20 January – and after their serial numbers were checked were found to be a pair that had been stolen from the Twin Lakes estate during a robbery in August 2019.
“Phone evidence showed that Hughes and Marsh were in the Twin Lakes area on the day of the robbery, along with a vehicle linked to them.”
Hughes, Marsh and Olivieri were charged with the following offences:
The trio eventually pleaded guilty to all the charges and, after appearing at Derby Crown Court on Friday 27 January, were jailed for a total of 55 years.
Detective Inspector Dan Phillips from Derbyshire Constabulary, who led the CID team that investigated the crimes, said: “This was a complex and incredibly intensive investigation.
“Both DC Bullen and DS Parkins, along with assistance from across the force, were dogged in their enquiries. Their work alongside the excellent investigation by DS Alison Barker and her team in Staffordshire meant that the case against the trio was so strong that they had no other option than to admit their guilt.
“During the course of the investigation it was found that Hughes had recruited the other men to carry out the jobs – with Marsh using the money to support his young family after losing his job and Olivieri feeding a drug habit.
“Hughes on the other hand would jet off to Cancun in Mexico where he would live the high life on his criminal gains – before coming back to the UK to commit crimes to fund further trips across the Atlantic.
“I have no doubt that had we not been able to identify and arrest them they would have continued to carry out their crimes with no thoughts for the victims of their crimes, or the danger they were putting them in.
“Fortunately, nobody was seriously physically hurt during the incidents, however, the mental impact it has had on their victims has been profound.
“I hope that today’s sentencing brings them a degree of closure and comfort knowing that they will not be on the streets for many years to come.”