Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wake

It is the most brazen of crimes that leaves the most visible destruction behind it. Yet ram-raiding remains a popular MO for Tyneside criminals willing to go to extreme lengths to get their hands on cash or goods. Using, often stolen, cars, vans or even diggers and tractors this is a crime which sees thieves plough their way into shops or businesses premises to steal from inside.

Then, with no thought of the sometimes dangerous damage they have left behind, they will make their getaway, often managing to successfully evade capture Police are today still hunting raiders who drove a car through the shutters of a Sainsbury’s Local shop in East Boldon, South Tyneside, just over a week ago.

A Sainsbury’s Local store on Station Terrace in East Boldon was damaged after a ram-raid

Northumbria Police’s Neighbourhood Sergeant for the area, Angela Lewis, has condemned the thieves, who struck at around 11.15pm on January 30 for putting lives at risk. She said: “We take this type of criminality incredibly seriously and will always look to take robust action against any offenders who endanger the lives of others and undermine the fabric of our communities for purely selfish gains.”

But why are criminals willing to take such big risks to get inside businesses, and how can crimes that cause so much carnage be so hard to detect?

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeA forensic officer at the Sainsbury’s Local in East Boldon

We asked one crime expert why ram-raiders continue to strike, and how the crime has changed since it rose to prevalence in the 1990s. Former Northumbria Police detective, Nigel Wilkinson, explained: “Low security targets, such as shops, as opposed to banks for instance, are relatively insecure to high force attacks. Which is a vehicle of course.

“The added attraction for thieves is the minimum personal contact between themselves and the main scene of crime, a shop. The car going through the front of the shop, and them only alighting to grab goods leaves a small forensic trace.”

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeRaid at Sainsbury’s shop in East Boldon

North East businesses were plagued by ram-raiders during the 1990s, when the region became known as the car-crime capital of the UK. But Nigel, now an associate at Newcastle-based GGL Consultancy and Training Solutions, explained that work to crack-down on the car thieves temporarily stopped the ram-raiders in their tracks.

“Back in the early 90s when ram-raiding was a problem in the North East, it was consistent with the North East being the car-crime capital of the UK,” he explained. “A lot of traditional work was done in the short term to defeat the primary crime of ram-raiding, but after that, beginning in the late 90s, the Government made a policy decision to reduce car theft by 30%.

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“This made it much harder to acquire the ‘tool’ of the theft; a powerful car. “This was also the era of partnership working, when police, particularly in Northumbria under Sir John Stevens, developed strategic partnerships to reduce crime. In this case, ‘target-hardening’ of premises that could be subject to ram-raiding.” However Nigel believes that the successful reduction of car-theft and ram-raiding 20 years ago meant that shops and businesses gradually stopped putting measures in the protect themselves.

And as car thieves find more high-tech ways to get around vehicle security devices, ram-raiding has returned. “Crime tends to be cyclical. When it is solved and then forgotten about potential victims do not include it in their security planning – which enables it to recur,” said Nigel. “Ram-raiding is a historical crime so less likely to be included in companies’ threat assessments.

Combined with the rise of thefts of powerful cars, as thieves now have the means to more easily circumvent electronic anti-theft devices on cars, e.g. remote electronic locking, and key to car code identification.” The Sainsbury’s Local store, on East Boldon’s Station Terrace, was targeted just 10 minutes after closing.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakePolice at scene of ram raid at East Boldon shop

Witnesses told The Chronicle how they watched on in shock as a vehicle with no registration plates was rammed into the shop’s shutters four times before eventually breaking through. Men, wearing hoods and scarves, were then seen to run into the shop before quickly emerging carrying bags and making their getaway.

A blue Subaru Forrester van, believed to have been used in the raid, was later found burnt out in a field off Newcastle Road. Sgt Lewis is urging anyone with information about the raid to get in touch. “Our investigation into the ram-raid at Sainsbury’s in East Boldon on the evening of January 30 is ongoing and detectives are currently carrying out a number of lines of enquiry,” she said.

“We would like to thank members of the public who have already contacted us and assisted officers with the investigation, and would ask anyone with information and who has yet to come forward to get in touch.” Last week’s ram-raid is the latest in a string of similar incidents across Tyneside.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeThe scene of a suspected ram raid at Flannels in Sunderland city centre

In July last year police were called when a car was seen ramming down the shutters at a designer clothes shop in Sunderland. After getting into the Flannels store, on Fawcett Street in the city centre at around 3am, the thieves stole a number of items before making off in two cars.

One of the vehicles, a silver Toyota Avensis, was later found by officers abandoned in the Walker area of Newcastle. A second vehicle, a black Peugeot 306, which is believed to have also been involved, is yet to be found along with those who carried out the heist.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeThe scene of a suspected ram raid at Flannels in Sunderland city centre

In March last year a shop in the Northumberland village of Stakeford was devastated by ram-raiders. Part of the shutters and window at the Best One shop, on North Crescent, were ripped off and smashed in the incident, which happened at just before 1.30am.

A cash machine at the convenience store was also damaged.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeScene at the Best One shop in Stakeford

Police said they believed three men used a flat-bed truck to damage the front of the shop, but failed to access the ATM machine. The vehicle was later found abandoned nearby, but the raiders remain at large. And the most brazen of heists was captured on CCTV last January when thieves used a car as a battering ram to get into Wallsend Forum shopping centre.

Footage shows ram-raiders plough through the mall’s doors and park outside the O2 phone shop.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeThe thieves drove the black car through Wallsend Forum shopping centre

The thieves break into the shop and stuff stock into a bag before leaving in the car. No one has yet been brought to justice And the ram-raiders who drove a dumper truck into a shop in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea to steal a cash machine, more than a year ago, also remain at large.

The stolen ruck was used to smash into the wall of the McColl’s shop in December 2018, leaving the inside of the store exposed and debris scattered across the street.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeRam raid at McColl’s in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

So how can police catch-up with these daring raiders and stop them in their tyre tracks? “What stops them can be broken down into prevention, intelligence and enforcement,” said Nigel. “Last time what worked for the police part of prevention was an increased number of high visibility patrols in high risk areas.

What worked for victims was strengthened architecture at the vulnerable front of premises and ‘stand-off’ devices, such as bollards on the pavement. “Intelligence, in addition to traditional use of informants, is the law-abiding majority who may see, or hear about, the sale of these stolen goods. They can contact the police directly or use Crimestoppers anonymously.

Hunting the brazen ram-raiders who leave a trail of destruction in their wakeRam raid at McColl’s in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

“Enforcement by the police usually comes in the form of dedicated teams so that all intelligence and evidence can be collated and analysed holistically.

“Enforcement from the courts requires the police, Crown Prosecution Service and prosecuting barrister to present all the aggravating factors of a case to the judge so she or he can sentence in strict accordance with the sentencing rules.”

Anyone with any information about any of these raids should call Northumbria Police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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