IT WAS a planned attack that brought misery to two Hampshire neighbourhoods.
Under the cover of darkness, the gang crept through streets and cul-de-sacs as residents slept, targeting unlocked cars and stealing whatever they could find inside.
But today Michael Antram and Benjamin Peace, who sat laughing in court when their long list of previous convictions were read out, are laughing no more – having been sent to prison for two-and-a-half-years for what a judge called a “carefully planned and carefully executed” attack.
Southampton Crown Court heard how Antram, 22 and Peace, 21, first targeted Hedge End, overnight on September 27, having got the train from Leigh Park.
When they arrived at Hedge End train station they embarked on a five-hour stealing spree on foot, taking whatever they could find from 12 vehicles, including satellite navigation systems, an iPad and any loose change.
Not content with their haul from that night, less than 48 hours later the pair were at it again, this time with an accomplice, Shane Britton.
Overnight on September 29, the trio headed to Chandler’s Ford by train and began as they did two nights previously, targeting unsecured cars.
After moving around the area on foot, they then stole a Ford Transit van from Porteous Crescent, which contained £1,600 worth of tools.
Unbeknown to them, the van was hired and had a tracker fitted, which later led police to the abandoned vehicle, just a short walk away from Peace’s home in Crawley Avenue, Portsmouth.
The tracker also showed that the vehicle had been driven by the trio around Chandler’s Ford as they continued their six-hour crime spree, stealing from a total of nine cars that night and the tools from the van.
As well as the evidence from the tracker, mobile phone evidence from the defendant’s phones proved that they had been in both Hedge End and Chandler’s Ford on the nights in question and they were arrested on October 2.
In mitigation, Matthew Jewell, representing Antram, who had 29 previous offences, told the court that the 22-year-old from Portsmouth was out to fund his alcohol and drug habit.
While Louise Howard, representing Peace, who had 86 pervious offences starting from the age of 14, said that he was “simply struggling for money”.
Apart from a few discarded items found by the victims close to their homes, only a Superdry jacket was ever recovered by police.
Both men pleaded guilty and Judge Linda Sullivan QC sentenced both to 15 months in prison for the first night and 15 months for the second night, each to run consecutively.
She said: “You set about thieving from cars, all of which appeared to be insecure and enabled you to search them and take whatever you chose from things that had any worth.
“You were operating in a gang or group or whatever you want to call it and there clearly was a degree of planning, I do not accept this was spontaneous.
“These offences were not spontaneous but were carefully planned and carefully executed with a calmness that allowed you to go to shops and steal a car to allow you to carry out more offences.”
Britton, 23, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing at Southampton Magistrates’ Court and was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison, suspended for 24 months.
After the hearing, PC Alex Fortune urged car owners to ensure that their vehicles were locked at all times and not to leave anything of value inside them. He added: “These were co-ordinated sprees targeting insecure vehicles.
“They were there to steal and the effect it had on the victims was huge. One person lost their work briefcase and one man had all his work tools stolen.”