Burglars who tried to carry out a Hatton Garden-style heist on an antique shop have been branded ‘three buffoons with utter incompetence’ by a judge.
David Newman, 42, Mark Rabjohns, 34, and Peter Fitzharris, 42, broke into clothing shop Cheltenham Tweed Company on January 9.
They then drilled through a dividing wall in the basement which backed onto the safe of an antiques and jewellry shop.
There, the men tried to steal high-value items, but were thwarted when the shop’s alarm – connected to its safe – went off, alerting a member of the public who then phoned the police.
Newman, Rabjohns and Fitzharris tried to make their getaway on foot covered in brick dust.
Judge Ian Lawrie QC said the men ‘behaved like three buffoons with utter incompetence’.
David Newman, 42, Mark Rabjohns, 34, (left) and Peter Fitzharris, 42, (right) broke into clothing shop Cheltenham Tweed Company on January 9.
Fitzharris was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison and Newman (pictured) was handed a two year and eight month sentence
Their failed heist was reminiscent of the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary which saw six experienced thieves steal an estimated £14million by drilling through a vault.
Fitzharris was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison and Newman was handed a two year and eight month sentence.
Rabjohns – who had not taken part in the planning of the burglary – was handed 18 months in prison, suspended for two years.
The men were seen casing out the Promenade area of Cheltenham just over a week before the robbery, Gloucester Crown Court heard.
Describing the robbery, prosecutor Tabby Macfarlane said: ‘Jonty Wilkinson was walking down the promenade on Saturday, January 9 at about 9.30pm when he was started by the piercing alarm to the antiques shop and jewellers going off and seeing three men covered in brick dust making their escape.
‘He saw them running away, with one of them dropping a torch as they fled. He then called the police.
‘Inspector Marcus Forbes-George who knew the area well, responded and decided not to go to the Promenade but to go to St George’s Place where he believed he could apprehend the fleeing burglars.
‘Within seconds he spotted Newman stopping in ‘mid-run’ and then acting in a nonchalant manner, which he assessed as being rather suspicious.
‘He noticed that Newman was covered in brick dust which gave him cause to arrest him.
‘The officer then noticed muddy footprints leading to a nearby van parked next to a compound.
‘He went to investigate the area and found Rabjohns lurking in the corner inside the compound and he arrested him.
‘Meanwhile PC Birch found Fitzharris lying in narrow drainage channel on the roof of an adjoining shop.
‘Fitzharris was only wearing a t-shirt, which he found unusual as it had been very cold at the time.
‘He was also covered in brick dust and his arm was grazed all over. He was also arrested.’
Two Community Police Support Officers – who had also heard the shop’s alarm going off – were immediately on the scene of the antiques shop.
At the rear they found a large angle grinder, extension leads and other tools.
The prosecutor added: ‘The CPSOs also found a black jacket at the scene and inside it was a set of keys.
‘As they walked to the compound they spotted a suspicious looking Ford Mondeo and with the aid of one of the keys they had found, opened the vehicle.
‘Inside the boot of the car they found an assortment of tools spanners, a stool, a telescopic camera and a power tools storage box.’
The court also heard that Keith Graham – owner of the Cheltenham Tweed Company – returned to his property and found that the burglars had removed most of a wall in trying to access the antique shop’s safe from the rear, which set off the alarm.
Mr Graham said in a statement that the burglars had made a large hole in the basement wall and had gained access to the antiques shop next door.
He added that a bag of silverware had been found in his basement which did not belong to him.
Mr Graham said a member of his staff recalled three men coming into the shop in December.
The men drilled through a dividing wall in the basement (the hole, pictured) which backed onto the safe of an antiques and jewellry shop from the rear
He said they didn’t seem to be checking out the products, but the shop itself.
Gillian Green – the antiques shop’s manager – confirmed that the silverware found in the basement belonged to her shop.
She stated that £2,500 had been spent on fixing the damage they caused.
The prosecutor concluded: ‘This robbery was planned, organised and the men had cased the joint a couple of weeks earlier.
‘The three defendants were clearly focused on their plan, but the few items that they had stolen were found at the scene.
Tim Burrows, representing Newman, said: ‘They were all flummoxed by the safe. It was while they were trying to gain entry into the safe that the alarm went off.’
Judge Ian Lawrie QC interjected: ‘They behaved like three buffoons with utter incompetence in carrying out this burglary.
‘I don’t think the three men visiting the clothing shop were really interested into adding tweed to their wardrobe when they went on a scouting missing in December.’
Mr Burrows added: ‘Newman entered into this enterprise relatively late.
‘He denies he was one of the men who carried out a scouting mission earlier in December, but admits that he had gone on a reconnaissance trip previously.
‘Newman accepts his involvement in carrying out this robbery.
‘He got involved because he had lost his employment towards the end of last year and was struggling to cope, having built up a large drug debt.
‘But while he has been in custody he has begun to turn his life around. Newman is the sole carer for his son, who suffers from mental health illnesses.
‘If he is jailed they are likely to lose their home.’
Sarah Jenkins, for Rabjohns, said: ‘The burglary was undertaken while the shops were closed due to the lockdown, therefore the likelihood of people being about was limited.
‘He had been unable to work during the lockdown and was suffering financially. He only agreed to become part of the team on the day of the burglary.
‘Rabjohns was enticed by the promise of financial reward following a chance meeting with Fitzharris and Newman.
‘He had no involvement in planning it. He acted entirely on impulse.’
Newman, Rabjohns and Fitzharris tried to make their getaway on foot (pictured) covered in brick dust
Fitzharris, Newman and Rabjohns all pleaded guilty to the burglary of the Cheltenham Tweed Company and the Cheltenham Antiques and Jewellers on January 9, 2021.
Judge Lawrie told the defendants: ‘When you activated the burglar alarm, all three of you were seen leaving the premises covered in brick dust. You were seen by police officers and members of the public.
‘At the rear of the premises a large angle grinder was found and numerous other items.
‘Nearby there was a car, which was linked to Fitzharris because the keys were found in a coat pocket at the scene of the robbery.
‘In the boot of this car was an assortment of tools in a specialised tool box.
‘When the police carried out their investigation they discovered the large hole in the wall you had made in the basement through to the antiques shop next door. This cost some £2,500 to repair.
‘Because of the lack of additional evidence, I have discounted the visit of three men making a reconnaissance visit to the clothing store in making my decision.
‘But what was clear about this burglary is that all three of you went equipped.
‘Happily your confidence didn’t meet your ambition because as soon as the alarm went off during your bungled mission you ran out and got caught.
Judge Lawrie sentenced Fitzharris to two years and seven months and Newman to two years and eight months.
The judge took a different approach to Rabjohns because he had not taken part in the planning of the burglary.
The judge sentenced Rabjohns to a jail term of 18 months, suspended for two years, and ordered him to complete 150 hours of unpaid work.
Judge Lawrie told Rabjohns: ‘You were a complete idiot to get involved in this burglary. You need to take greater care with who you mix with in future.’
The judge also ordered the forfeiture of the Ford Mondeo and the power tools seized in the robbery.