Men who targeted more than 50 schools and stole £200,000 worth of equipment jailed

Stoke Ash, Suffolk. Stoke Ash Primary School was one of the schools targeted.
Stoke Ash, Suffolk. Stoke Ash Primary School was one of the schools targeted.

Three men who admitted stealing £200,000 worth of computer equipment from schools across Suffolk and Essex have been jailed.

Fifty-six primary schools and colleges were targeted following detailed research by the gang into the location of IT departments and security arrangements.

Among the rural schools raided was Stoke Ash Primary, near Diss, from where latop computers were stolen.

Ipswich Crown Court heard on Friday that others were believed to have been involved in the nighttime raids but they have never been caught.

Appearing in court were Christopher Kerr, 25, of Halstead Road, Frinton, Liam Cook, 26, of Bushell Way, Frinton and Francis Wilding, 22, of Broadway, Jaywick who all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary between August 2012 and May 2013.

Kerr admitted involvement in 16 raids, Cook 5 and Wilding 28. Prosecutor Martin Mulgrew described the three as “professional burglars.” In total they raided 31 schools in Suffolk and 25 in Essex.

Despite more than 300 computers being taken none have been recovered.

The gang were caught after Wilding left traces of blood at one location which allowed police to trace him and seize his mobile phone which revealed details of calls to Cook and Kerr.

Mr Mulgrew said: “It is undoubtedly the case that hours of work prepared by teachers and pupils on the computers has been lost.”

The court heard as the gang forced open windows at the schools they caused damage amounting to more than £37,000.

The arrest of the three men came during Operation Justine set up by Suffolk and Essex police to tackle the problem of school burglaries.

Defence lawyers told the court that Wilding had acted out of character and had expressed remorse while Kerr claimed he was only involved for a limited period of four months, had been trying to make ends meet while out of work and was ashamed with what he had done.

Cook admitted helping move computers from the schools but said some of the internet searches for details of schools he carried out were innocently on behalf of his young children.

Wilding and Kerr were each jailed for 64 months and Cook for 40 months.