Court hears of sledgehammer raid at Sussex jewellers

A member of a masked gang which broke into an Ernest Jones store has been jailed today after a spot of blood from a smashed display cabinet was found to match his DNA.

A balaclava-wearing group of five people broke into the jewellers in East Street, Chichester on August 23 last year using a sledgehammer and crowbars before stealing £131,810 worth of high value watches.

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One of the gang, Leevan Sharma, 31, a building labourer, of Saltmead Southampton, was jailed today for his part in the raid, which Portsmouth Crown Court heard included ‘ransacking and vandalism’ at the store.

Crowbars outside the shop on Friday (August 24)

The other gang members involved, who fled the scene on bicycles, have yet to be apprehended.

Peter Wood, 40, unemployed of Violet Road, Southampton, who hired a van for the gang, was sentenced for handling stolen goods having being arrested soon after the break-in wearing a £3,150 Cartier watch stolen from the store.

‘Extremely nasty threats’

Prosecution for the crown Rebecca Fairbairn told the court the gang had used crowbars to gain access to the jewellers, and concrete blocks to jam the metal shutter on the door before smashing display cabinets and taking 48 watches.

Portsmouth Crown Court Picture: Chris Moorhouse Saturday 3rd November 2018 FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY PPP-180311-170405006

On leaving the premises, she said ‘one or more’ of the gang members threatened off-duty police officer Inspector Godwin but charges of aggravated burglary and threats to kill had been dropped as it could not be proved which of the masked group had done so.

Sentencing Sharma, Judge Burgess said the offence was aggravated by the ‘extremely nasty threats’, which he said were threats to knife the officer and threats from a person on a bike holding a sledgehammer.

He said factors of ‘ransacking and vandalism’ at the store and the significant financial loss also added weight to the offence.

‘Significant planning’

Leevan Sharma, 31, of Saltmead, Southampton. Convicted of burglary at Ernest Jones, Chichester, and jailed for 30 months on 4/02/19. Photo: Sussex Police.

Judge Burgess added: “I have no doubt that this premises was clearly targeted, there was significant planning and organisation for this offence and those who did it went supplied for the offence.”

Representing Sharma, Beverley Cherrill said Sharma should be given credit for his guilty plea after his blood was found on a TAG Heuer watch display cabinet in the store.

She said: “He sustained a small injury and thought that he should leave as he may leave some DNA there.

“That thought came too late for him and that was where he was caught.”

She conceded that Sharma, who had a ‘strikingly similar’ offence in his history, was phoned and ‘did agree to do a job’.

Defending Wood, David Reid told Portsmouth Crown Court that Wood had a long-standing heroin addiction and during his time in custody, he had been given a methadone prescription, which he was reducing and had come off entirely in the past few days.

He said: “He’s a man who says, if I can take advantage of the help that’s on offer, I will take it and I don’t want to be returning to the ways I have been in the past few years.”

‘Heavily convicted’

Judge Burgess said that while Wood may not have known what the van was to be used for exactly, he had nonetheless been in ‘extremely close proximity’ to the main gang.

Both men, he said, were ‘heavily convicted’, Sharma in particular for a similar offence of attempted burglary of a jewellers in 2015 and other convictions of burgling commercial premises.

Sharma, who has two children under the age of 11, was sentenced to two and a half years in jail, less the time spent in custody.

Wood was sentenced to five months, to be released immediately having already spent longer in custody.

Appeal continues

The watch found on Wood’s wrist on his arrest is to be returned to Ernest Jones, the court heard.

Another 47 watches were stolen in the raid, 24 TAG Heuer watches, two Longines and 21 Cartier items.

Anyone who believes they have seen the watches for sale online or has been offered one, or knows any information on the remaining suspects is asked to contact police.

If you witnessed the incident or have any information please report online or call 101 quoting reference 1579 of 23/08. Alternatively, you can visit the Crimestoppers website or contact the independent charity anonymously on 0800 555 111.