Two men have today been jailed for stealing and causing damage to the cost of over £313,000 at a historic brewery site in Blackburn.
Thomas Ward, 44, of Aspull Common, Leigh, has been sentenced to four years and three months in prison after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary, conspiracy to commit criminal damage and blackmail.
John Ward, 34, of Aspull Common, Leigh has been handed a sentence of three years and nine months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit criminal damage, also at an earlier hearing.
Patrick Ward, 32, of Aspull Common, Leigh, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to commit criminal damage in his absence in November last year. He is still outstanding and is wanted by police.
A fourth person – a 17 year old boy who pleaded guilty to the same charges – has been bailed to appear at youth court for sentencing at a later date.
The hearing took place at Burnley Crown Court.
At just after 8pm on Saturday May 26, a large group of travellers believed on their way to Appleby Fair in Cumbria, gained access to the Thwaites Brewery site on Penny Street, Blackburn and set up an encampment.
Despite requests to move on by Thwaites’ security, the group refused and evicted a guard from the site.
Whilst being asked to leave on the Saturday (May 26) and the following day (Sunday May 27), Thomas Ward, referring to himself as “Big John” and “Big Dave”, tried to blackmail two Thwaites employees, demanding £20,000 or “the place is ours.”
Later that day (Sunday May 27), the travellers occupying the area allowed some Thwaites staff on to the site for around an hour and a half so they could remove personal items, sensitive documents and valuable equipment including computers. At that time, nothing had been damaged but unfortunately the workers were not able to remove everything of value.
At some point after this visit, some of the group – lead by the Wards and a 17-year-old boy – looted office buildings, stealing televisions, computer equipment, high value alcohol and electrical copper wiring from throughout the entire site.
The travellers remained at the site until they were moved on by police escort on Monday 28 May (Bank Holiday Monday).
Staff then returned to the location to work and discovered large scale theft and damage across all buildings.
Police were able to access CCTV images taken before the power was cut by the looters but despite the offenders’ faces being covered or having their hoods up, they were matched against some other footage taken at a nearby supermarket which lead to the identification of Thomas, Patrick and John Ward, along with a 17-year-old boy.
Raids took place on Tuesday 26 June at Levershulme Park in Bolton where the Wards had set up camp. Key clothing, believed to have been worn during the destruction, was discovered.
During a search of Thomas Ward’s caravan, around £1,700 cash was recovered along with two USB sticks labelled with ‘Daniel Thwaites PLC’.
All four were arrested and subsequently charged for their involvement.