Gang jailed for terror raids

A brutal family firm of criminals which orchestrated a reign of terror holding Norfolk homeowners at gunpoint has been jailed - with the ringleaders told they will not be released until they no longer present a danger to the public.

A brutal family firm of criminals which orchestrated a reign of terror holding Norfolk homeowners at gunpoint has been jailed - with the ringleaders told they will not be released until they no longer present a danger to the public.

The Curtis Gang carried out more than 30 raids, mainly in west and mid Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, including Northwold, Methwold and Weeting, but also in other parts of the UK, as they amassed a fortune of £100,000 through their professional but ruthless operation.

Norwich Crown Court heard that not only did the gang carry weapons including a sawn-off shotgun, pistol and baseball bat, but they were prepared to use extreme violence. Many of their victims were elderly or vulnerable and police say some are still recovering from the trauma.

Over a six-month period between August last year and January this year the balaclava- clad gang forced their way into homes and small businesses in isolated villages. During one of their most prolific spells they carried out seven raids in seven nights, seizing cash, jewellery and valuables.

They looked for rich pickings and terrified the most vulnerable victims they could find. The five men would destroy victims' mobile phones so they could not call for help and on one occasion threatened to burn a caravan with a family inside it.

Speaking after the case, Det Chief Insp Steve Strong said: “I would describe these criminals as totally lawless, they believed they could do exactly what they pleased and because of the extreme violence they used, felt they would always get away with it.

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“They showed total disregard for their victims, both during the crimes and making good their escape. The communities we police are far safer now those individuals are locked away.”

Sentencing the five men, Judge Alasdair Darroch said it was clear the gang were “going to carry on robbing, discharging firearms and terrifying victims until they were stopped”.

James Curtis, 48, of Littleport, Cambridgeshire, was jailed for at least five and a half years after admitting conspiracy to rob with a firearm and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary. He will not be released until probation officers consider it safe.

His son, James Walter Curtis, 25, of the same address, must serve at least five years before he is considered for release after pleading guilty to the same offences. Charles Lee, 43, from St Neots, must serve at least six years. He admitted the same offences and conspiracy to burgle.

Curtis's other son, Mark Curtis, 18, also from Littleport, was sentenced to five years for conspiracy to rob with a firearm, while Stanley Rainford, 46, from Littleport, was given six years for conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

Prosecutor John Farmer told the court that short of killing or seriously harming their victims the gang committed the most serious robberies imaginable. Mark Curtis, who was just 17 when the crimes were committed, was quickly recruited into the family business and had already amassed a significant criminal record of his own.

On one occasion the gang had investigated the possibility of expanding their operation out of East Anglia, travelling to Cornwall to scout potential targets. On the way they raided an Oxfordshire post office. Eventually they decided they could not make enough profit in the area and continued to focus on Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

Mr Farmer said: “They were a professional organisation and before they struck they took painstaking steps to ensure they were successful.”

Mitigating for Mark Curtis, barrister Angus Gloag said he was “of limited education” and his role was limited to one robbery and the reconnaissance mission to Cornwall.

James Walter Curtis had a serious crack cocaine habit, consuming £1,500 each day. Rainford also had drugs problems and greatly regretted his actions. James Curtis and Lee had admitted the offences and spared taxpayers the burden of a costly trial.

Judge Darroch commended Norfolk police's major investigation team in cracking the crime. The investigation team was led by Det Sgt Andy Lovick. The judge said: “You carried out your job extremely well. We are all extremely grateful that this dangerous gang has been caught.”

The gang are thought to have carried out a total of more than 50 crimes, including burglaries. The list of the properties they targeted in armed raids includes: the Comfort Inn, Thetford Road, Northwold (August 29, 2007); Birchfield Road, Nordelph (September 10, 2007); The Causeway, Stow Bridge (September 13, 2007); Vong Lane, Pott Row (September 14, 2007); New Road, North Runcton (September 15, 2007); Begdale Road, Elm (September 16, 2007); Back Drove, Upwell (September 16, 2007); Lynn Road, Wereham (September 17, 2007); Weeting Bowls Club (September 24, 2007); Castle Acre Post Office (November 21, 2007); Castle Acre (November 21, 2007); Railway Store, Bridge Road, Sutton Bridge (November 22, 2007); post office on Wootton Estate, Oxfordshire (November 26, 2007); Bridge Road, Stoke Ferry (December 12, 2007); burglaries at Great Ellingham (December 1, 2007); Rickinghall (December 5, 2007); Methwold (December 12, 2007); Foulden (December 12, 2007); Gayton Road, Gayton (December 15, 2007); Stow Bridge (December 23, 2007); Shouldham (January 7, 2008); West Dereham (January 7, 2008); Shouldham (January 10, 2008); two at Methwold (January 18, 2008) and two at Southery (January 19, 2008).