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180mph M6 gang leader getaway driver Ben Westwood jailed


Five men responsible for a six-month crime spree which culminated in a high-speed police chase were jailed today as a judge branded their getaway driver's 180mph attempt to evade capture as “atrocious”.

Ben Westwood, 33, was the leader of the group which carried out a string of robberies at commercial premises across the Midlands between August last year and January, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

The raids were linked by a distinctive white Audi RS5, which was later resprayed black.

The car, worth £85,000 and one of only two of that particular specification in the country, was stolen from Stourport-on-Seven in Worcestershire on August 3 last year.

Westwood, from Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, was arrested after a raid on the Murco petrol station in Warstones Road in the early hours of January 13.

West Midlands Police said he fled the scene at the wheel of the Audi, travelling on to the M6 northbound through Hilton Park services.

A force spokesman said: "Police gave chase but were forced to halt their pursuit as the car reached a staggering 180 miles per hour.

"The police helicopter took up the chase as they doubled back at junction 13 and attempted to exit at junction 12.

"A police stinger didn't deter them as they did a U-turn on the exit slip road and went back on to the M6 the wrong way, doing a handbrake turn to set them southbound again to leave at Hilton Park services."

The car was later abandoned at a block of flats and Westwood and passenger Gregory Simpson were arrested after police dogs found them inside a property.

Westwood was jailed for nine years for conspiracy to burgle, conspiracy to steal and dangerous driving.

His four co-defendants were all jailed for conspiracy to steal.

Gregory Simpson, 26, was sentenced to four years, Ramesh Sharma, 38, was jailed for three years, Stephen Green, 41, was handed four years, six months, and Luke Watkins, 34, was given three years. Watkins was further sentenced to nine months for dangerous driving.

Green and Westwood had denied the charges against them and were convicted by a jury. The others pleaded guilty an earlier hearing.

The five men, all from Wolverhampton, were repeatedly chastised by the judge for laughing in the dock during today's hearing.

Sentencing, Recorder Nigel Baker QC told Westwood: "You have an appalling record for a man of 33. You are no stranger to burglaries of this type.

"I have come to the conclusion that the time has come to increase the level of sentencing that you have previously had."

The judge added: "This was an atrocious piece of dangerous driving. You drove through the suburban streets of Wolverhampton at speeds with which the police car could not keep up.

"You were driving on the wrong side of the road. There was a moment in that pursuit when the helicopter thought that your intention was to out-run the helicopter.

"It was the most appalling piece of driving."

The judge said he was satisfied that Westwood was the leader of the gang and played a "prominent part" in planning the raids.

Superintendent Richard Baker, from West Midlands Police CID, said: "The offenders targeted supermarkets and petrol stations for cigarettes and a bowling alley's game machines.

"H Samuels in Walsall was also ram-raided using a stolen Mitsubishi Pajero."

He added: "This has been a lengthy investigation involving our colleagues from West Mercia and Staffordshire Police, but we are pleased that the outcome has resulted in these men being removed from the streets, where they would no doubt still be committing crime."