Street gang given 14 years for mugging campaign

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The Independent Online

A gang of teenage street robbers whose campaign of muggings and assaults on dozens of victims led them to believe they were "untouchables" were detained yesterday for a total of 14 years.

A gang of teenage street robbers whose campaign of muggings and assaults on dozens of victims led them to believe they were "untouchables" were detained yesterday for a total of 14 years.

The 10 youths called themselves a "junior mafia" as they stalked the streets of Wood Green, north London, and robbed passers-by of their money, jewellery and mobile phones over a year.

Harrow Crown Court was told how the self-styled Wood Green Mob, aged between 12 and 18, would "rush" their victims – kicking and punching them before robbing them at knifepoint or with the threat of a gun.

Their trademark was to wear clothing with characters from the Looney Tunes cartoon series. The gang leader, 17-year-old Shane Reid, used the title as his street nickname.

Police only managed to halt the crime wave after officers from a crack CID squad using equipment normally required for tracking terrorists were called in.

The sentencing follows a warning this week by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens, Britain's most senior policeman, that criminals were treating the criminal justice system with contempt.

Sir John said that "arrogant, untouchable and fearless" robbers were strutting the streets of London and believed their actions were a game without consequences for others.

Four of the youths, who had admitted 17 robbery offences at an earlier hearing at Harrow Crown Court, committed robberies while on bail. At least seven of the 10 also had previous convictions.

The court heard that one of the gang was on bail for an alleged robbery during which he stabbed his victim in the leg – an attack with disturbing echoes of the injury that killed the schoolboy Damilola Taylor.

Judge Sanders took the unusual step of lifting the anonymity of Reid and seven other gang members, saying it was in the public interest that they should be identified.

Only the two youngest members, aged 12 and 13, had their anonymity preserved.

Sentencing the gang, the judge said: "You had absolutely no regard for others."

Three senior members of the gang – Jermaine Campbell, Craig Johnson and Ashley Gowdie, all 16 – were each sentenced to three years' detention at a young offenders' institution. Campbell had five previous convictions, including car theft, burglary and handling stolen goods. Reid, who had nine previous convictions, including car theft and obstructing police, was detained for 13 months.

The remaining gang members – Marcus Downie, 18, Marlon Brown, 16, Michael Gaynor and Aaron Reddicks, both aged 15 – were sentenced to between 12 and 18 months' detention. The two younger robbers were sentenced to two-year supervision orders.

The court was told that the gang's victims, who were all attacked last year, had ranged from three schoolboys robbed of just £1 at knifepoint to two men with learning difficulties whose mobile phones were taken. Such was the frequency of their assaults, often in broad daylight along the busy Wood Green High Road, that street crime in the area fell by 33 per cent after their arrests.

The "mob" chose their victims at random, often as they were using a mobile phone. Most were either schoolchildren or lone youths.

The assaults were carried out with casual ruthlessness. Security camera footage of one attack showed the group surrounding a 19-year-old man. One robber placed his arm around the victim's neck in an apparently friendly gesture before tightening his grip and dragging the man into an alleyway.

The victim was only released after he had surrendered his Nokia mobile phone, worth £250, and his wallet. Another 17-year-old boy was threatened with being "sliced" before being punched in the face.

The court was told that most of the gang had been excluded from school, leaving them to roam the streets unchecked.

They were caught when detectives from the London Crime Squad used CCTV cameras to track the gang over three months, taking more than 1,000 images of their activities.

The detectives used facial recognition technology to pick out the suspects from 1,300 hours of footage, allowing the suspects to be prosecuted without the need for testimony from their victims.

After the sentencing, Detective Inspector Matt Butterworth, who led the investigation, said he was delighted with the outcome.