Three teenagers who went on a month-long crime spree were caught after they Googled ‘how do police investigate armed robberies?’.
The boys, all aged 17, sparked a manhunt after raiding a string of shops in broad daylight in April 2022.
Wearing masks and armed with baseball bats and machetes, they robbed four shops across Walsall, West Midlands.
Detectives used mapping technology to match the gang to CCTV captured at the scene of one of their raids.
Searches of the teens’ computers revealed they asked Google: “How do police investigate armed robberies?”
They also asked the search engine: “How long does it take police to respond to an armed robbery.”
Officers also discovered a “mission list” on one of the phones, with a list of future stores they planned to target as well as pictures of cash and cigarettes they had stolen.
Using cellular technology, officers uncovered a “lock up “ garage at an address in Bloxwich, West Midlands.
Police seized items linked to the robberies, including a moped used as the getaway vehicle for the first robbery.
The trio, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted conspiracy to rob and were jailed on December 5 at Wolverhampton Crown Court.
Two of the teenagers were jailed for three years nine months. The third teen admitted another robbery and was jailed for four-and-a-half years.
The gang first stuck on April 6 last year when they stormed into a shop in Green Lane, Walsall, with one armed with a machete.
They demanded the owner hand over cash but he bravely refused and told them police were on the way and managed to push them out of the shop.
The gang fled empty-handed but they robbed a pharmacy on April 8 on Forrester Street in the town.
They threatened staff until they opened the till and stole £100.
On April 24, they targeted a shop on Mount Street, Walsall, where they stole more than £1,000 worth of cigarettes.
The following day, they stole more cigarettes from a shop on Reservoir Street in Walsall and dragged an elderly man from the back of the store.
West Midlands Police officers obtained CCTV and following enquiries they were able to identify them. Once arrested, officers seized clothing worn during the robberies from their homes and through body mapping technology, they positively matched the height and build of the three suspects.
The clothing was also an exact match on CCTV.
Phones were seized and on them cops found the incriminating Google searches as well as pictures of the stolen cigarettes and money.
Investigating officer Jodie Allen, from West Midlands Police, said: “This was a terrifying ordeal for customers and the shop workers who were threatened with knives and forced to hand over cash.
“They pointed machetes at innocent members of the public and threatened to hurt them – regardless of whether these threats were real or fake, it was a traumatic experience for those involved.
“One shopkeeper has since retired due to the robbery and another victim received a national police bravery award for her actions.
“These teenagers were brazen and not afraid to commit robberies in broad daylight.
“Thankfully we secured CCTV footage, used body mapping technology and secured lots of evidence to present a strong case.
“All three pleaded guilty and are now behind bars where they will have plenty of time to reflect on their actions.”