Following an 18 month investigation by the Sussex Police Serious Organised Crime Unit into an organised crime group involved in antique burglaries throughout Sussex and the South East of England, the last of the four suspects has been convicted.
The main suspect Darryl Aldridge, 48, of New Barn Road, Shoreham, was convicted in March. Aldridge had orchestrated a number of burglaries at various auction houses and private homes, targeting the auction houses with upcoming sales. He researched and selected high value items which he wanted to steal using auction room websites. He would then send out his criminal associates armed with the information to commit the burglaries at the auction houses in Sussex, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Kent.
In addition, whilst on police bail for the eight auction house burglaries, Aldridge himself committed three high value burglaries in private homes in Lancing and Brighton.
Following a six week trial earlier in the year Aldridge was found guilty on all indictments: three burglaries of homes, eight auction house burglaries and perverting the course of justice.
Aldridge was sentenced to seven years concurrent for the auction house burglaries, three years consecutive for the three dwelling burglaries and eight months consecutive for perverting the course of justice - the total sentence was 10 years eight months.
Aldridge’s co-defendant, Anthony Townsend, 50, of Upper Lewes Road, Brighton, was found guilty of the burglary organised by Aldridge at Stroud Auctions, Gloucestershire in October 2011. He received a sentence of 18 months.
Townsend had also committed a dwelling burglary in Brighton on 26 December, 2012, while he was on court bail for the Stroud offence. He pleaded guilty to this and received a three year consecutive sentence, leading to a total sentence of four-and-a-half years.
A third defendant Kelly Lambert, 40, of Lavender Hill, Shoreham, pleaded guilty to an offence of theft at Toovey’s Auctions, Washington, West Sussex, which again was orchestrated by Aldridge. She was sentenced to community service.
Anthony Fortune, 55, of Park Road, Worthing, had been charged with perverting the course of justice in relation to creating fictitious invoices for Aldridge, specifically in relation to a valuable antique Klotz violin which was stolen during the burglary at Stroud Auctions, Gloucestershire, on 11 or 12 Oct 2011. This violin was found at Aldridge’s home address on 13 October, less than 36 hours after the burglary.
Aldridge had initially claimed that Fortune had found this violin in a skip outside a shop in Worthing and had sold it to him thus creating an invoice.
During Aldridge’s trial in February, Aldridge had admitted the violin was from Stroud Auctions and that invoices created by Fortune for the violin and other unrelated items, were in fact fictitious. As Aldridge was convicted for perverting the course of justice for this offence, Fortune’s trial was separated and delayed to 2 September in order for a fair trial to be conducted.
Anthony Fortune appeared at Hove Crown Court on Monday 2 September, where he admitted to making a false instrument by means of fraud. He admitted that he had created the invoices for Aldridge and specifically for the violin and admitted that he had not in fact found the violin or sold it to Aldridge as he had originally claimed.
He said that he suspected that it had been stolen by Aldridge and that he had created the invoices to help Aldridge move the property on. Fortune was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for 18 months.
The investigating officers from the Serious Organised Crime Unit and the Force Intelligence Branch are delighted at successfully taking these organised and prolific high value burglars off the streets, who were travelling throughout the South East to commit their crimes, causing much emotional and economic misery to their victims.
Aldridge is a career criminal who manipulated others to commit crime on his behalf and his imprisonment has without doubt prevented many other members of the public becoming victims of such crimes.
Detective Chief Inspector Ali Eaton said: “This was an outstanding investigation by members of the Serious and Organised Crime Unit and their professionalism and hard work was recognised with the award of a court commendation. With these individuals now behind bars we have significantly disrupted the groups activities and dismantled the crime group. We will continue to actively pursue those involved in serious and organised crime and ensure they are brought to justice.