Three men have been sentenced to a total of 22 years in prison at Exeter Crown Court today (Tuesday 19 May) after being found guilty of 54 burglaries across Devon and Somerset.
Op Churchill was a complex and large investigation that involved four men being investigated on suspicion of committing several commercial rural burglaries across Devon and Somerset, as part of two distinct conspiracies.
The total loss and damage for all 54 offences, which took place between May and October 2012, was in excess of £239,000.
The ringleader of the gang Reg Soper, 50, of Culmhead, Taunton, was sentenced to eight and a half years imprisonment, along with gang members Nicky Christian, 24, of Alfred Road, Plymouth, and Percy Soper, 56, of Molesworth Road, Plymouth, who were both sentenced to six and a half years.
The fourth defendant, Danny Small, 24, of Ward Place, Plymouth, originally charged with both burglary conspiracies, was acquitted.
The investigation took over six months and involved three dedicated officers who obtained a wealth of evidence from CCTV, DNA, footwear and witness statements.
Photographs recovered during the course of the investigation show Reg Soper holidaying in Mexico, although he had no income and did not claim benefits.
In the first conspiracy, Reg Soper and Nicky Christian conspired to commit seven jewellery shop breaks in Dunster, Beer, Budleigh Salterton and Ashburton. The total value of items taken and damaged caused was over £124,000. This included some stolen vehicles used to assist in the burglaries.
The second conspiracy involved Reg Soper, Nicky Christian and Percy Soper, who conspired to commit 47 commercial burglaries across Devon. Premises with safes were often targeted, with a total loss of around £115,000, including damage caused.
Detective Inspector Jim Tarr, Senior Investigating Officer based in Newton Abbot, said: “This case involved significant conspiracies to commit burglaries and steal, amounting to 54 recorded offences. The determined, prolific and ruthless gang, based in Taunton and Plymouth, initially targeted jewellery shops in rural locations in Devon and Somerset before moving on to rural industrial estates targeting commercial premises within the same areas.
“The total value of items stolen was in excess of £181,000 with more than £57,000 worth of criminal damage caused in the process of carrying out the crimes.
“The ganger leader was Reg Soper, with Percy Soper and Nicky Christian being enthusiastic and active participants. The crime spree was well-planned and organised with most offences taking place at night. The criminals left a trail of destruction behind them, thought they were untouchable and had an enormous impact on the rural communities of both Devon and Somerset.
“It is not a coincidence that that the crime wave has ceased upon the arrest of the gang. A significant amount of work went into this complex investigation and this has been reflected in the guilty verdicts.
“I would like to thank the victims of these crimes for their co-operation, patience and support during this investigation. They have helped to put these criminals before the courts and be punished for what they have done.
“Rural crime will remain a priority for Devon and Cornwall Police and we will continue to robustly police those who cause harm to our communities.”
Reg Soper and Nicky Christian are pictured in Andrew Humphries Jewellers, one of the premises targeted by the men.
Percy Soper was captured on camera returning to the woods near Polston Parks, near Ivybridge, to collect a stolen safe.
Source:: Devon and Cornwall Police News