A plot to burgle mosques and businesses across East Lancashire has seen six men, including three brothers, jailed for more than 22 years.
Worshippers at Plane Tree Road mosque in Little Harwood were left distraught after intruders not only rifled their safe for money, but also stole irreplaceable marriage registers and their original constitution. It also emerged that one of the break-ins led to a Knuzden firm missing out on a £1million contract.
Passing sentence of the gang at Preston Crown Court, Judge Christopher Cornwall said: “To desecrate such a building by making a forcible entry and stealing from a safe is appalling and despicable conduct.”
Co-conspirators also raided a number of restaurants and businesses, including Tool Shack in Blackburn, where they escaped with hardware worth £50,000.
Brothers Liam and Sean Cumberland were said to be the ringleaders – breaking into two mosques – and their sibling Carl Cumberland also carried out high-value raids on commercial premises. One of their recruits Darren Darrani, 31, broke into six mosques during the same period, the court heard.
After reading victim impact statements from mosque leaders, Judge Cornwall added: “Reactions have ranged from utter disbelief that anyone would stoop so low as to burgle a sacred building to an underlying fear that the burglars would return.”
The court heard the Plane Tree Road mosque had been hit twice, once in March 2012 and again three months later. Other victims included Blackburn’s Cumberland Street and Cob Wall mosques, Clegg Street mosque in Burnley and Grimshaw Street mosque in Accrington.
Judge Cornwall said he had considered whether the raids were motivated by “religious or racial hatred”, a factor denied by the defendants. But he ruled that the gang was “so amoral” that they would have burgled any premises if the reward was great enough.
Liam Cumberland, 27, of Lytham Road; Sean Cumberland, 32, of Accrington Road; Darani, of Douglas Place; Darren Jeal, 42, of Eldon Road; and Stuart Ainsworth, 40, of Shaw Street, all Blackburn; Carl Cumberland, 31, of Thwaites Road, Oswaldtwistle, and James O’Neill, of South Street, Darwen, each admitted conspiracy to burgle. Sean Cumberland and Jeal also confessed to cannabis offences after their arrests.
Liam and Sean Cumberland were each jailed for five years, Jeal for four years, Darani for 40 months and Carl Cumberland for 34 months. O’Neill was given an eight-month prison term suspended for 18 months. Ainsworth’s case was adjourned after he was admitted to hospital with heart problems.
Ronald Straker, 51, of no fixed abode, was jailed for 27 months after admitting to burglary, theft and handling stolen goods. Shaun Lever, 43, of Windsor Road, Knuzden, was given a two-year supervision order after admitting handling stolen goods.
Speaking after the case, Det Sgt Tim McDermott, of Eastern policing division’s target team, said the losses to the mosques and the firms hit went beyond the value of property stolen. Icon Designs, based at Knuzden, missed out on a £1million contract, and had to lay off 21 workers in the wake of their burglary, he told the Lancashire Telegraph.
He said: “Not only did they steal charity money from the mosques but they took community documents which had been left for safe-keeping. We should not underestimate the impact these thefts had on our local communities, who were left feeling violated.”
The idea that racial or religious hatred played no part in motivating the crimes seems untenable, given the political links of some of the convicted men. Hope Not Hate points out that Darren Jeal is (or was) a British National Party activist, having stood as a BNP candidate in elections to Blackburn with Darwen Council in 2008 and 2011. HNH adds that “a number of other members of the gang have links to the EDL and its affiliates”. Sean Cumberland, for example, is reportedly a “close friend” of North West Infidels leader Shane “Diddyman” Calvert.