Gang waited outside takeaways and fitted tracking devices to cars

Stuart Devany
-Credit: (Image: Merseyside Police)

A gang loitered outside takeaways, restaurants and shops in order to fit tracking devices to the owners' cars before breaking into their homes.

Stuart Devany was part of an elaborate plot which saw tens of thousands of pounds of jewellery and cash stolen during a string of burglaries across the suburbs of South Liverpool. When the police came knocking at his door, he bluffed "I don't do burglaries" - then delivered a 16-word rant from the dock as he was locked up today.

Liverpool Crown Court heard on Thursday that the 59-year-old was part of a "sophisticated, carefully planned and well executed conspiracy" which saw six homes targeted on two dates in September and October last year. Devany, of Chorley's Lane in Widnes, and his accomplices were said to have "deliberately targeted members of the Asian community with a perceived reputation for keeping large quantities of cash and high value jewellery in their homes".

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Philip Astbury, prosecuting, described how the organised crime group identified their victims by fitting trackers to the vehicles of proprietors of restaurants, takeaways and a shop - thus revealing their home addresses. Once inside the properties, gang members "ignored" high value goods such as iPads, iPhones and televisions in favour of their intended loot, having already had an "established outlet" for their stolen jewellery in the Doncaster area.

The first series of break-ins came on September 19 2023, beginning with a property on Muirfield Road in Huyton being targeted at around 2.30pm via the rear patio door. The homeowner returned only a short time afterwards to discover that £3,750 in cash had been stolen from her address, as well as gold jewellery valued at more than £6,000.

The burglars then continued directly onwards to a house in the Wavertree area of Queens Drive, arriving shortly before 2.45pm Three men wearing dark clothing and with their faces covered were captured on CCTV climbing over a side wall before smashing their way in through the kitchen window, with the resident married couple and their two children arriving back at around 11pm to find a trail of muddy footprints through their home and up to £5,900 of cash missing - several hundred pounds of which was their young son's birthday money.

The offenders rounded off their day's dishonest work by targeting a house on Greenhill Road in Allerton at around 4pm, smashing a patio window in order to gain entry. They then made off with £5,300 in cash which had been stashed in the bedrooms, plus gold jewellery totalling £25,000.

A further three raids came on October 5, with four men seen climbing into the back garden of a house on Isleham Close in Allerton at around 8.30pm. The occupants were out with their family for the evening when neighbours alerted them to their burglar alarm sounding, after which they returned to discover that a window at the back of the address had been forced.

The intruders were found to have left coffee strewn around the kitchen and taken £300 cash. But the homeowners "did not keep expensive jewellery or large amounts of cash" in the address, leading to a comparatively light prize for the burglars on this occasion.

They however continued undeterred to an address on Lyndhurst Avenue in Mossley Hill. The occupant had retired to bed around half an hour previously, but heard banging on her bedroom window before finding a masked man in dark clothing facing her at the top of a ladder.

The burglars finally attempted to break into a house on Redwing Way in Halewood, where a 16-year-old boy was home with only his little sister. The teenager similarly heard banging in their back garden and looked outside to see two figures dressed in black, who ultimately left empty handed after seeing the youngster inside.

A "painstaking investigation", which saw officers trawl through hours of CCTV footage, identified that a Vauxhall Vivaro van had been used to transport the conspirators between crime scenes. It subsequently transpired that this vehicle had been stolen during an earlier burglary on August 2 and was being driven on false plates.

The van had been parked up on Guest Street in Widnes in the evening following the first set of burglaries, while Devany was caught on camera filling it up at a petrol station on Warrington Road in the Cheshire town and buying a can of pop shortly before the second stage of the crimewave. The getaway vehicle was thereafter located in the Rochdale area at around 10.30pm the same day - which Mr Astbury said was "presumably after the two close escapes" meant that the burglars "needed to put some distance between themselves and the van" - with the defendant being seen on CCTV at a nearby Tesco Express store around the same time.

His DNA was discovered on the steering wheel and gear stick, as well as on empty can of Red Bull which was recovered from inside. Devany was arrested at his home on February 29 this year.

Under interview, he told detectives "I don't do burglaries" but then claimed that he had "been used as a slave" and "blamed a man from the travelling community" for whom he had apparently cleaned the van on one occasion in exchange for methadone. However he then divulged further details of the operation, describing how the gang worked as a five or six man team and "targeted members of the Pakistani and Chinese communities" by placing tracking devices while their vehicles were parked outside their businesses.

Devany meanwhile outlined how they had utilised walkie talkies instead of mobile phones and "disposed of" the jewellery via their contacts in South Yorkshire. When confronted with the CCTV footage, he accepted visiting the petrol station and Rochdale in the van as well as volunteering that he had burned his and his associates' clothing.

His criminal record shows 51 previous convictions for 119 offences dating back to 1985, including several entries for burglary. Olivia Beesley, defending, told the court: "Mr Devany has had a difficult background.

"When he was just 17 years old, he suffered the loss of a child. His partner committed suicide by jumping off the Runcorn Bridge.

"He tells me that, after that, his life went downhill. He was offered heroin and fell into addiction very quickly.

"A great deal of his offending involves dishonesty and theft, which go hand in hand with a battle with addiction. There is a gap in his offending.

"He tells me that he went into the roofing trade and enjoyed this work, but he fell back into criminality. He tells me that he is getting too old for this lifestyle now.

"He has put his time in custody to good use. He is learning to read and write for the first time, and he is proud of that.

"He tells me he is enjoying his work in custody. This is the first time he has been enjoying his work since his work in landscape gardening.

"He hopes your honour will see there is some remorse. He does note the suffering that he has caused."

Devany admitted conspiracy to commit burglary. Wearing a blue Nike t-shirt, he was jailed for six years and five months.

Sentencing, Judge Robert Trevor-Jones said: "You were an integral member of what was, on any view, a highly organised gang which carried out a series of domestic burglaries in a professional and clinical way. The offences were well planned.

"In advance, you targeted members primarily of the Asian community with the belief that they would be in possession of large amounts of high value jewellery as well as cash. You kept observations on local restaurants and shops and then placed tracker devices on their vehicles.

"Once inside the properties, you caused extensive damage - if not ransacking them, in some instances. I am not going to lecture you as to the potential impact that burglaries have on homeowners.

"I have no doubt that other judges have in the past, and it has clearly made little difference. In some instances, occupiers were present and disturbed by the gang's presence.

"That included a 16-year-old child who was faced with the image of intruders dressed entirely in black. How utterly terrifying."

As he was led down to the cells, Devany said: "How the hell do the travellers get away with it? That's your job, not mine. F***s sake."

Merseyside Police's Detective Inspector Kevin O’Rourke said following the sentencing: "Devany was a particularly callous burglar who specifically targeted the homes of individuals and families who he suspected had high value jewellery. We quickly identified a van used in all six burglaries and, following CCTV inquiries and DNA testing, we were able to find the evidence that has now put Devany behind bars.

"These burglaries had a huge impact on the victims, and it’s pleasing to see that Devany now has plenty of time to reflect on his actions in prison. Burglary is a very personal crime, and having pieces of jewellery stolen that are of enormous sentimental value can be distressing for the victims.

"It is rare for members of the Asian community to be targeted in this way, but some burglars will take advantage of cultural traditions and aim to steal a family’s gold. If you do keep valuable jewellery or large amounts of cash in your home, please take steps to secure it properly.

"Simply attempting to hide jewellery or cash is not enough, no matter how well you think you have hidden it. A determined burglar will search high and low for your treasured possessions.

"Ideally, you should remove all gold and jewellery from your house altogether and secure these items in a safe deposit box. If you would prefer to keep gold and jewellery at home, buy a high quality safe which complies with insurance rating standards and is fixed securely to a wall or the floor."

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