An 18-year-old who helped steal £30,000 of Wrigley’s chewing gum from a lorry in a bid to settle a debt has been ordered to complete 150 hours of community service.
Keon Sanderson, from Birstall, near Leeds in West Yorkshire, was part of three-strong gang that carried out the raid in a lorry park in Gloucester Services on the M5 in the early hours of May 4 this year.
As the female driver slept in her cab, the trio cut open the lorry’s side and removed seven of the 19 pallets of chewing gum inside into their own lorry.
They fled the scene after another driver spotted the theft and called police.
They were chased along the M5 to Cheltenham, where they left the motorway and drove the wrong way along the A40 before abandoning their lorry near a BMW dealership and fleeing on foot.
The defendant and a second man, 20-year-old Ellis Benecke, were arrested soon after.
Sanderson later pleaded guilty to theft, possession of cannabis and failing to provide a breath test or sample of blood or urine for analysis.
At his sentencing hearing at Gloucester Crown Court, Mandla Ndlou, defending, said the defendant had been “coerced” into participating in the theft to pay off a debt.
He said Sanderson did not even stand to profit from any future sale of the gum, and that the only benefit was that his debt would be cancelled.
Mr Ndlou said Sanderson had “played absolutely no part” in the planning of the chewing gum heist.
“This was very much done under the boot of an individual who was much older than he was,” he said.
The court heard that while Sanderson was originally thought to have been the getaway driver, police now accept that was not the case.
Handing Sanderson 10 months in jail suspended for 18 months, recorder judge Richard Mawhinney said: “This was a sophisticated and planned operation to identify a vehicle from which goods were to be stolen.
“The operation was instigated in Leeds in Yorkshire, so it was clearly sophisticated and planned but I accept that planning was not yours and you were effectively a foot soldier.”
Recorder Mawhinney continued: “You were under a certain amount of pressure to perform these actions but at the same time you benefited by having a debt written off.”
He noted that the lorry driver had suffered emotional distress “because effectively it was her home that was broken into” and she had to take a week off work.
Sanderson was ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work, pay £200 court costs over the next six months and was disqualified from driving for 18 months for refusing to take a breathalyser test or give a sample.
At a hearing at the same court on Monday, Benecke, of Aysgarth Road, Leeds, was sentenced for theft and possession of cannabis.
Benecke, who admitted taking part in the theft in order to settle a drugs debt, was given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months.
He was also ordered him to complete 140 hours of unpaid work.