Two men who led a group of 100 travellers on a £300,000 wrecking spree at a Blackburn brewery have been jailed.
Thomas Ward, 43, and John Ward, 33, pleaded guilty to blackmail, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to commit criminal damage.
The Wards led a convoy of up to 30 caravans and 100 from the traveller community into Thwaites Brewery last May after a padlock was cut at the yard entrance and the security guard was thrown out.
After breaking into the brewery, Thomas Ward then led negotiations with Thwaites bosses for the group to leave, but only if £20,000 was paid in return.
Burnley Crown Court heard that management was able to find £10,000 at short notice, but when that amount was offered they were told by Ward to ‘f*** off’ and warned ‘not to insult them’.
As the negotiations became more protracted, the Travellers then caused an estimated £313,000 worth of damage to the premises when Ward realised he was not going to get the amount he had demanded.
Staff and police finally gained full access to the Penny Street brewery on and the Travellers left under police escort – with some vehicles ‘heavily laden down with items’, the court heard.
It was reported that the traveller gang were inside the brewery for two days.
Among items stolen were four-and-half tonnes of copper cabling – along with televisions, computer equipment, cash, port, wine and spirits.
Damage at the brewery was so extensive, it brought an ‘unpleasant end’ to 200 years of production at the site, the judge said.
Thwaites had been due to move to a new complex in Lancashire some 12 weeks after the incident, but was forced to terminate operations early.
A month later police raids took place in Levershulme Park in Bolton, where a search of Ward’s caravan uncovered £1,725 in cash and a Samsung phone containing images of a newspaper article and a TV bulletin on the incident.
Sentencing Thomas Ward, of Aspull Common, Leigh, to four years and three months in jail, the judge said: ‘A conspiracy was formed to steal what was available and to cause a considerable amount of damage on the way.
‘It is clear that a considerable amount of wanton vandalism was carried out and some of the beer on the site had to be thrown out because of the risk of contamination. That was an unpleasant end to 200 years of brewing on that site.’
John Ward, 34, of Aspull Common, also admitted conspiracy to burglary and commit damage and was jailed for three years and nine months.
A 17-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, will be sentenced at youth court for the conspiracy offences at a later date.
A fourth defendant, Patrick Ward, 32, remains at large after he was convicted of the conspiracy offences in his absence.