A GANG of four men who stole cylinders of painkilling gas from three North East hospitals at the start of the coronavirus crisis were “despicable” and their crimes “could have been catastrophic”, a judge has said.
The men, from Norfolk, were each jailed for four years today (Tuesday 13 October) after raids on hospitals in Stockport, Manchester and County Durham.
The well-planned spree happened over the weekend of March 21-23 – the day before the national lockdown was imposed, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Judge Paul Watson QC told them: “At this time, given the situation the health service is in, the effects could have been catastrophic.”
He said the Entonox and nitrous oxide cylinders were essential for pain management across the “whole spectrum” of the health service, and called the burglaries “despicable conduct”.
Judge Watson added: “We know that in March of this year the country was in the early stages of being in the grip of a terrible pandemic, the spectre of which is still hanging over the nation now.”
He said it was clear even at that early stage that the pandemic “would take a terrible toll on precious national health resources”.
The judge said the raids posed a “significant risk of harm to those receiving pain management treatment”.
Oliver Zak Henry Evans, 22, from Wallington; Harry David Bradley Goodrum, 23, from Dereham; Jake Alexander Roberts, 23, from Norwich; and Wayne John Grady, 42, of no fixed address, admitted a single charge of conspiracy to commit burglary earlier this year.
The gang first broke into Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport and stole two nitrous oxide canisters, used for pain relief, before driving to Willington Hospital in Manchester and taking another eight – some containing Entonox, or “gas and air”, which is often used in childbirth, and others nitrous oxide – from a storage unit after cutting through padlocks.
They then travelled to the North East and smashed their way into a storage unit at Chester-le-Street Community Hospital to steal more canisters in the early hours of the next day.
They committed similar attacks on hospitals in Bishop Auckland and Darlington, taking 14 canisters from the latter, and driving off with them in the back of a BMW fitted with stolen number plates.
Police in Lincolnshire stopped a van the gang were using at a service station and found 29 gas canisters in the back.