Earby man jailed for his role in crime gang which stole lead from churches

Stephen Potts
Stephen Potts

A PROLIFIC crook has been locked up for his part in an “organised crime” gang who targeted churches and other buildings to strip them of lead.

Stephen Potts, a convicted robber with 76 previous convictions, played an integral and important role in the enterprise. The gang had planned to run start a money-spinning “business” by attacking premises throughout East Lancashire and beyond and weighing the lead in for high prices, a court was told.

Burnley Crown Court has heard how more than a dozen buildings, including St Mary’s Church, Nelson, were picked out in the four-month spree, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation. Some were targeted twice, including St Andrew’s Church at Gargrave, near Skipton, giving the vicar worry and sleepless nights.

Potts (39), of Bowhead Road, Earby, who provided vehicles and equipment for the thefts, had admitted conspiracy to steal between July and October, 2010 and was jailed for two and a half years.

His partner, Lisa Gerard (24), of the same address and mother of his two children, was spared immediate jail, after admitting the same allegation. The defendant, who was involved in the hiring of several vehicles, was given four months in prison, suspended for a year, with 40 hours unpaid work. She had no previous convictions.

Two other gang members, Lee Hartley and David Raw, were sent to custody last September.

Hartley (22), of Blucher Street, and Raw (20), of Milton Street, both Colne, had been sent down for 16 months and eight months respectively. They were said to have been recruited as labourers to take the lead from roofs in the middle of the night.

The court was told Potts had served a six-year prison term for robbery and most of his convictions were for dishonesty.

For Potts, Mr Timothy Jacobs said the defendant and his partner were isolated and relied on each other and each other alone. He had not offended since. The solicitor added: “He is perhaps showing signs of growing up.”

Mr Mark Stuart, for Gerard, said she did not participate directly in any of the thefts. She was in work and could be given a suspended sentence.

Sentencing, Judge Jonathan Gibson told Potts he was not one of the principal organisers or leaders of the gang. He said he accepted his personal level of gain was probably relatively modest, but that said, it didn’t really reflect the seriousness of what happened. The judge continued: “This was organised crime and has to be dealt with accordingly.”

Judge Gibson said he accepted Gerard knew it was “something dodgy” and that that was probably the extent of her knowledge. He told her: “I accept you were of limited involvement and I don’t think you would have got involved at all, but for Stephen Potts.”