Five men, believed to part of a shoplifting ring responsible for stealing thousands of pounds worth of goods from local stores, have appeared at Derry Magistrate’s Court.
The five men, all with addresses in the city, were arrested following a search operation by local police whose suspicions were raised after one of the gang tried to sell a stolen pair of hair straighteners to a member of the public - outside Strand Road PSNI Station.
The court was told by a PSNI officer that shopkeepers in the Derry area had been targeted for the last five months by a Scottish/ Irish shoplifting gang. She said the gang used a foil lined crisp box, inside a large blue Argos bag in which to stash hundreds of pounds worth of goods such as perfumes, designer clothes and football shirts from stores such as Boots, DW Sports, Lifestyle Sports, Kular, Tommy Hilfigger and Tesco.
The five men had been remanded in custody facing a litany of charges related to shoplifting offences in the city over the course of the last five months.
Liam Harvey, 27 of Abercorn Road, Richard Greene, 38 of Lower Nassau Street, Michael Brown, 26 of Lower Nassau Street, Brian McCool, 39 of Lawrence Hill and Kevin Nolan, 41 of Stradowen Drive face charges including conspiracy to steal. theft, going equipped for theft, handling stolen goods and other similar offences.
Harvey, Greene and Brown did not make any application for bail. However their co-accused McCool and Nolan did make a case to the court that they be released on stringent bail conditions.
Objecting to this application, a PSNI officer leading the investigation alleged the men had participated in a “clearly organised venture” which had robbed local stores of thousands of pounds of goods over the course of the last five months. The officer explained how McCool and Nolan had come to police attention as McCool tried to sell a pair of hair straighteners to a member of the public on the Strand Road on June 6.
She said when questioned about the straighteners, McCool had alleged his girlfriend had recently bought them but, finding himself strapped for cash, he decided to sell them on.
When police asked him why he simply did not return them to the store where they had been purchased, he replied: “Because they were stole.”
Mobile phones seized from the accused also contained messages relating to selling goods and to going shoplifting because he “didn’t get sorted by the dole”.
Further investigation by the police has uncovered what they allege to be a shoplifting gang
The officer said: “Each of them take different roles in each shop. Some split up to identify items to be stolen, another may distract the security guard.”
She said police were in possession of CCTV images of gang members which connected them directly to the thefts.
While outlining other details relating to the case. the officer also revealed that one of the accused - Greene - had been found to be in possession of a significant amount of cash. “When searched he was found to have £2500 in English notes stuffed between his buttocks wrapped in toilet paper.”
Defence for McCool and Nolan refuted claims his clients were master criminals - stating: “Sophisticated career criminals are unlikely to try and hawk their goods outside a police station.”
Derry’s District Judge, Barney McElholm denied McCool and Nolan’s bail application saying he had “no confidence these men will desist their behaviour”.
He said while shoplifting was essentially a “simple crime” - to steal repeatedly and over a long period of time required a degree of sophistication and planning from the defendants.
They will appear in court again on September 4.