THREE men who stole items to a total value of more than £600,000 during a series of burglaries across Cheshire, including one at footballer Raheem Sterling’s Goostrey home, have been jailed.

Vincent Ball, John Barlow and Thomas Mee are all members of a sophisticated organised crime gang from Liverpool.

Between them, they committed at least 14 burglaries at addresses in Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire between November 2018 and October 2019.

The group specifically targeted homes in affluent rural locations, stealing high-value watches, designer handbags and jewellery worth more than half-a-million pounds.

The majority of the burglaries were committed during the hours of darkness and at weekends, with Ball acting as the getaway driver while Barlow and Mee carried out the burglaries.

The group first came to the attention of Cheshire Police in late 2018, when a series of burglaries were committed by offenders using ladders to enter properties through first floor windows and doors to ultimately avoid setting off house alarms.

An investigation was launched by the force’s serious and organised crime unit, with officers piecing together a raft of evidence linking the trio to burglaries in Brick Bank Lane in Allostock, Blackden Lane in Goostrey, Peover Lane in Chelford , Chester Road in Mere, Chelford Lane in Over Peover and Prestbury Road in Wilmslow.

Knutsford Guardian:

Men on the roof of a property

Jamiroquai singer Jay Kay's house in Buckinghamshire was also among those targeted by the gang, as well as the homes of Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling, Bury FC chairman Steve Dale and Mansfield Town FC owner John Radford.

Chester Crown Court heard how the defendants attempted to burgle Sterling's home in Goostrey on November 4, 2018.

Simon Parry, prosecuting, said: "Fortunately the alarm system at the address activated and scared the burglars away. Nothing was taken."

In a statement read to the court before sentencing was adjourned on Friday, Cheryl Batson, who had £146,000 worth of jewellery and handbags, as well as a Louis Vuitton scarf, taken from her home in Willaston, Cheshire, said she suffered anxiety and distress after the raid.

She said: “I have a heartbreaking feeling of loss over the sentimental pieces of jewellery which belonged to my late grandmother.

“I cannot stress enough the heartache I feel over having these items taken from me.”

Knutsford Guardian:

Mee, Barlow and Ball all arrive at a hotel in Derby, where they stayed before committing a burglary in Barnby Moor

The trio’s downfall came at around 8.30pm on Saturday, October 5, when police received a 999 call from a resident in Prestbury reporting that a family member had disturbed a number of intruders at their Macclesfield Road home.

Whilst fleeing the property, burglars dropped valuable items worth approximately £500,000.

Police were at the scene within minutes and Ball and Mee were arrested a short time later in Massey Street, Alderley Edge, where officers also discovered a Vauxhall Insignia which the group had used as their getaway car.

Within the car, officers found crowbars, walkie-talkies, torches, mobile phones, disposable gloves, false number plates and various items of clothing containing traces of Barlow and Mee’s DNA.

Barlow managed to evade officers on the night, disposing of some of his clothing and making his way back to Alderley Edge before travelling back to Liverpool in a taxi in the early hours of the morning.

He was arrested on Monday, October 28.

During subsequent searches of the trio’s homes in Merseyside, officers discovered a significant amount of evidence including stolen items, a large quantity of cash and mobile phones.

One of the phones recovered belonging to Mee was found to contain pictures of items that were stolen from several of the burglaries.

Knutsford Guardian:

CCTV footage showing the men using a ladder to access an address

Ball, 52, Barlow, 58, and Mee, 42, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and were sentenced at Chester Crown Court today, Monday.

Mee also admitted three counts of handling stolen goods.

They were jailed for a total of 24 years and 10 months.

Ball, of Ranworth Place, Liverpool, was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison; Barlow, of no fixed address, was jailed for seven years and six months; and Mee, of HMP Altcourse, was handed an eight year and seven month custodial sentence.

A spokesperson from Cheshire Police’s serious and organised crime unit said: “Ball, Barlow and Mee are all members of a sophisticated organised crime gang responsible for at least 14 burglaries across England.

“They showed an extreme level of forensic and digital awareness when committing the offences, demonstrating their determination to obtain hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of other people’s property and family heirlooms.

“A significant level of planning and preparation went into each burglary, with the trio travelling hundreds of miles to commit the offences and specifically targeting the homes of high-profile businessmen and women, footballers and celebrities.

“In these 14 incidents alone, they caused damage and stole property to a total value of more than £600,000.

Knutsford Guardian:

Images of stolen handbags found on Mee's phone

“The impact of their crime spree should not be underestimated. To know that criminals have been in your home – the place you should be able to feel most safe – rifled through your property and stole your personal possessions is sickening.

“While the majority of these incidents occurred when the victims were out, some burglaries took place while they were at home.

“To be subjected to such an ordeal must be absolutely terrifying and something that nobody should have to experience.

“I hope that these convictions provide some comfort and reassurance to the victims and allows them to move forward with their lives.

“I would also like to thank all of the officers involved in this case for the roles that they have played in securing the convictions against Ball, Barlow and Mee.

“As a result of their work, a major organised crime gang has been removed from our streets and the trio are now facing a significant period behind bars.

“I hope that this case acts as a warning to anyone who is planning on travelling to Cheshire to commit crimes. Our message to them is ‘don’t make a wasted journey’.”