DETECTIVES from the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch are said to be “jubilant” after dismantling a Liverpool-based organised crime group.
They were caught by officers as they were about to burgle a house in south Belfast belonging to KFC franchisee Michael Herbert and his family almost three years ago.
Steven Barlow (50), Richard Blundell (52) and Craig Murray (33) had travelled from Merseyside to Belfast in April 2011.
They used bogus identities to book into a hotel and made a number of visits to a property in south Belfast to check the layout of the premises, its grounds and security measures.
On the night of Friday 8 April 2011, using false number plates on a car and dressed to give the impression they were going for a jog, the three entered the grounds of a house in south Belfast when they were subsequently confronted by police in the back garden.
Barlow was arrested in the garden. Blundell and Murray ran off but were detained by police a short distance away.
All three individuals were wearing black ski masks and gloves as well as dark clothing over high visibility running kit.
In a follow-up search the next day, police uncovered items in a backpack including cable ties which police believe were to be used in the conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.
Organised Crime Branch head, Detective Chief Superintendent Roy McComb, said: “I want to acknowledge the courage and perseverance of the intended victims in this investigation who have worked with police to ensure this dangerous Organised Crime Group was brought to justice.
“This is a group of experienced criminals who came to Northern Ireland with the intention of making money through violence or the threat of violence. Two of the defendants have previous convictions for similar serious offending in England.
“The fact that they did not succeed is due in no small measure to the attitude of the victims in working with police and the bravery and professionalism of PSNI officers who worked with colleagues in the National Crime Agency and the Titan team (North West Regional Organised Crime Unit) in England to bring these criminals to justice.”
Barlow and Blundell were sentenced to six years; Murray was sentenced to five years. Half of the sentences will be in custody, half on licence. An application for Serious Crime Prevention Orders was adjourned until next month.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland will continue to tackle the real threat to the public posed by Organised Crime,” added Chief Supt McComb.