ROBBERS who carried out a carefully planned raid on a van carrying £465,000 at a service station near Alvechurch have been given long jail sentences.

One of the gang, Leon Brown, was jailed for 13 years for the robbery at Hopwood Service Station on the M42 on August 15 last year.

Two others, Leon Bell and John Wall, we're each given eight years and the fourth member of the gang, Adam Ali, got seven years.

The gang followed the truck from a depot in Oxford on its way to the V Festival in Staffordshire, Gerard Quirke, prosecuting, told Worcester Crown Court.

Driver Ian Dewsbury stopped for lunch at Hopwood and was grabbed by Bell and Brown, both in hoods and ski masks. They bundled him into a high-powered Audi and Ali drove his truck to a rendezvous in a field near Alvechurch. Wall was driving a stolen van and was on his way to meet them but the getaway didn't go according to plan, the court was told.

Wall was picked up by police and when the others saw this, they were forced to turn around and meet up near Alvechurch railway station. Mr Dewsbury, who was "terrified", was made to open the van and help them clear out the cash before they locked him inside. He was able to free himself.

The gang members had also lost contact with each other on their cheap mobile phones as they made their way to the meeting point. Ray McVeighty, appearing for Ali, told the court there was a massive breakdown in communications between the gang members that would have been "almost farcical" if the crime had not been so serious.

Police then followed the Audi in a high speed chase to the outskirts of Birmingham where the robbers ran. They were later arrested.

Judge Robert Juckes, QC, said it had been a carefully planned and professional robbery based on careful reconnaissance of the target, a cash truck which relied on having a low profile rather than on high security.

Brown, aged 38, of Willersley Gardens, Birmingham, who denied the allegation and was convicted of robbery after a trial, was given the longest sentence. The others pleaded guilty.
Bell, aged 37, of Greenvale Avenue, Sheldon, who got eight years, handed in references from a film-maker and the head of a national charity. John Butterfield defending, said Bell had been in trouble when he was 21 and got six years, along with Brown for conspiracy to rob. But he had then become a role model in his community and appeared in a documentary on his work persuading young people to avoid his criminal path. He worked for a charity and went into local schools to talk on the issue of keeping away from a life of crime, Mr Butterfield said. He realised how badly he had let people down.

Wall, aged 50, of Bromford Court, Bromford Lane, Washwood Heath, was given seven years for the robbery and an extra twelve months for attempted theft of two imported cars at a sea terminal in Grimsby shortly before the Hopwood raid. Andrew Frymann, defending, said he had been in the gang as a driver. The father of two had not been in trouble for 26 years and was known as a committed family man, he said.

Mr McVeighty said Ali, a father of six, aged 34, of Cotman Close, Birmingham, had also acted as a driver. He had a full time job but had been tempted by the chance of easy money.

The sentences will be reduced by the time they have already spent in custody on remand.