Monday, August 18, 2008

"The Notorious Johnson Family"

I mentioned Gloucestershire's most well-known band of vagabonds and villains in this post a few years back. Now they've gone down for 49 years. Between five of them. Another judge - Christopher Critchlow - with a good line in ironic humour.

Judge Christopher Critchlow, sentencing the gang for the country house raids, told them the way they had mocked police was "indicative of your attitude to the law".

He said: "Cases of this gravity must attract heavy sentences because of the deliberate criminality, organisation and sophistication of their planning and the effect on the occupants. This must be one of the most serious examples of conspiracy to burgle ever to come before the court, considering the amounts involved. Little of the property has been recovered and is no doubt well hidden in the countryside or passed on for disposal. You have no respect for people's property or the law so I have no alternative but to impose severe sentences."
Four or five years (remember to cut the sentence in half) for £60m robberies ? His Honour is having a laugh. For ten million quid I'd do five years in Dartmoor.

I see they've left Glarcestershire for Cleeve Prior on the Worcestershire-Warwickshire borders, somewhere twixt Evesham and Bidford-on-Avon. Should feel at home there. A few years back Cleeve Prior was home to a gang of those helpful chaps who knock on old ladies' doors to tell them about the loose slates that they can fix for them - a story that ends with old ladies being driven to the cashpoint on multiple ocasions to have their building society accounts emptied as the work that needs doing mysteriously escalates. When they were nailed one of the lads had over £400,000 in a building society, which had dwindled to about 100K by the time the courts got their hands on it. When I open a bank account I need a letter from a bishop and my firstborn as security. How come all the money-laundering regulations seem to bypass these people ? Are they scared of being accused of discrimination if they raise an eyebrow at cash-only caravan dwellers ?

THE Johnson’s (Ricky, Albi and Richard) who sound like an American pop group but were actually a travelling band of gipsy thieves, liked to look on themselves as some kind of 21st century Robin Hoods robbing from the rich. Except they never gave to the poor. Not unless it was to themselves anyway.

From their base on a travellers’ permanent site in south Worcestershire, they travelled all across southern England stealing from the homes of the rich and famous. “I feel I have the right to rob the lords, sirs and the ladies,” family patriarch Ricky Johnson once told the TV cameras. “I have to feed my children and if no one is helping me achieve my goal I feel I have that right.”

How much the Johnsons actually made from the proceeds of their raids, estimated in a court this week to be a staggering £80 million, is open to question. As one visitor to their home on the park at Cleeve Prior, near Evesham, said: “It’s not as though they live rich. There’s no sign of a Bentley round the back.”

That certainly figures. According to my extensive contacts in the Gloucestershire criminal underworld, artworks from Paddy McNally's manor, the frames hastily repainted, were being sold by one of the matriarchs at knock-down prices at the Cheltenham Racecourse car-boot within months of the raid.