FOUR men have been given jail terms following a police crackdown on rural crime in Cumbria – including a series of high-value Land Rover thefts.

Farms, National Trust properties, businesses and private homes were all targeted by some in the criminal group, whose members included a Carlisle man responsible for stealing vehicles worth more than £90,000.

The criminals operated at night, and attempts were made to sell on stolen vehicles in the north-east, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

The most criminally active of the group was Carlisle man Patrick Young, 33. A prolific offender, with 61 previous offences on his record, he appeared before a judge over a video link, having admitted five burglaries and five thefts.

Among the vehicles he stole were three Land Rovers and a £35,000 motorhome, which Young took from the owner’s driveway in Portinscale village, near Keswick, in October last year, helped by his 20-year-old get-away driver Rhys Wilkinson.

The pair then attempted to take the vehicle to the north-east via the A69 but they were headed off by police.

When officers deployed a stinger device, designed to puncture the motorhome's tyres, Wilkinson quickly turned off the road onto a country lane, eventually becoming trapped when the lane reached a dead end.

Finally cornered by the pusuing police, Wilkinson took desperate action. 

“He [Wilkinson] was not for stopping,” said prosecutor Tim Evans. “When the lane before him came to an abrupt stop, the motorhome reversed and deliberately rammed the police vehicle, no doubt attempting to displace it.”

Wilkinson went on to ram the police car four more times before the motorhome was finally boxed in by other police cars. He and Young then fled the scene but they were caught a short time later after police deployed sniffer dogs.

Wilkinson, of Raffles, Carlisle, admitted theft and dangerous driving. He was jailed for 18 months. He was also given a one-year driving ban.

Young, formerly of Firlands, Stanwix, Carlisle, was jailed for 45 months and given a 34 month driving ban. Also sentenced were two other men involved in various episodes of mostly rural offending, much of it involving Young, said to be the "common thread" in the crime spree.

Those defendants were:

* Scott Walpole, 31, of Curzon Street, Maryport, who was jailed for 21 months after he admitted theft of a Land Rover and burglary.

* And James Benson, 45, of Firlands, Stanwix, Carlisle, given 21 months suspended for two years for vehicle theft and burglary. He too pleaded guilty. He must also do 150 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Evans said Walpole and Young stole a Land Rover from a farm in the Newlands Valley, the two having driven there in separate cars to find a vehicle to steal. The barrister also described how Young burgled the premises of UK Car and Commercials in London Road, Carlisle, stealing keys.

Working with an unidentified male, he stole a VW Transporter and a transit van.

Young worked with Benson in September 2019, when they stole a Land Rover worth £25,000 from an estate in the Keswick area. The vehicle was being used to transport goods needed for a wedding at the venue, the court heard.

They were also involved in burgling Dalston Aggregate, at Dalston, near Carlisle. Young alone carried out a burglary at a National Trust property on November 22 2019.

Kim Whittlestone, for Wilkinson, said there was a glimmer of hope given that he had gone through five years without offending. When released, he hoped to find work as a roofer, said the barrister.

Anthony Parkinson, for Benson, said he had committed no further offences since the night he went out with Young to find a vehicle to steal. Tabitha Book, for Young, rejected the suggestion that he was part of “group activity”.

She said: “When he needs money, he goes out and takes vehicles; if others want to be in on the ride, in on the job, that’s a matter for them.”

As he passed sentence, Judge Simon Medland QC said: “The principle element which features across these offences is that of crime in the countryside. The countryside is an idyllic place to live but it is also a place of work.

“It is by its very nature vulnerable to predation and it is easy to steal or interfere with property – property that is vital for people’s work, or just for getting around.”

He noted that Young was the principle offender.

After the case, Detective Constable Stuart Graham, from Cumbria Police's from the Crime and Safeguarding Team, said the men were brought to justice after a detailed and complex investigation codenamed Operation Damask.

It was launched following a spate of mostly rural crimes – involving farms, homes and businesses – between February 2019 and October 2021 in the Keswick and Carlisle areas.

The officer said: "Cumbria is a predominantly rural county and unfortunately we have seen our rural communities targeted by opportunist criminals.

“The defendants targeted multiple businesses and farms across Cumbria, targeting vehicles and other items.

"The theft of vehicles used by farms and businesses disrupts our communities and adversely affects the local economy.

“Detectives found that the stolen vehicles were taken over to the north east and sold or some of the vehicles were recovered locally. I hope today’s sentences provides reassurance to businesses and rural communities that action has been taken against those targeting them.

“Burglary and the theft of vehicles will not be tolerated and those that engage in these activities face a police investigation and prosecution.

“We would like to remind people to remain vigilant to the threat of thefts and burglaries and report and suspicious persons or activity to police via our online reporting form, live chat or 101 or if a crime is occurring on 999.”