Accused denies link to string of shop robberies in West Midlands

A man has denied being part of an axe-wielding masked gang responsible for a string of dawn heists on convenience stores.

He said he travelled with the gang only once on a mission to 'scare off' someone, not to steal, and alleged he 'knew nothing' of the shop raids.

Craig Osmund-Smith, aged 42, of Valley Road, Dudley; Alan Britton, 40, of Duke Street, Wolverhampton and Graham Aulton, 33, of Norbury Crescent, Lanesfield, Wolverhampton, admit a single charge of conspiring to rob shops in the Black Country, Staffordshire and Shrewsbury, stealing cigarettes, cash, mobile phones, scratch cards and a BMW last summer.

Stewart Ferguson 35, of Rosewood Court, Coseley, denies the same charge.

The seven stores hit over an eight-week rampage were Tesco Express in Codsall; Tesco Express in Willenhall Road, Wolverhampton; Spar in Wombourne; the Co-op in Penkridge; Sainsbury’s Local in Gornal; One Stop in Ashmore Park, Wolverhampton; and Spar in Bayston Hill, Shrewsbury.

Police arrested Osmund-Smith, Aulton, and Ferguson on November 5 last year as the trio arrived at the Sainsbury’s Local in Wordsley in a BMW at 5am.

But Ferguson told a Stafford Crown Court jury yesterday(MON) that he was there as a favour to his sister Michelle, who was married to Aulton.

He claimed that Osmund-Smith was planning to scare someone who had smashed his ex-girlfriend's windows, and that Aulton offered to help him.

Ferguson said his sister was concerned so he promised to go along to make sure Aulton wore a mask.

He said: "Michelle was worried. She didn't want anyone coming round and smashing their windows."

Ferguson admitted going home and making a balaclava-like mask from cut-off leggings for himself to wear.

He claimed not to know Britton or Osmund-Smith socially and that his main link with Aulton was going to the gym.

The court heard previously that phone evidence had linked him to the other men.To explain the many calls between his phone and Aulton's, he alleged his mobile was often used by his girlfriend to contact Michelle and that his sister called him frequently from Aulton's phone.

Earlier a shop worker told how she was pushed to the floor then locked in a toilet by the gang who stole cash and cigarettes in the raid on Tesco Express in Codsall on September 9.

Chantelle Riley and her boss were getting ready to open the store at 5.30am when three men forced their way inside armed with an axe and a wrench.