Three Merseyside men were sentenced yesterday to a total of 17 years for their part in a “sophisticated” plot to rob the home of one of Northern Ireland’s richest men.
However, the plan to rob multi-millionaire Michael Herbert’s detached house was foiled following a lengthy covert surveillance operation by the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch, the court heard.
Richard Blundell, 52, of Bardsay Road, Liverpool; Stephen Barlow, 50, of Hewitson Road, Liverpool; and Craig Murray, 33, of Victoria Road, Crosby, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary on the south Belfast home of Mr Herbert between March 31 and April 9, 2011.
The charge stated that the men, armed with an offensive weapon, namely cable ties, having entered the house on the Malone Road, did so with intent to steal.
Four other charges – conspiracy to rob and falsely imprison the Herbert family, conspiracy to burgle and going equipped for burglary – remain on the books.
A prosecution lawyer told Belfast Crown Court that the three-man gang had been “under observation for a substantial period of time” by undercover police.
The court heard that the accused took part in three “reconnaissance missions” before, on April 8, the three suspects caught the Holyhead-to-Dublin ferry. They booked into the Beechlawn Hotel, Dunmurry, that evening.
The prosecutor said that around 8pm “the three male persons made their way along the towpath to the Malone Road to the target house”.
“Entry was gained to the rear garden of the target house through a broken panel in the fence. One was carrying a rucksack and they were observed by police carrying crowbars.
“Around 10.20pm, police challenged them as it appeared they were about to leave the garden having not entered the house.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland said it was clear the trio were planning to rob the home of a “high-value target’’.
He said it was a “sophisticated operation’’ to rob the home but that it had been foiled by police.
Blundell and Barlow were sentenced to six years, with three in custody and the remainder on licence following their release.
The judge sentenced father-of-four Murray to five years, with two-and-a-half years in custody and the remainder on licence after his release.
“Police effectively then had to trigger the arrest.”
The court heard that the owners of the home had been kept fully informed of the police operation from April 1.