TWO Cheltenham men who committed burglaries in Slimbridge and Wiltshire using a stolen van with false number plates have been jailed after they crashed in a bid to escape police.

Gloucester Crown Court was told on Friday that on July 13 this year at around 2.30pm, a tractor driver passing a bungalow in Long Aston Lane in Slimbridge spotted a man smashing a window and getting into the property.

As the tractor driver got closer he saw two people running out of the bungalow, jumping into a waiting grey van and driving off. He tried to block the van’s exit but the van driver mounted the pavement and sped away.

Prosecutor Alec Small said the tractor driver had the forethought to take the vehicle’s details and informed the police.

“Some 40 minutes later police in an unmarked BMW patrol car spotted the van on the A40 travelling towards Cheltenham and followed it. The occupants only realised they were being followed when the police car sirens were activated.

"The van driver immediately left the A40 and entered a local estate in the town and tried to get away by driving at excess speed, causing other road users to take evasive action.

“The van then hit a number of road signs and mounted the pavement before colliding with a garden fence. It was still travelling at 30mph when it came back onto the road, but by now had lost the use of one wheel and came to a halt in Sussex Avenue.

“The three occupants got out of the van and ran off.

"The driver Michael Smith, aged 39, was captured nearby - as was another man.

“The third occupant, Wesley Aubrey, 34, was chased to his home address in Devon Avenue, Cheltenham.

"When the police began knocking at his front door he ran out of the back door and was promptly arrested.

“As police began searching Aubrey’s property, a bag was seized and discovered to contain a watch and a quantity of costume jewellery that had been stolen from a burglary in a hamlet in Wiltshire on July 10.

"Some £34,000 worth of items were stolen in this burglary, including an engagement ring that was discovered in the third man’s pocket when he was arrested.”

The court was told that the van was then searched and policed discovered three large black bags containing a number of registration plates, boxes of jewellery and a number of tools. It was revealed that the van had also been stolen some 12 months earlier.

Michael Hall for Smith said: “He has faced up to the reality of his offending. He is very remorseful about his actions. He had been turning his life around until he was affected by the death of a close friend.

He spent three months providing the end of life care for a close friend. When this person died he said his ‘head fell off’ and he became angry with the world and embarked on this spree of burglaries.

“He does not seek any sympathy as he is the one who made poor life choices.”

James McKenna for Aubrey said: “Taking part in the burglary was out of character for Aubrey, but ultimately he did make the conscious decision to take part in this offending spree.

“He was a self-employed builder who until the pandemic was running a successful business but then fell on hard times. He was left in a financial position where he acted in a wholly unacceptable manner by committing these burglaries."

Smith, of Buckingham Avenue, St Marks, Cheltenham pleaded guilty to two offences of burglary with intent to steal, handling stolen goods, careless driving and driving whilst disqualified.

Aubrey also admitted two offences of burglary with intent to steal and handling stolen goods on July 10, 2020 knowing them to be stolen.

Judge Jason Taylor QC said to both men this was an appalling spree of offending, thankfully it was short-lived.

Smith was sentenced to three years in prison, disqualified from driving for three years. His licence endorsed for dangerous driving. Aubrey was jailed for two years and five months.