'Prolific crime gang' steals copper in Ards peninsula burglary blitz

'Prolific crime gang' steals copper in Ards peninsula burglary blitz

COPPER and scrap metal were stolen during a burglary blitz carried out on the Ards peninsula by what a police officer described as a "prolific crime gang".

Details emerged as Karl O'Neill (37), of Fitzroy Avenue, Belfast, but formerly with an address in Ballywalter, and Adrian Aicken (31), of Bests Hill in Belfast, had bail refused at Downpatrick Magistrates Court.

The men, and 45-year-old Emma Morgan - of Ormeau Road in Belfast, who had bail refused at an earlier court - are charged in relation to a series of thefts including July 23 and the period between August 9-12 this year.

Charges include the theft of copper and scrap metal, car batteries; a petrol quad, mini moto, a power washer, chainsaw and red diesel in areas including Kircubbin, Ballywalter and Donaghadee.

O'Neill and Aicken had bail applications mounted in their absence at Downpatrick Court.

Objecting to bail, a police officer said on August 12 police saw a van, details of which had been circulated by colleagues in Newtownards in relation to a series of burglaries in the Ards Peninsula.

Police apprehended the vehicle in a metal contractor's yard and when they searched the vehicle they discovered items related to burglaries including "metal items".

The van was insured in the name of Emma Morgan.

The officer said the three people were arrested in relation to six burglaries in the peninsula.

Police obtained documentation from the metal contractor to whom they believed items had sold items to previously, the PSNI woman said.

She said invoices corresponded to items taken in a burglary on July 23 and, she added, there was also CCTV from that burglary identifying the defendants.

The officer said the van had been "active" in the peninsula in the early hours.

The PSNI officer told the court they were dealing with a "prolific crime gang".

She said O'Neill has 143 previous convictions including burglary and Aicken has 121 previous convictions.

A defence lawyer said Emma Morgan is Aicken's partner and is O'Neill's cousin.

He added: "They are a couple and a cousin who were running about together. It isn't an organised crime gang in any sense.

"For one of these alleged thefts they have spent more on diesel driving to the peninsula than they managed to even get (from the metal contractor)".

He said some of the charges relate to "scrap metal" and he said the values were "extremely low".

When police stopped the defendants there was £100 worth of copper present; four batteries "valued at £3", and four bank cards, the lawyer said.

District Judge Amanda Brady said the police case was that the defendants were "serial burglars".

She said there had been a "plethora" of alleged offences and refused bail due to a risk of re-offending.

The cases were adjourned to Newtownards Court on September 1.