A gang who conspired to stage a ‘fake’ £185,000 armed robbery at a post office has been jailed for a total of more than 10 years.
Rishton postmaster Mohammed Iqbal acted as the ‘inside man’ in the operation and allowed himself to be chloroformed and tied up by ‘armed men’ wearing ‘CSI-style’ body suits in front of CCTV cameras, Burnley Crown Court heard.
Brothers Terry and Jason Yarwood, who donned boiler suit outfits complete with gloves, goggles and protective shoes, then made off with Iqbal’s car and £185,000 in cash, stamps and postal orders.
The gang enlisted the help of Avaiz Samad to act as ‘getaway driver’ following the ‘carefully orchestrated and seemingly authentic’ robbery on June 5, 2015.
Iqbal, 33, of Maple Crescent, Preston, Terry Yarwood, 36, of Ridley Road, Preston, and Jason Yarwood, 40, of Preston, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal monies from Rishton post office.
Samad, 23, of Blackpool Road, Ashton-on-Ribble, Preston, was found guilty of the same charge after a trial and Jason Yarwood pleaded also admitted a separate bail offence.
Iqbal and Terry Yarwood were jailed for two years and four months, Jason Yarwood was jailed for two years and 10 months and Samad was jailed for three years.
Brian McKenna, prosecuting, told the court that Iqbal tried to claim he was a ‘genuine victim’ but that his repeated claims were ‘all lies and he was in fact the prime mover’ of the gang.
The court was told that he had the ‘requisite insider knowledge to carry out a staged robbery’ and deliberately ordered an extra £95,000 to the post office ATM machine on the day.
Iqbal earlier in the day also travelled over to Preston to collect the Yarwood brothers and hid them in the post office garage until the time of the robbery.
The court heard how the gang was foiled after police analysed mobile phone calls, vehicle tracking cell siting data.
Mr McKenna said Iqbal made 791 calls to Jason Yarwood in the weeks leading up to the robbery and they arranged for CCTV cameras at the post office to be disabled.
The court heard how a witness described Iqbal on June 5 as ‘exuberant and extremely chatty’ which was ‘very much out of character’ and after the incident was ‘agitated and pre-occupied’ with police and refused to give them his phone pin number.
Officers later recovered DNA from Jason Yarwood on the front passenger seat head rest of Iqbal’s Vauxhall Corsa and £12,000 from a safe at his home.
A proceeds of crime act hearing will be held at the court later this year.
Judge Beverley Lunt said postmaster Mohammed Iqbal had ‘breached the trust’ placed in him.
Sentencing, she told the court: “I’m not sentencing the four of you for an offence of armed robbery. If I was you’d be getting 15 years in prison, that’s how serious this is.
“This is all about a fake post office robbery in which you were all conspirators and each of you played your part.
“Mohammed Iqbal you were trusted by your sister to work in this post office and you ensured there was extra money ordered that Friday to put in the ATM machines, £95,000 more than is usually ordered.
“You made sure you closed the post office and there were no innocent people and no customers were involved. It’s clear that you left the money where it could be accessible and was able to be put in the two big rucksacks.”
Judge Lunt also praised the police on uncovering the conspiracy plot.
She said: “The police must be commended for the thorough and pain-staking investigation. This was a text book investigation that led to the arrests and convictions of these four men.”
David Farley, defending Iqbal, said he was financially desperate at the time of the incident and deserved full credit for his early guilty plea and lack of previous convictions.
He said: “You have a letter from Mr Iqbal expressing his apologies.
“This was out of character for him and all the references suggest that.
“His landlord describes him as someone who led a quiet existence and was respectful.
“Having brought his bank statements to court today, this was really out of desperation and through the financial problems he had.
“He had a motivation other than just the simple acquisition of money.”
Richard Lees, defending Terry Yarwood, said he had not committed any further offences following his guilty plea.
Robert Elias, defending Jason Yarwood, said his client’s position was ‘slightly aggravated’ after he failed to attend court in November and was ‘at large’ for nearly a month before being arrested by police.
Ricky Holland, defending Samad, said he was only the getaway driver and there was ‘no evidence to show he was part of the planning’.
He told the court that Samad was likely only recruited within a few days of the robbery and he showed a ‘lack of maturity’.