Robbers who targeted convenience stores were caught by tracking devices placed on cigarette packets.
A gang struck at two One Stop Shop stores in Stockport and Moston, and tried to rob a Tesco Express in Beswick.
After the ‘terrifying’ robberies at the One Stop Shops, police were helped by a tracking device which had been placed on a cigarette packet by the business.
In one incident about £10,000 worth of cigarettes and nearly £2,000 in cash was stolen.
Two getaway cars were set alight after the incidents.
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Now three robbers, Craig Wilson, 27, Bradley Pitt, 25, and Kane Joyce, also 25, have been jailed.
Wilson’s lawyer said he committed the robbery because he was unemployed and in a ‘difficult financial position’.
Judge Nicholas Dean QC said the robberies ‘must have been terrifying’.
He said: “These small shops do a valuable service to the communities that they serve.
“They are not typically protected by security guards, the staff and shops are vulnerable.”
Manchester Crown Court heard that a One Stop Shop in Bramhall was attacked on April 17 as staff were closing the store at 9pm.
Four men forced their way in, with two climbing over the counter and filling sacks they had brought with them with cigarettes.
One man told the manager he would ‘knock him out’ if he didn’t provide the code for the safe.
Staff were also forced to open the tills.
Just under £10,000 worth of cigarettes were stolen, and about £2,000 was taken.
The men fled in a Ford Fiesta which had been stolen from an office car park in Harpurhey earlier that day.
It was later found in Stockport having been set on fire.
But police were able to use a tracking device which had been placed on a packet of cigarettes to track down the robbers.
Officers raided a house in Gorton the following day, finding stolen cigarettes.
Then on June 3, Wilson used an ‘electronic relay device’ to steal two Ford Fiestas from the driveway of a house in Stockport.
Both cars were taken without the need for the key due to the sophisticated technique of theft.
One of the Fiestas was found in North Wales days later, and the other was used in an attempted robbery at Tesco Express on Grey Mare Lane on June 6.
The store manager had decided to lock the doors a few minutes before closing time at 11pm, due to previous incidents.
Three men got out of a car and started kicking at the door, but they gave up after ‘determined efforts’ to force their way in failed.
Two days later, they struck at the One Stop Shop on Moston Lane East, when staff were closing at 10pm.
The robbers arrived in the stolen Fiesta and ordered staff to open the door.
A female worker was taken ‘by the arm’ and told to enter the PIN number to gain access to the till area.
She was then ‘pushed inside’ and ordered to open the cigarette cabinet, but she didn’t have the key and they smashed it open.
Then she was pushed into an office as they demanded the keys to the safe.
She bravely pressed a panic alarm, which caused one robber to swear at her and become ‘aggressive’.
They left with cigarettes, and again one pack had a tracking device fitted.
Police traced it to an address in Newton Heath, less than 15 minutes after the robbery.
The Ford Fiesta had been set on fire there.
They continued to follow the tracking device, which led them to Grosvenor Street in Manchester city centre.
About 10 minutes later, police found Wilson, Pitt and Joyce and other men.
Prosecutors said it appeared they were ‘about to dispose of the cigarettes’ as police arrived.
The court heard that Wilson and Pitt both have ‘bad’ criminal records, but Joyce was of previous good character.
The judge told Joyce: “Quite what possessed you to get involved in this offence when you are a man of good character is very hard to understand.”
Defending Wilson, Richard Vardon said: “The reality of this case is stark.
“This is economic crime, it was carried out for economic benefit, when the defendant himself was unemployed and in a difficult financial position.
“If I may say so, that is hardly mitigation.”
William Staunton, for Pitt, said the defendant wants to ‘apply himself constructively’ when he is released.
Rob Kearney, for Joyce, said the defendant is remorseful and has a young child.
Wilson, of Crammond Close, Newton Heath, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery, two counts of theft, attempted robbery and breaching a community order.
He was jailed for seven-and-a-half years.
Pitt, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods, attempted robbery and robbery.
He was jailed for six years.
Joyce, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and robbery.
He was jailed for three-and-a-half years.