Highbury raid pair admit role in daring theft

Two burgalrs inside Fleetwood Town's Highbury ground
Two burgalrs inside Fleetwood Town's Highbury ground

Two men have admitted their part in a burglary which saw thousands of pounds of equipment stolen from Fleetwood Town Football Club.

Benjamin O’Connor, 20, and Paul Stafford, 25, both of Fleetwood, changed their pleas on the day they were due to stand trial at Preston Crown Court.

O’Connor, of Larkholme Lane, admitted handling one of the safes stolen from the club’s Highbury Stadium during the burglary in January last year.

The court heard the thieves who burgled the Park Avenue club took the safe to O’Connor specifically to open.

A total of four people have now been caught and brought to justice after the raid.

Stafford, of Brathay Place, also admitted handling a stolen iPad and charger between January 26 and May 21 last year.

O’Connor and Stafford, who had previously both denied their involvement changed their plea on Monday to spare themselves facing trial.

They will now be sentenced alongside two other men who have already pleaded guilty to burglary.

Det Con Steve Montgomery, of Fleetwood CID who led the investigation into the burglary, said: “We are happy we have managed to bring this to a conclusion.

“A football club that works very closely with the local community was sadly targeted by criminals.

“We are pleased with this outcome and the fact the criminals will be brought to justice.”

Prosecutors said the burglary had been planned and had taken place overnight on January 26 after the team’s home game against Oxford United.

The court heard the thieves used an angle-grinder, crowbar and a hammer to smash through a perimeter gate at the football ground.

They then searched through several rooms, before leaving with two safes, an iPad and a 42-inch television that all belonged to the club.

In November, Stephen Sumner, 28, of Chatsworth Avenue, Fleetwood and Paul Palin, of Derby Street, Blackburn, each admitted burgling the club at Preston Crown Court.

O’Connor and Stafford were remanded on bail for sentencing until March 6, where they will appear alongside Sumner and Palin.

Fleetwood FC chairman Andy Pilley said: “The burglary caused a lot of distress to our staff and affected the football club’s work in the community through our charitable wing.

“We are glad the people responsible have been brought to justice.

“It was a very unpleasant experience for all the staff.”

Steve Curwood, the club’s chief executive added: “I would like to thank those involved at Fleetwood Police for all their efforts in bringing those responsible to justice.

“It caused a lot of inconvenience at the time and sends a message out that targeting a ‘community asset’ like the football club will not be tolerated.”