An ageing crook, jailed for a heist in which a security guard was terrorised with a pitchfork, had his sentence cut by top judges today (Thursday, July 17).
George French, 61, was one of three men sentenced for their roles in raids on cash-in-transit staff across west London.
The gang struck at the Pavilions Shopping Centre, in High Street, Uxbridge, Tesco, in Glencoe Road, Yeading and Marks and Spencer, in Sunbury Cross.
The raiders’ final target was Waitrose, in Kingsend, Ruislip , which was attacked in November 2010, although by that stage French was no longer involved.
French, of Rowan Road, West Drayton , was jailed for 15 years at Kingston Crown Court on Friday, February 8 last year, after he was convicted of four counts of conspiracy to rob.
His two accomplices, Anthony Durham, 61, and Stephen Phillips, 54, were convicted of five robbery plots, receiving respective sentences of 17 and 16 and a half years.
Durham, of Prince’s Avenue, Petts Wood, Orpington, and Phillips, formerly of Oxford Road, Gerrards Cross, challenged their convictions and sentences alongside French today.
Lord Justice Treacy, sitting with Mrs Justice Lang and Judge John Bevan QC at London’s Appeal Court, said the gang had used a variety of weapons during the robberies – including an iron bar, machete, baton and pitchfork.
The pitchfork had been ‘held to the throat of a guard who was then knocked to the ground’, said the judge.
All three men’s lawyers challenged the safety of their convictions, arguing that the trial judge had unfairly directed the jury during his summing-up.
Lord Justice Treacy said the trio claimed they had been ‘fitted up’ by the police, and their legal team argued that the trial judge failed to pinpoint key flaws in the prosecution case.
But he said the judge had presented the case fairly and comprehensively, adding: “We are not persuaded that any greater detail or emphasis from the judge was required”.
“We are not persuaded there is an arguable case fit to be considered by the full Appeal Court.”
The judge went on to dismiss Phillips’ and Durham’s sentence appeals, concluding: “The sentences were undoubtedly severe but, after considering the arguments put to us, we are not persuaded there is an arguable case that the sentences were excessive”.
Both Phillips and Durham have previous convictions dating back to 1995, concerning a raid on one of the same shops targeted in the case.
The appeal judge said French was more than a mere get-away driver, being involved in reconnoitring and ‘procuring vehicles’.
But French had left the conspiracy by the end of 2010, said the judge, and his life had also been touched by tragedy.
His sentence was therefore cut from 15 to 13 and a half years.