A SERVING soldier has been jailed after admitting stealing ‘on order’ for a businessman ‘obsessed’ with military items, risking them falling into ‘sinister’ hands.
Storesmen Sergeant Craig Davenport and Sergeant Stephen Suffield stole silencers, night vision goggles and laser sights for Horndean businessman Andrew Stevens.
They swapped thousands of messages between them on a WhatsApp they called Boys Toys, posting photos of the kit that was being taken.
Today at Portsmouth Crown Court Davenport was sentenced to 22 months behind bars, while Suffield was given an 18-month suspended sentence with 200 hours of unpaid work.
Stevens was sentenced to two years in prison.
Sentencing, judge Claudia Ackner said Stevens was the lynchpin in the conspiracy but started out motivated by collecting military items.
We’re no longer talking about just a game, this is something that has the potential to be something more sinisterProsecutor Adam Norris
Addressing Stevens, the judge said: ‘Regrettably you progressed on to a much more serious level of involvement of significant criminal aspect and significant amounts of money, commercial transactions, which included parties abroad.’
The judge added Davenport had thrown away all he had achieved.
Suffield must pay £2,500 compensation to the Ministry of Defence.
Prosecutors are set to claw back cash made by the trio.
The items were taken from Stirling Lines Army Camp, home to the SAS, a previous hearing was told.
The court heard £45,000 worth of hardware was discovered at 41-year-old Stevens’ business address and home in Southdown Road, Horndean.
The theft ring unravelled when Stevens was stopped in Heathrow Airport on his way to Hong Kong.
A radioactive signature in night vision goggles in his luggage sparked a security alert, the court heard.
Stevens had sold £28,500 worth of kit, including around £11,000 to a contact in Japan, via two Paypal account, prosecutor Adam Norris said.
Mr Norris said the weapons sights and goggles were classed on a list of items classed as Attractive to Criminal and Terrorist Organisations.
‘When one reflects that the fact this starts as airsoft and equipment for a game but we’re now talking about an international trade in items that should not be going to other people.’ Mr Norris said.
‘We’re no longer talking about just a game, this is something that has the potential to be something more sinister.’
Items found at Stevens’ addresses included distraction grenades. The court pyrotechnics did not come from Davenport or Suffield but from shows.
‘The significance is obvious because our forces in dealing with a situation would not want to be confronted with the sort of equipment they themselves would use,’ he added.
Stevens, who employs two people at his airsoft firm Cracking Day Limited, met Davenport when he joined for games.
Mr Norris said: ‘Mr Stevens’ phone was also seized and on his phone was a WhatsApp group.
‘There was a group call Boys Toys which seemed to indicate that there were others who were conspiring with Mr Stevens to steal military equipment from military establishments.
‘It showed contact with both Suffield and Davenport who as I outlined, both worked in stores.
‘It’s worth saying it’s almost impossible to overstate the volume of messages, there are thousands.
‘The messages showed discussions of stealing property from the stores, in some cases stealing to order.’
The court heard Davenport would take items that were due to be repaired, or used details of a fake soldier to order items in to stores.
Suffield had less access to items, the court heard.
At Stevens’ home and business address there was a ‘catalogue of equipment’, Mr Norris said.
He added: ‘The highlights: another night vision goggles, adapters for these night vision devices to fit helmets, harnesses and pouches for these bits of equipment.
‘There was also a body armour, ballistic plates, various weapon sights, torches to fit on helmets or on to weapons and also some suppressors for weapons.’
All three defendants admitted conspiracy to steal from Stirling Lines Army Camp, Hereford, between October 2014 and June 2015, at earlier court hearings.
Nina Tavakoli, for Stevens, said: ‘He is extremely ashamed of his behaviour and very sorry.
‘But for this incident he has been an outstanding member of the community, a successful businessman.’
She added Stevens , who has OCD and major depression, was obsessed.
‘He in essence was blinded by his obsession and fascination with collecting military items,’ she said.
‘He hid this obsession from his wife.
‘It began in 2000 when he began collecting these items.
‘He collected them from eBay, War and Peace shows.
‘He said he became a bit of a personality in the collectors’ world.
‘It seems he did not recognise the criminal nature of what he was doing.’
She added: ‘He was blinded by the status and reputation in the field.’
He has now started collecting Star Wars memorabilia instead, she added.
Naomi Parsons, for Davenport, said he ‘takes full responsibility’ but that Stevens was the instigator.
She added he was a ‘first class soldier’ and had served two tours of Afghanistan and one in Iraq under Op Telic 10.
Davenport was under a psychiatric nurse at the time and regrets the ‘absurd’ decision, she added.
Davenport, 30, of Beltony Drive, Crewe; Suffield, 28, of Royal Logistics Corps in Chippenham, Wiltshire; and Stevens, 41, of Southdown Road, Horndean, were sentenced today.
Martin Steen, for dad-of-one Suffield, said he joined the conspiracy in November as he was £16,000 in debt due to gambling.
Suffield, now a lorry driver, left the army after being caught
‘He was too ashamed, too embarrassed by what he had done,’ Mr Steen said.
‘He felt he let himself and the army down. He felt he couldn’t continue to wear the uniform.’
Suffield admittted being involved on the basis he only stole around £10,000 worth of kit.