FOUR thugs locked up for a 'cynical, violent and cowardly' raid on two elderly brothers at their remote farm near Langford have convinced top judges to slash their sentences on appeal.
John Leonard William Smith, 37, Alfred Stanley, 33, Albert Thomas Smith, 37 and Joseph Thomas Upton, 40, left 76-year-old Edward Heathcote and his brother, George, 69, 'terrified' after raiding their farm last year.
John Smith, of Wisbech, and Stanley and Albert Smith, both of Sandy, were each jailed for 13 years and six months at Luton Crown Court in May, after they pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery.
Upton, of Wisbech, received the same sentence after he admitted conspiracy to rob.
Today (Tuesday, October 29), three senior judges at London's Appeal Court upheld sentence challenges by the four men, cutting Upton's jail term to 10 years and two months and the others to ten years and six months.
Mr Justice Wyn Williams said the four men 'targeted' the brothers four days after they held a well advertised farm machinery auction at Hill Farm, which raised £113,000, in October last year.
John Smith, Albert Smith and Stanley crashed through the door of the farmhouse, where the Heathcotes had lived since 1949, wearing balaclavas, gloves and armed with baseball bats and scaffolding poles.
One of them struck Edward Heathcote over the head with a pole before the gang demanded money and the keys to a gun safe kept on the premises. The raiders said the brothers would be killed and their farm burned down unless they complied.
They snatched six guns, ammunition and £1,000 in cash - all the money on the premises, as the takings from the auction were yet to be transferred to the Heathcotes, the appeal judge added.
As the robbers left with a total haul worth about £3,000, one punched Edward Heathcote to the face, inflicting a cut, before they set off a noisy, smoke-billowing bird scarer in the building.
The judge said: "A victim impact statement demonstrated with clarity that both men suffered a terrifying experience, which has had lasting effects, particularly on their peace of mind.
He added: "The sentencing judge described the offence of robbery as premeditated, cynical, violent and cowardly - we agree with that description."
John Smith, of Black Drove, Murrow; Stanley, of Sandon Close, and Upton, of Murrow Lane, Parson Drove, were arrested leaving the scene in a van.
Tracking a stolen Audi A6 used by the gang, police managed to recover the stolen guns, ammunition and some of the Heathcotes' property, which had been stashed in bushes in Fen Drayton after the raid.
Albert Smith, of Common Rise, Potton, was arrested at the start of November, last year, after police monitored a call made to him from one of the raiders behind bars, the appeal judge added.
The Smiths and Stanley admitted two counts of robbery, while Upton admitted helping to plan the raid but denied going into the farm with the others, pleading guilty to the conspiracy charge, but at a later stage.
Challenging their sentences, lawyers for the four argued that the raid had involved no 'extreme violence'.
Mr Justice Wyn Williams, sitting with Lord Justice McCombe and Mrs Justice Patterson, said: "We have come to the conclusion that the starting point for John Smith, Albert Smith and Alfred Stanley was indeed too long.
"Having reviewed this matter with considerable care, and having paid close attention to the guidelines and the authorities, we have reached the conclusion that the appropriate starting point for all the appellants other than Upton was 14 years imprisonment.
"If these sentences are discounted by 25 per cent (for their guilty pleas) and, if our mathematics are correct, the resulting sentence for each appellant is 10 years and six months."
Using the same rationale, the appeal judge reduced Upton's sentence to one of 10 years and two months, concluding: "Accordingly, we will substitute these sentences for the sentences imposed by the judge. To that extent, these appeals are allowed."