Yesterday your Worcester News reported how five members of a Worcestershire gang were jailed for a total of 49 years.
Today Mike Pryce tells the story of the Johnson family.

THE Johnson’s (Ricky, Albi and Richard) who sound like an American pop group but were actually a travelling band of gipsy thieves, liked to look on themselves as some kind of 21st century Robin Hoods robbing from the rich. Except they never gave to the poor.

Not unless it was to themselves anyway.

From their base on a travellers’ permanent site in south Worcestershire, they travelled all across southern England stealing from the homes of the rich and famous.

“I feel I have the right to rob the lords, sirs and the ladies,” family patriarch Ricky Johnson once told the TV cameras.

“I have to feed my children and if no one is helping me achieve my goal I feel I have that right.”

How much the Johnsons actually made from the proceeds of their raids, estimated in a court this week to be a staggering £80 million, is open to question.

As one visitor to their home on the park at Cleeve Prior, near Evesham, said: “It’s not as though they live rich. There’s no sign of a Bentley round the back.”

It could well be that their actual monetary gains are nowhere near the value of the antiques and jewellery they looted, because it would have to be sold on through a series of “fences” who would all have taken a cut.

It would have been a poor return for hair-raising exploits that included tying scaffolding poles to the front of a 4x4 and crashing straight through a downstairs window of property tycoon Harry Hyams’ mansion in Wiltshire before making off with £30 million of items or escaping from police in 130mph road chases. During a raid in Oxfordshire, Ricky’s one son Albi jumped from a first floor window when he was challenged by the owner. He broke both his legs and was admitted to hospital 45 minutes later saying he had fallen off his brother’s roof.

In 2005, years later, they struck at Ombersley Court, the home of Lord and Lady Sandys near Droitwich, but were disturbed and fled with a £1,000 carriage clock.

At Reading Crown Court, five leading members of the Johnson family, including Ricky, his sons Chad and Albi and nephews Danny O’Loughlin and Michael Nicholls were jailed for a total of 49 years for conspiracy involving a string of thefts and burglaries, most of them “highly organised” and planned in the family’s static home at Cleeve Prior.

Police believe the Johnsons, an extended clan of Irish gipsies, have been at the centre of a crimewave for at least 20 years.

Sergeant Phil Stait of West Mercia police said: “Depending on the circumstances they could be nice and charming or intimidating and aggressive.

“At times they were downright nasty. But they never showed any outward signs of wealth. They fitted perfectly into the surroundings in which they lived.”

The gang was caught after an anonymous tip-off led them to a purpose built bunker hidden beneath a trapdoor in a field near Stratford-upon-Avon. Inside was china worth £12 million piled in dustbins and straw-filled boxes.

Police think other proceeds are stashed in similar rural hideways, although some of the most prized items are reckoned to have been sold in Russia, China and India.

“If I feel the need to rob a stately home, I will do so and hope I don’t get caught,” said Ricky Johnson in a TV documentary about his family.

But one day he did.

lWest Mercia detectives received a Certificate of Merit for their work on the case that brought the Johnson family to justice.