Masked South Hams biker jailed over terrifying Dartmoor intimidation plot

By Maria Zaccaro   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Friday 8th November 2019 12:20 am
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Jez Ball, centre, from Diptford, organised the terrifying attack with four fellow bikers (Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police)

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A group of masked bikers have been locked up for intimidating a builder with a blowtorch and an axe.

The five men tried to terrify the 55-year-old man into paying £40,000 to his former fiancée and an ex-employee, Exeter Crown Court heard.

The victim escaped and was chased for about 500m during the attack in February 2018.

All five gang members admitted false imprisonment and were sentenced to a combined total of 14 years.

The attack was organised by Jez Ball, from Diptford, near Totnes, who had worked for the victim’s building firm but fallen out with him over money.

He was friendly with the man’s former fiancée, 62-year-old Jennie Harmston, who had been jilted by text a few days before they were due to marry.

She claimed she had been taken for a ride by the victim, who had conned her out of £40,000.

She posed as would be customer Dr Sheila Long to arrange a meeting at a house in the lane.

The court heard Ball is a member of the Derbyshire chapter of the Outlaws motorcycle gang and recruited fellow bikers David Bird, Stephen Cooper, Robert Haywood, and Dean Ramsell, to “put on the frighteners”.

The other four men travelled down to Devon in a BMW with false number plates.

They had masks and had left their phones at home so their movements could not be traced.

The court heard how the victim was conned into going to a fake meeting with a client at a house in Yelverton but was instead intercepted as he pulled up at the property.

The gang fled in a BMW and four of them were arrested on the M5 as they headed back to their homes in Derbyshire and Leicestershire after being tracked by a police helicopter.

Officers found a terrifying arsenal of weapons in the boot of the car including a blowtorch, an axe, pliers, screwdrivers, a hammer, scissors, cable ties, rope, chains, two pillowcases, two cans of petrol, and rolls of plastic sheeting.

The victim was conned into going to a bogus meeting with a client at a house on Axtown Lane, Yelverton, but was instead set upon by the five men as he pulled up at the property.

He tried to drive off but got trapped in a dead end, where the BMW blocked him off.

Three men in balaclavas jumped out of the car and surrounded his Fiat before smashing his windows with rocks.

Witnesses thought they heard gunshots and the victim thought he saw the men with firearms, but none were recovered.

He managed to get out of the car, hitting one attacker and pushing away another, before running off.

He was chased across fields and took refuge in a nearby home, where the police were called.

• Jez Ball, 56, from Diptford, Devon, was sentenced to four years in prison

• David Bird, 58, from Swadlincote, South Derbyshire, was sentenced to two years and four months in prison

• Stephen Cooper, 58, from Swadlincote, South Derbyshire, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison

• Robert Haywood, 56, from Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison

• Dean Ramsell, 44, from Coalville, Leicestershire, was sentenced to two years and four months in prison

Judge Timothy Rose told them: "This had been planned for at least two weeks. You went about the execution of what amounts to an extremely serious criminal offence of false imprisonment.

"The victim was obviously utterly petrified.

“If you had succeeded in getting hold of him and doing whatever you intended, which I am told was to frighten him by showing him the contents of the boot of the car and presumable to make demands.

"Your behaviour caused immense harm.

“I have read the victim impact statements and there was harm not only to the victim but to others who witnessed this."

Mr Peter Coombe, prosecuting, said the victim went to a house in Axtown Lane at around 10.45am on February 17, 2018, expecting to meet a client called Dr Long.

He said: "He was pursued by a BMW and ended up trapped in a yard at the end of the lane. Three men wearing balaclavas got out of the back of the BMW.

"They tried to get him out of the Fiat and said he had to go with them. They smashed the windows and he realised one of the men was Ball.

"He fled on foot and was pursued by one man.

“After failing to catch him, four men got into the BMW and made off with Ball driving away in the Fiat.

“The BMW was stopped later in the M5 and the items were found in the boot."

"The victim was terrified and says he is now suffering from PTSD and has lost work because of his extreme emotional upset and stress."

Mr Coombe said the five men were all members of a motorcycle gang called the Outlaws and the four men from the Midlands had come down to support Ball’s attempt to recover money on behalf of himself and Ms Harmston.

The attack on the car in the lane was witnessed by people staying in a nearby house, including a 13-year-old boy on half term and a woman who filmed the BMW on an iPad as it drove away.

Mr Mark Worsley, for Ball, said the offence happened in the context of the victim’s poor behaviour towards him and Miss Harmston.

Lawyers for the other four said they had only become involved as a favour Ball, who is a fellow member of the motorcycle club.

They only intended to “put the frighteners on” rather than commit any violence.

They said The Outlaws were not a violent gang but more of a social and charitable organisation.

One lawyer described it as “the Rotary Club on two wheels”.

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