A SCHOOLGIRL has been praised for her bravery and quick thinking after helping police catch burglars who broke into her Solihull home.
The 13-year-old hid in her bedroom and dialled 999 when thieves stormed the house on May 6 – and her accurate description of the getaway van helped police apprehend Stephen Hemming and Paul Blackford just minutes later.
Hemming, from Lyndon Road, Stechford, and Blackford, from Blenheim Road in Shirley, denied burglary but were found guilty at Warwick Crown Court on Thursday (September 16).
Both were handed five-year jail sentences for their part in the raid.
Solihull Police Detective Constable Dave Hollies, said: “I can’t praise the young girl enough; she spotted a suspicious van on the driveway and the second she knew something wasn’t right phoned the police. It meant we were able to get officers on the scene quickly to make arrests.”
Hemming, Adam Farley – an accomplice who’d previously admitted the offence and been jailed for three years – and Blackford had been cruising local streets looking for empty properties.
After selecting their target they knocked several times to try and establish whether it was occupied.
However, the girl – whose mother had nipped to a nearby shop – had been told not to answer the door to anyone.
Hemming, 43, and Farley kicked the door open but were only able to grab a handful of jewellery before coming face-to-face with the youngster.
The three sped away from the scene, with 37-year-old Blackford at the wheel, but hadn’t realised local officers were already closing in thanks to the astute girl’s earlier phone tip-off.
A Solihull Police officer spotted the vehicle minutes later at a petrol station in Balsall Common.
Blackford was caught on CCTV jumping out of the van and discarding the jewellery; all three were arrested on the forecourt.
Warwick Crown Court heard how Hemming claimed he’d been visiting a friend in the area on the day and had merely been given a lift in the van – but footwear impressions on the door matched those of Hemming’s trainers.
Van driver Blackford protested he was unaware that Farley and Hemming intended to commit a burglary on the day and was not involved in the raid.
The jury delivered a guilty verdict following a three-day trial.
DC Hollies, added: “Although Blackford claimed he’d no idea what the other two were doing, he was clearly in on the job and knew they intended to break into a property.
“It’s no defence to try and distance yourself from an offence by saying you didn’t actually take part – and Blackford has found that to his cost.”
“Once you break into a property you never know what you might find; these guys took that risk and stumbled across a young girl.
“The judge has taken into account the distress these offenders have caused the girl, in addition to the act of burglary itself, and handed down tough sentences to all parties.”