Jail term for serial Collier Row burglar convicted of trying to rob West Ham star Andy Carroll’s watch in high-speed motorbike chase
PUBLISHED: 12:50 01 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:18 01 September 2017
A serial burglar from Collier Row who attempted to rob West Ham striker Andy Carroll of his £22,000 wristwatch in a drive-by heist has been jailed for 11 years.
Motorbike-riding Jack O’Brien, 22, of Navarre Gardens, swooped on the England player’s Jeep Wrangler in Romford Road, Hainault, as he was driving home from West Ham’s training ground last year.
He was found guilty of attempted robbery by a jury of six men and six women this morning following a trial at Basildon Crown Court.
In a victim impact statement Carroll, who believed the defendant had a gun, said he “feared for his life” and now travels to and from training at the club’s Rush Green facility with security guards.
O’Brien was given a sentence of 11 years and three months for the attempted robbery on November 2 and a previous “campaign of burglaries”.
Judge John Lodge told him: “I have no doubt at all in saying that by reason of the planning of that sophisticated offence, the length of time that you pursued that vehicle, and that you were again using your motorcycle equipment as a disguise, you are at the very top of the bracket of culpability.”
He added: “It is disappointing to note that at the age of 22 there is no description for you but of a professional criminal.”
The defendant was found hiding below a mattress at a property in Dagenham, when police went to arrest him 10 days after the botched robbery.
The 6ft 4in striker told the court he had been “scared” when the motorcycle driver approached his camouflage green vehicle and said: “Nice watch.”
He had initially thought the rider, who was wearing a crash helmet with a visor up, was boxer Kevin Mitchell pulling up for a chat.
But as he went to drive off, the man said: “Give me your watch.”
Carroll told the court he then did a U-turn, but was pursued by two motorbike drivers.
In a panicked 999 call played to the jury, Carroll told emergency responders: “There’s two motorbikes, one’s behind me pulling out a gun, I don’t know what to do.”
He added that he had “probably just hit about 10 cars” during his getaway.
No firearm was found by police and the second driver has not been located
A motorcycle helmet, Ducati jacket and a Suzuki motorbike were all seized, which police believed O’Brien used in the attempt on Mr Carroll.
DNA matching the defendant’s was found on the helmet and jacket.
It was heard that similar items had been used for a string of burglaries by O’Brien between October and November last year, in which cash and jewellery were taken.
O’Brien previously admitted carrying out five other burglaries and three attempted burglaries between October and November 2016.
Carroll twice gave evidence during the trial - once in person and a second time via video-link, having been whisked from training to Barkingside Magistrates’ Court by police escort.
He told the court he had seen the robber for about 10 seconds and later identified O’Brien in a police identity parade.
O’Brien claimed he was not the biker in question and, while he had used the motorbike gear for other crimes, he had not on that occasion. His account was rejected by jurors.
Before the trial, O’Brien admitted five counts of burgling homes in Hertfordshire and Essex and five counts of attempted burglary, all of which took place between September 5 and November 8 last year.
He also admitted to handling stolen goods, specifically a motorbike stilen from Maybrick Road, Hornchurch, between July 31 and August 8.
Four other counts of burglary and one other count of attempted burglary were ordered to lie on file.
O’Brien’s sentence was made up of six years for attempted robbery, five years three months for the burglary offences and 18 months for handling stolen goods to run concurrently with the other terms. He will spend half of his sentence in custody and the rest on licence.
Speaking after the hearing, Det Sgt David Wilkinson said: “O’Brien is a prolific offender who was willing to travel long distances to commit crime.
“He was brazen in his approach, ensuring victims were not at home by knocking at the front door on most occasions but was willing to confront victims and witnesses if necessary.
“In the case of the attempted robbery, he was willing to use threats and intimidation to frighten his victim, who fortunately managed to escape without injury.
“O’Brien was arrested following extensive enquiries by Essex Police and our colleagues in neighbouring forces and I’d like to thank all those witnesses who assisted with those investigations, which undoubtedly played a key part in bringing him to justice.”
A second man - Matthew Nicholls, 27, of Collier Road, Romford - was charged alongside O’Brien with one count of burglary said to have taken place on October 26, and being carried on the stolen motorbike on the same day. He denied the offences and was acquitted by a jury following a trial at Basildon Crown Court.