A BURGLAR whose crimes almost led to the lights going out across Swindon has been jailed for two years and 10 months.

Fred Newdick was part of a gang which entered electricity substations and stole batteries used as back-up in the event of a failure in the system.

The 31-year-old hired a van to pick up the valuable cargo and transport it to a scrap merchant near Reading to sell on.

Then, while on bail, he also took part in a raid on a house in Royal Wootton Bassett, where thousands of pounds worth of jewellery was taken as rooms were ransacked.

Chris Smyth, prosecuting, told Swindon Crown Court how electricity substations in Swindon and the south west were targeted in a series of thefts. He said it was plainly an inside job as the unmanned premises had not been broken into during the incidents earlier in the year.

“There was no little risk in this; someone had to come to make the wiring safe after the batteries were taken,” he said.

“The batteries provide back-up for the electricity network so that in the event of a failure these batteries would operate to keep the network live.”

Newdick used a hire van to ferry the stolen items miles away to a dealer on the outskirts of Reading. After selling the first batch of batteries he received a cheque for £1,100, which he cashed in Swindon. He had another for £400 on him when he was arrested.

Mr Smyth said Newdick admitted taking part in the raids on the substations in Park North and Cheney Manor on Sunday, March 3, taking batteries worth up to £6,000.

Although he admitted taking part in only the two raids numerous other substations were targeted, including one at Stanton Fitzwarren, with up to £25,000 worth of batteries taken.

“In total, across a number of substations, about 150 batteries were removed,” Mr Smyth said.

Newdick told police he had met a man outside the Moonrakers pub who had offered him work as a driver.

About six weeks later he was caught on CCTV knocking on the door of a house in Station Road, Royal Wootton Bassett shortly before it was burgled.

He claimed he had been used as a driver by an old school friend and had not been involved in the break-in, receiving none of the proceeds.

Recorder Stephen Lennard ruled he was party to the crime but accepted he may not have gone into the house or profited from the £12,000 worth of jewellery taken.

Newdick, of Whitworth Road, pleaded guilty to three counts of burglary. Mike Pulsford, defending, said his client had a job in the family firm but was bullied into the crimes.

Jailing him, Recorder Lennard said: “Together with others who were involved, and it appears in a larger organised series of crimes, you found yourself involved taking an active role renting a vehicle and travelling to two locations where you, as your plea indicates, entered as a trespasser, with the benefit of a key, and stole batteries of significant value.

“They are there to provide back-up in any kind of failure of supply to the grid. There could have been unimaginable damage and distress caused to very large sections of the community.”