Gun thief jailed for nine years

HE RAIDED a house, stealing nine guns before trying to sell them to an undercover police officer, now a Manilla man will count out almost a decade in a jail cell.

Benjamin Hope Cruickshank, 29, gasped when the nine-year-and-three-month prison sentence was handed down – believed to be one of the biggest ever dealt out by the Tamworth District Court.

The 29-year-old’s crime spree dates back to March 15 last year, when he broke into a locked shed at an Alice St, Barraba, home and stole a gun safe and nine firearms – including two rifles and seven pistols.

The crimes only spiralled from there. Less than a week later, he stole a jet ski, trailer and a ride-on mower from a Moore Creek home. 

Police would later find a clown mask at the location, something they were able to trace Cruickshank’s DNA to.

The 29-year-old then stole infrared surveillance cameras from a Taminda business, as well as a ute, go-karts, a $10,000 UHF radio set and other items from the Tamworth Kart Club.

But the most serious offences would be on four occasions when Cruickshank sold firearms to an undercover police officer – an offence that carries a maximum of 20 years in jail.

Police went through Cruickshank’s phone and text message records from about the times of the offences to trace him to the scenes of the crimes; excerpts were read out during the sentencing hearing. 

“If I get caught with it, I go to jail for 10 years,” Cruickshank told the undercover officer while selling the Winchester rifle, which was reported stolen in 2007.

Another gun sold during the transactions was reported missing in 1999 by his father’s former partner.

The undercover officer handed over a substantial sum of money to purchase four rifles and more than 1000 rounds of ammunition – each transaction was made under a tree near a park in Manilla.

But it all came crashing down after the fourth gun transaction, when officers tried to stop him in his tracks in Manilla.

Cruickshank tried to flee, sparking a police chase that drew on all resources around Crow Mountain and Burns Gap roads.

The court was told none of the seven handguns taken from the safe in Barraba have been recovered.

The court was told Cruickshank has four children and a long history of drugs – which he blamed for his crime spree – but Judge Charteris said the 29-year-old knew what he was doing when he used gloves to shield his fingerprints and sold weapons into the community.

The sentence carries a non-parole period of six years and three months.

“Love ya,” he said and waved before being led out.

He will be eligible for parole in 2019.

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