Thwaites Brewery travellers 'demanded £20k to leave site'

Caravans and vehicles at Thwaites brewery
Image caption Patrick Ward denies he was one of the offenders caught on CCTV stealing items at the brewery

The leader of a 100-strong group of travellers who illegally occupied a brewery demanded "twenty grand or the place is ours", a court was told.

A convoy of 25 vehicles set up camp at Thwaites Brewery in Blackburn on 26 May, Preston Crown Court heard.

Thomas Ward, 43, of Leigh, Wigan, has pleaded guilty to blackmailing, conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to commit criminal damage.

The group later went on the rampage causing extensive damage, jurors heard.

'Utter devastation'

Jurors heard Thomas Ward, of Aspull Common, told the brewery he wanted £20,000 to leave within the hour after gate locks were broken at the site in Lancashire.

After some negotiation, Mr Ward agreed to take payment for his demand at noon the next day - 27 May - provided no damage was caused.

But prosecutors say travellers went on a wrecking spree and ransacked the office building later that afternoon after Mr Ward became convinced he had been duped.

Staff and police finally gained full access to the brewery two days later and Thwaites chief executive Richard Bailey said he was greeted by a scene of "utter devastation", with damage estimated at £300,000, the court heard.

The presence of the travellers at the site led to 1,700 pints of beer being poured away in case of contamination.

Image copyright PA
Image caption John Ward has admitted conspiracy offences

Mr Ward has pleaded guilty to blackmail and conspiracy offences while his co-accused John Ward, 33, also of Aspull Common, and a 17-year-old male, who cannot be named because of his age, also admitted the conspiracy offences.

A fourth defendant, Patrick Ward, 32, of Aspull Common, who has pleaded not guilty to the same conspiracy offences, is on trial in his absence.

The court heard CCTV - which also showed young children playing in the yard - stopped recording when the power was cut on site shortly before 18:00 on 27 May.

Kimberley Obrusik, prosecuting, said Patrick Ward from Aspull Common was one of the offenders caught on CCTV stealing items at the brewery.

Jurors were told he denies it was him, although he accepts he was in the area at nearby Morrison's supermarket and Gala Bingo on the same day.

The trial continues.

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