A GANG of burglars raided a series of homes in Bolton and Bury, snapping locks on doors as householders slept and stealing cars worth a total of £195,000.

Bolton Crown Court heard how teenager Jack Rourke, who claimed he was committing crime to pay off a £4,000 drug debt, was an active member of the gang and involved in seven burglaries using a car belonging to his partner, Courtney Wilkinson, to travel to the houses.

And one occasion she was caught behind the wheel, attempting to help Rourke and two others flee an attempted burglary.

Verity Quaite, prosecuting, told how Rourke, then aged 16, began the thefts on February 16, 2019 when he stole a set of van keys while visiting a house on Widecombe Drive, Breightmet, with a group of friends.

Rourke returned the next day and stole the owner’s Ford Transit work van, worth £13,000. The vehicle was fitted with a tracker and was located the next day in Bradley Fold on false plates.

“Messages recovered from the mobile phone used by Jack Rourke show that he had been messaging somebody about a ‘transit custom 66 plate’, “ said Miss Quaite.

The following month, at 6am on March 7, the occupants of a house on Ferndown Road, Harwood, were sleeping when the front door was forced, kitchen and dining room searched, keys taken and a £19,000 Ford Focus and £15,000 Ford Fiesta stolen.

The following week, on the night of March 15, a house on Harwood Road, Tottington, was targeted. This time the back door lock was snapped and a £25,000 Lexus CT200 and Mini Cooper, worth £8,000 taken.

Rourke was accompanied by co-accused Leon Wilcox and the next day they stole registration plates from a Lexus parked on Chapeltown Road, Bromley Cross.

The stolen Lexus, bearing the false plates was found by police on Slack Road, Bradshaw, by police but although the occupants ran off, Wilcox’s phone was found inside along with the keys for Wilkinson’s own Fiat 500.

On the night of March 18 Rourke broke into a house on Deepdale Road, Breightmet, while the owner was out, stealing nothing but leaving a glove, bearing his DNA at the scene.

Then on March 30 he was at Pinnacle Drive, Egerton, forcing the rear door while the owners slept and stealing a Ford Focus and Skoda Superb. The next day he stole the registration plates from another Skoda parked in Lord Street, Little Lever.

Burglars next headed for St Edmund Hall Close, Ramsbottom on the night of April 2. The front door lock barrel was snapped while the owners slept and and their £10,000 Audi A1 taken.

But the gang did not keep it for long as, at 5.20am police found it abandoned on Bury and Bolton Road after the previously stolen Skoda crashed into it.

Miss Quaite told how, the next night, a burglar alarm at a house on Cox Green Road, Egerton alerted the homeowner.

In a search of the area police found Rourke near Egerton Park heading towards a Fiat 500 being driven by Wilkinson. Rourke ran off, as did two others who were in the car but Wilkinson was arrested.

The Bolton News: Courtney WilkinsonCourtney Wilkinson

"The car smelled of cannabis and was replete with items for use in burglaries," said Miss Quaite, who added that officers tracked down Rourke to Darwen Road.

"He was out of breath and covered in mud," she said.

Rourke and Wilkinson were released under investigation but he continued offending.

He was also involved in handling a stolen Toyota RAV 4, which was stolen from Chapeltown Road, Radcliffe on April 16 and found near Rourke's Tong Road, Little Lever home and he burgled a house on Widcombe Drive, Breightmet, on April 29 when a £35,000 Range Rover Evoque was taken.

On May 1 Rourke and Wilkinson were arrested at his home, where officers found burglary tools and, hidden in the garden, keys for the Range Rover and keys for a Nissan Qashqai previously stolen from Louise Gardens, Westhoughton.

Rourke, now aged 18, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary, two counts of conspiracy to steal and two counts of handling stolen goods as well as attempted burglary at Runfield Close, Leigh on March 5 last year.

Adam Brown, defending, told how Rourke began using cocaine and cannabis aged 15 and quickly ran up a £4,000 drug debt, with dealers involving him in crime to help pay it off.

"He was essentially a pawn used to carry out the offending and get his hands dirty. He is ashamed and remorseful for his behaviour," said Mr Brown.

He was sentenced to 39 month in custody by Judge Graeme Smith.

Qualified bricklayer Wilcox, aged 21, of Bury Road, Bolton, admitted one count of burglary and two of theft and was sentenced to 20 months in jail, suspended for 18 months with an 8pm to 7am curfew for three months and 45 days of rehabilitation activities.

"He was young, stupid, and in the words of his mother, was acting like a scumbag," said Harriet Lavin, defending Wilcox, who added that he has now freed himself of drug use.

Rourke's girlfriend, Wilkinson, aged 21, of Ruskin Road, Little Lever, was fined £500 and given a 12 month community order with 10 days of rehabilitation activities after admitting assisting an offender.

Robert Kearney, defending, told the court she has a first class degree but her hopes of a career in criminal justice are now "severely limited".

He added that she had been exploited by others and involved herself out of a sense of misplaced loyalty.