TWO cousins who carried out a series of claw hammer robberies across East Lancashire and the North West have been jailed.

Dean Sykes, 26, and Christopher Sykes, 30, admitted a conspiracy to rob 19 convenience stores in the space of three months.

Police dubbed the crime spree as the ‘Co-op’ or ‘claw hammer’ series because of the distinctive silver hammer brandished each time and the majority of stores targeted were Co-ops.

Detectives even found plans on a laptop where the cousins had used the Co-op website’s store locator to pinpoint future targets in the Leeds area.

Accrington and Rossendale CID officers worked closely with Greater Manchester Police detectives after the cousins hit the Co-op in Thorneylea, Whitworth, at 10.30pm on December 27, Spar in Burnley Road, Accrington, at 10.20pm on February 2, and twice targeted the Co-op in Pickup Street, Clayton-le-Moors on January 14 and February 9.

They got away with £2,000 on a couple of occasions and cigarettes.

Other armed robberies were committed in Bury, Bolton, Stoke, Stockport, Wigan, Salford and Crewe.

DS Mark Gillibrand said police believed the crimes were committed to pay Dean’s gambling addiction debts, with Chris often filling the role of getaway driver.

He said: “Many victims suffered sleepless nights and anxiety and were not able to return to work for a long time or even at all.”

Police said Dean would enter a shop dressed in dark clothing, concealing his face and carrying a silver claw hammer.

He then verbally threatened staff while holding the hammer aloft and demanded cash from the tills and safe.

If staff did not hand over cash, Dean went behind the counter and prised open the till with the hammer to take the money inside.

He also forced staff into the offices where he made them open the safe.

Dean, of Kenyon Way, Little Hulton was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Christopher, of Manchester Road East, Little Hulton was sentenced to eight years’ prison with a further five years on licence upon release.