Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 17:32 UK

Audacious raids targeted wealthy

By Kirsty Gardner
West of England producer, BBC News

The Johnsons thought they were untouchable and treated their home county of Gloucestershire like a private playground.

Ramsbury Manor
The gang targeted the Wiltshire home of property tycoon Harry Hyams

The family starred in their very own BBC documentary and while the generous would call them "colourful", the victims of the attacks, fraud, theft and damage left trailing in their wake would feel quite differently about them.

It is their audacious smash and grab raids on the homes of the wealthy which have put members of this family in the record books for having pulled off Britain's biggest burglary.

The trial, which has resulted in five of them being sentenced to between eight and 11 years, is the result of Operation Haul, the work of five police forces.

At an earlier trial, which can only be reported now, 12 members of the family and their associates were punished for conspiracy to burgle or steal precious metals worth 360,000.

So who are the people the police have dubbed the Johnsons' organised crime network?

I hope these people can find it in their hearts to understand that Christ works in mysterious ways and I follow his guiding voice
Ricky Johnson

The Johnson clan was born out of the union in the 1950s of Muriel "Millie" Slender of Cheltenham and Albert Johnson.

Eight children followed - five boys and three girls. Albert died in the 1970s and Alan, known as Jimmy, and Ricky, who had spent years as children in care, took over as heads of the family.

Jimmy, though not part of the latest series of trials, has a number of convictions. In 2000, he spent 18 hours up a tree after running away from police.

They had been chasing him after he skipped bail between being convicted of stealing caravans worth 25,000 and sentencing.

In 2006, he was jailed by Oxford Crown Court for four-and-a-half years for stealing a JCB and attempting to wrench the ATM from the front of Lloyds Bank in Burford, Oxfordshire.

Ricky Johnson was jailed for three years in 1997 for defrauding elderly people through a bogus building company, Christian Construction.

Painting from Ramsbury Manor (Pic: Wilts Police/PA)
Art worth millions was stolen from Ramsbury Manor (Pic: Wilts Police/PA)

The company charged high fees for poor work and netted 160,000 before the police caught up with them.

When convicted, he blamed Jesus and said: "I hope these people can find it in their hearts to understand that Christ works in mysterious ways and I follow his guiding voice."

In the BBC3 documentary Country Strife - Summer with the Johnsons, Ricky Johnson boasted of his life of crime and admitted to doing "an awful lot of robbing".

He went on to deny his part in the burglary of more than 100 priceless snuff boxes from the Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, but added: "If I feel the need when I have got to rob a country manor stately home I will do so.

"I will rob it and hope that I don't get caught... I really feel I've got the right to rob the lords out there. I feel I've got the right to rob the sirs and lords and ladies."

He was later charged in connection with the Waddesdon burglary though the court case collapsed.

'Secret service duty'

Another person in the BBC3 documentary was Ricky's son, Chad, and he told the show: "I've got no GCSEs. I just know street life and gypsy life - that is all I know."

At 32 he has begun an 11-year stretch for his part in the country house burglaries.

He is serving a jail term for marrying a vulnerable woman 38 years his senior and transferring thousands of pounds of her money to himself and leaving her with debts of 60,000.

Despite marrying Tania Campbell, now 71, Chad Johnson continued to live with his girlfriend Karly and their four children in a caravan.

He told his elderly wife, a diagnosed schizophrenic, he was on active duty with the secret service or working in the US.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and was sentenced last year to three-and-a-half years imprisonment.

The Johnsons are misunderstood, they are lovely and kind people
Tania Johnson

The judge in his case condemned him in the strongest possible terms: "This was a disgraceful plan whereby Tania Campbell was enticed into a sham marriage, stripped of her assets and became bankrupt.

"I don't think it makes it any better that she was a willing participant. She was a vulnerable, lonely lady."

Even now, Mrs Johnson declared her love for her young husband to the BBC: "I love him, simple as that, because he is good to me.

"The Johnsons are misunderstood, they are lovely and kind people. I think the fact they get so much punishment is absolutely ludicrous. The court case about me was a load of lies. There was no need for him to be imprisoned or punished at all. Absolute rubbish."

Earlier this year she helped curate an exhibition of brightly-coloured acrylic paintings by her husband at the St Paul's Place Light Gallery of Shadowed Art in Cheltenham.

The couple are still legally married.

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