A kidnapping gang who forced two men into a van, beat them with bats and threaten to cut off their fingers and ears have been jailed for a total of over 44 years.
Mason Schubeler, 20, Harri Pearce, 22, Reece Speirs, 23, Ricky Fidler, 21, and Laura Watson, 46, all played their part in a terrifying kidnap which saw two men bound with cable ties and forced into a van on July 1 last year.
One victim jumped out of the van to escape whilst the second was subjected to an ordeal lasting over three hours.
Neither of the victims speak English as their first language and one was so terrified he ended up jumping out of the moving van onto the road.
After exiting the van in front of shocked passers-by, the victim - who was still tied up - hit his head on a parked vehicle and was subsequently in a coma for about a week.
The kidnap left the two victims with serious injuries, and one even had their hair cut with scissors during the incident. One victim said he had been "tortured to near death" by members of the gang, and was told to contact family members in Vietnam for a ransom during the van journey.
On Thursday, the five defendants appeared at Newcastle Crown Court to be sentenced for kidnap, with other defendants facing other serious charges.
Schubeler, of Marondale Avenue, Walker, also appeared to be sentenced for conspiracy to supply cocaine; Speirs was also sentenced for assault occasioning actual bodily harm; Fidler was also sentenced for dangerous driving; and Pearce was also sentenced for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, and aggravated burglary.
The court heard that the "planned and serious" kidnapping, which involved all of the defendants at some point, happened on July 1 last year when Schubeler, Pearce, Speirs, and Fidler burst into a home on Chatton Street, East Howden, carrying knives and bats.
Two victims were inside at the time and had their glasses smashed. One also had their hair cut as part of the humiliating and frightening incident.
Gavin Doig, prosecuting, said: "Both victims were bound with cable ties. Their ankles were also tied, but were later cut off. They were forced into a van and driven around for some time where they were threatened, with scissors held to their fingers and knives held to their throats."
As the victims were driven around the North Shields area, things took a dramatic turn when a victim jumped from the moving van onto the road while still tied up.
Mr Doig said: "At the time, with such fear, he jumped from the moving van and sustained serious injury after hitting his head on a parked car."
Members of the public rushed to the victim's aid who called the police and cut the cable ties. He was then rushed to hospital and was in and out of consciousness after fracturing his skull and sustaining a bleed on the brain.
The court heard that Speirs and Pearce had been seen in a van at a Wallsend B&Q, where cable ties were bought earlier. Fidler had also been seen behind the wheel of the van whilst Schubeler was a passenger, the court heard.
During the van journey, Mr Doig told the court that one victim was hit in the head with a bat whilst a man "asked for money". The kidnappers also threatened to kill the victims before Schubeler - who was on a curfew at the time - and Fidler got out of the van and went home. The court heard the two went home minutes before the first victim jumped out of the van.
After the man jumped out of the van, the vehicle and the remaining victim were taken to the home of Speirs, where he had his eyes covered with a hoody. Pearce and Speirs remained with the victim before Watson turned up.
The victim was then put in her car and was assaulted further by the two men whilst being driven to Blyth by Watson. Once in Blyth, the man was released on a street before he called for a taxi from a newsagent.
The court heard that the van was later burnt out that same night, but the cable ties were later found in the Chatton Street address, along with hair clippings.
A day after the kidnapping, Fidler was seen driving a Transit van which was also connected to the kidnapping and an "extremely dangerous" police chase ensued.
The chase had to be abandoned twice due to the way he was driving and the van was later found abandoned. The defendants were all arrested in July and August last year, the court heard.
In a statement, the victim who jumped out of the moving van said he was "tortured to near death" by the gang and was in a coma for seven days afterward. He added he now had PTSD and anxiety. The second victim said he now battles "frequent nightmares".
Mr Doig said that there were "sustained assaults and threats" made with elements of humiliation during the incident.
The court heard that Schubeler was also to be sentenced for conspiracy to supply cocaine between March 11 and July 16 2020, when he was involved as a runner in a "slick" drug-dealing operation that involved 26kg of cocaine, with an estimated value of almost £1m. He was only 17 years old at the time.
Pearce also appeared to be sentenced for causing serious injury by dangerous driving which occurred weeks after the kidnap. Mr Doig said Pearce was behind the wheel of a Toyota, driving at speed, when he smashed head-on into a woman who was driving to work.
Pearce, who was under the influence of a "cocktail of drugs", was banned from driving at the time and made off, but was found a short time later. The woman sustained a fractured eye socket and now may walk with a permanent limp. She also lost her job as a care home manager due to the crash and said it had had a "devastating impact" on her life.
The court heard that Pearce had also been involved in an aggravated burglary on November 19 2022 when, along with other intruders, he burst into a man's Forest Hall home while holding a meat cleaver. The victim in that incident sustained a "nasty laceration" to his arm and Pearce's trainer was left at the scene - linking him to the incident.
In mitigation, Glenn Gatland, defending Schubeler - who was on bail awaiting sentence for the drugs conspiracy at the time of the kidnap - said he was still a young man and "baby-faced".
Speaking of the drugs conspiracy, he said Schubeler had "no criminal contacts or money to finance an operation such as this" and that he had been sleeping in a room above a boxing club before meeting other members of the conspiracy.
Addressing the court on the kidnapping, Mr Gatland said Schubeler left the van before the first victim jumped out and was at home by the time it happened. He said he was "not involved in trying to cover up the activity" and had grown up in care until he was 16 years old.
Mr Gatland added Schubeler has a "potential good career as a professional boxer", saying: "He wants to put all of this behind him and proceed with that career."
Nicoleta Alistari, defending Fidler, of Victoria Court, West Moor, said he had pleaded guilty to the offences and that he had shown "remorse and the considerable impact on the victims".
She said: "He acknowledges the victims must have felt terrified." She said Fidler got out of the van soon after Schubeler and was not present when the first victim jumped out.
Ms Alistari added Fidler has ADHD and had a "troubled childhood" and has "profound sorrow and shame" for his actions.
David Callan, defending Speirs, of Norham Road, North Shields, said he had a "very hard life" and had turned to drink and drugs after his mother had a stroke. He said: "He is shocked and disgusted and can't stop thinking of the man jumping out of the van. He says 'I wish I could turn back time'. He added Speirs had taken drugs since the age of eight and had a "chaotic childhood".
Defending Pearce also, Mr Callan said he had been taking "far too much drugs and alcohol" days before the incidents and "doesn't have a clear recollection" of them. He added Pearce had also had a chaotic childhood, had never been in employment, and had "associated with the wrong sorts of people".
Geoff Knowles, defending Watson, said her position was "wholly different" from the others and said she had been instructed by Speirs to attend his address. He said: "It is crystal clear she was not involved in any threats, violence or humiliation."
Mr Knowles added that Watson treated Speirs like a "surrogate son" and that the offence was "completely out of character" for her.
Sentencing the defendants, Judge Edward Bindloss said the four male defendants kidnapped the men at knifepoint and "threats were made to cut off fingers and ears" whilst money was demanded. He said Fidler, Speirs and Pearce were "all dangerous".
Schubeler was given 11 years and nine months in a young offender's institution.
Fidler was jailed for 10 years and banned from driving for nine years and six months - he must also undertake an extended re-test if he wants his licence back.
Speirs was jailed for seven years and four months.
Pearce was jailed for 12 years and eight months and was banned from driving for 11 years and nine months - he must also undertake an extended re-test if he wants his licence back.
Watson was jailed for 25 months.