FOUR men who rammed and attacked a car with pickaxe handles before throwing the evidence onto a frozen canal have been jailed for a total of eight years.

Michael Stokes, aged 46, from Crewe; Edward Stokes, aged 39, from Crewe; Thomas Stokes, aged 30, of Nairn Close, Fearnhead and Thomas Stokes, aged 35, from Winsford appeared at Preston Crown Court on Friday.

They were each sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to violent disorder.

The court heard how an on-going dispute between two rival groups culminated in the four men ramming a car in Manchester Road at around 1pm on January 10.

The BMW was being driven by a 42-year-old solicitor with his 36-year-old client on board who was a member of the rival McDonagh family.

The pair were forced to abandon the car and run off.

Witnesses saw the gang, who had also run off, trying to throw their balaclavas, gloves and some clothes into the Leeds Liverpool canal which had frozen over.

Officers were able to gather the evidence from the ice and carry out forensic tests which linked them to the crime.

A hearing last week was told how terrified members of the public witnessed the balaclava-clad ‘ambush’ outside Burnley Town Hall.

..Richard Howarth, prosecuting, said the episode began when Patrick and Frank McDonagh were arrested over an alleged assault on Brian ‘Barney’ Stokes and Edward Stokes in Burnley.

The Stokes clan then learned that Frank McDonagh was due to answer bail at Burnley police station.

When Mr McDonagh left the Parker Lane station with his lawyer Sukhdip Randhawa, he noticed Thomas Stokes in a white van in front of them.

The pair were going towards the M65 when they realised they had gone the wrong way. They did a U-turn on Queen’s Lancashire Way, said Mr Howarth.

The van did likewise and as the BMW headed to the town centre, Mr McDonagh spotted a burgundy Vauxhall Omega, driven by Michael Stokes, a member of the same family.

Michael Stokes is said to have gestured that Mr McDonagh ‘was dead’ so the BMW headed towards the police station but the Omega ‘rammed’ the BMW, forcing it off the road.

The court heard that a blue Omega car then entered the fray. It was driven towards the BMW but crashed into a van.

Four men spilled out of the blue Omega, armed with baseball bats or sticks, shouting ‘McDonagh, you’re dead’, said Mr Howarth.

Speaking after the case, Detective Inspector Simon Cheyte said: “This has been a long and complex investigation and I am satisfied with the result.

“Fortunately no-one was seriously injured but clearly this was a very frightening ordeal for the victims who were left terrified as were numerous members of the public who were going about their business in the town centre.

“Fortunately, the canal was frozen over, which meant officers were able to recover crucial evidence.

“I hope this case acts as a warning that the police will use all available tools to track down criminals involved in such violent attacks and bring them to justice.”