“He was our rock…” – Emotional tributes to businessman and dad-of-three who suffered fatal heart attack after catching professional criminals targeting his premises

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A ‘professional’ gang of criminals have been jailed for more than 40 years after a businessman suffered a fatal heart attack when he caught them breaking into his premises. Peter Cordwell’s devastated family described him as their ‘rock’, as four men were locked up following the burglary at his site in Collop Gate Farm, Heywood.

The sophisticated thieves were targeting a storage container within the site, which is owned by the Cordwell family and housed a variety of businesses. One container stored illegal cigarettes worth more than £800,000. Mr Cordwell, a father-of-three, rushed to the site after being called by his teenage son Peter Jnr, who had been alerted that trespassers had broken in.

After arriving in his Toyota Land Cruiser, his son and another man called Harvey Ferris, who was living on the site as a security guard, got into Mr Cordwell’s car and planned to block the intruders in until police arrived. But soon after, members of the gang launched a terrifying attack on the Toyota with the three men inside.

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The windscreen was smashed with a hammer or axe, and others armed with weapons including a baseball bat also attacked the vehicle. Mr Cordwell desperately fled and drove onto Manchester Road.

But within seconds, Mr Cordwell, who had ‘severe heart issues’, slumped in the driver’s seat and his son had to grab the steering wheel to stop them from crashing. He had suffered a heart attack, and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

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A pathologist said that the ‘physiological stress imparted by the incident had interacted with Mr Cordwell Senior’s pre-existing natural disease to precipitate his sudden death’. Manchester Crown Court heard that the gang targeted high value cigarettes using ‘insider knowledge’ and tracking devices, to steal large quantities of illegally imported cigarettes.

Police were able to prove that they had also been involved in similar break-ins across the north of England. Ahmad Mirza, 37, Ali Karimi, 38 and Saman Ali, 31 were jailed for 11 years, while Kurdistan Hamid, 40 was jailed for 11 years and eight months.



Kurdistan Hamid, Saman Ali, Ahmad Mirza and Ali Karimi

They had gone on trial accused of manslaughter, but prosecutors accepted pleas to aggravated burglary and conspiracy to burgle. Sharon Cordwell, Mr Cordwell’s wife of 21 years and business partner, told how he had built up an empire including running his firm PGC Demolition. He started in business aged 18, went on to employ 40 staff and raised money for charity.

“Peter was the glue holding it all together, a man who worked seven days a week to make sure his family and staff were cared for and looked after,” she said. “Losing Peter has left the biggest hole in our lives. He was our rock.”

She told how the couple were watching a film at home on October 28, 2020, when their son called Mr Cordwell to report the break in. Mr Cordwell kissed her and said he’d be ‘ten minutes’.

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“That was the last time I saw him alive,” she said. “Some people believe that crimes such as this are victimless, that stealing from units has no effect on others. Nothing is further from the truth.”

Mr Cordwell’s son Peter Jnr ‘blames himself’ for phoning his father that night, the court heard. But a judge told him he was ‘completely blameless’.



Peter Cordwell with his wife Sharon

He said: “If I could turn the clock back I wouldn’t have called him. At the time I was just 18-years-old, this was the most frightening thing that had happened to me.

“The men who did this have taken the most amazing Dad from us. He taught me so much and made me the man I am today. I will never get over his loss.”

The family have vowed to continue Mr Cordwell’s charity work in his honour. He previously raised £130,000 for Springhill Hospice and has helped Jolly Josh, a Rochdale based charity which offers support to disabled children and their families.

Jolly Josh, which was offered the use of premises owned by Mr Cordwell rent free, is expected to receive a financial boost following the case. More than £28,000 which police seized from Ali, which he claimed had been won in casinos, is set to be diverted to the good cause. Sentencing, Judge Nicholas Dean QC said Mr Cordwell’s death was ‘unforeseen’ and ‘unforeseeable’ by the defendants, but that their crimes posed a ‘risk of harm’ to others.

The four defendants also admitted involvement in a conspiracy to burgle, with similar break-ins being reported mainly at self storage units at in Grantham, Lincolnshire; Wrexham; Manchester; Heywood; Castleford and Blackpool. Prosecutors offered no evidence against Ahmed Kadiri, 45, of Northam Walk, Wolverhampton, who had gone on trial accused of manslaughter, aggravated burglary and conspiracy to burgle, and he was found not guilty.

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Counts of manslaughter and aggravated burglary were left to lie on file in the case of 37-year-old Hersh Abdullah, of Westbourne Road, Wolverhampton, who had also gone on trial. He was acquitted of conspiracy to burgle. Offenses of manslaughter was also left to lie on file in the cases of Karimi, of Fir Grove, Blackpool; Ali, of Belmont Avenue, Blackpool; Hamid, of Norris Street, Lincoln; and Mirza, of Norris Street, Lincoln.



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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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