A CRIMINAL gang stole almost half-a-million pounds worth of 4x4 vehicles from three counties which were then stripped down and sold for parts.
Teesside Crown Court heard how police raided a lock-up on Dodsworth Street, Darlington, catching one member of the gang – his hands covered in motor oil ¬- in the process of stripping a Land Rover which had been stolen the night before.
But prosecutor Adrian Dent said that failed to stop the “ringleaders” behind the conspiracy, Jack Taylor and Lewis Hickson, who continued to steal and organised another location, a farm in Heighington, on the outskirts of the town, to do the dismantling, before that too was raided.
North Yorkshire Police set up ‘Operation Cavalier’ and used telephone evidence, surveillance and camera footage in order to catch the thieves.
It was estimated 38 Land Rover vehicles valued at £460,000 were stolen or attempts made to steal them from farmyards and rural locations across North Yorkshire, County Durham and Cumbria from the beginning of 2013 to late July that year.
Investigating officer, Detective Constable Keith Turner, who was praised by Judge Howard Crowson for his work on the “complex” investigation, said: “The gang were highly organised criminals, forensically aware and with a highly efficient methodology, the vehicles were cut into parts and on their way to the south of England within 24 hours of being stolen.
“The thefts had a big impact of the victims who were generally working people from rural communities who relied on their vehicles for their livelihood. The outcome of our investigation sends a very clear message to criminals that no matter how sophisticated they believe they are, they cannot outsmart the law.”
Taylor, 26, of Smithfield Road, Darlington, admitted conspiracy to steal and was jailed for two years, eight months. When police searched his home they found knives and machetes along with control panel parts from the Land Rover vehicles.
Hickson, 25, of King William Street, Darlington, admitted conspiracy to steal and received the same sentence.
A third man, 41-year-old Ian McCallum, of no fixed address, also admitted conspiracy to steal. A warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court.
Craig Moseley, 52, of Napier Street, Darlington, who was paid to transport the stolen parts in his taxi and was convicted after a trial of handling stolen goods, was jailed for 15 months.
Two others, Michael Evers, 40, of North Easton Terrace, Darlington, and Phillip Sams, 31, of Derwent Street, Darlington, who were said to have played lesser roles, received eight month prison sentences, suspended for 18 months, after admitting handling stolen goods.
In passing sentence, Judge Crowson said he took into account lengthy delays with the case during which time the men had been on bail.