A FORMER Blidworth man was jailed for his part in a sophisticated car-theft operation which saw vehicles being shipped over to Africa.
Matthew Johnson (26) formerly of Mansfield Road, was handed a 21-month jail term and was one of 14 men sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court for their part in the plot.
The defendants, who were from Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, recieved a total of 24 years and were the the culmination of a lengthy investigation led by the East Midlands Special Operations Unit – Serious Organised Crime team (EMSOU-SOC), supported by officers from around the midlands.
The operation also involved the ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (ACVIS) and the South African Police Service.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Pacer, found that a total of 60 cars with a combined value of £1 million were stolen over a 12-month period from October 2010, most of them taken after their owners’ homes had been burgled and car keys stolen.
During one burglary in Ravenshead, the terrified homeowners were threatened with violence when the thieves could not find the keys.
Most of the cars were taken from homes in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, and were predominantly high-value models, particularly BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers.
False registration plates were then created on a machine owned by one of the conspirators and fitted to many of the stolen cars.
A number of them were taken to a container yard in Solihull, in the West Midlands, then to the Suffolk port of Felixstowe. From there they were shipped to Port Elizabeth in South Africa, where around a dozen cars were intercepted by the South African Police Service’s Vehicle Identification Section, acting on intelligence from EMSOU-SOC.
One car stolen from Calverton, in Nottinghamshire, was recovered in the country of Tanzania, 2,000 miles north of Port Elizabeth. Another six cars were found at Felixstowe. Other stolen cars were used in burglaries and robberies in the Midlands and South Yorkshire.
Six of the gang had pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to receive stolen goods at earlier hearings.
EMSOU-SOC senior investigating officer, Supt Lecky Grewal, said: “These sentences are just reward for a meticulous investigation by officers from three different forces, working together to bring this criminal gang to justice and exemplifying what policing in collaboration can achieve. It is also testament to the courage of the victims and other members of the public to come forward and help bring the case to court.
“While the scale of the criminal activity was significant, so was that of the investigation. More than 1,000 statements were taken from victims and witnesses from as far afield as Redruth and Glasgow, and over 900 exhibits were seized, including the number plate manufacturing machine operated by McGinley.
“We are also grateful for the excellent support we were given by the South African Police Service, who also provided statements and exhibits which enabled us and the Crown Prosecution Service to build a case which has resulted in some very determined criminals receiving lengthy custodial sentences.”
The case was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service’s East Midlands Complex Casework Unit who worked closely with EMSOU-SOC.
Warrant officer Gerhard Weyers, the lead investigating officer for the Vehicle Identification Section based in Port Elizabeth, said: “It is clear that the people involved in the theft of these vehicles are extremely well organised and involved legitimate companies in order to export the vehicles abroad.
“This was done without the knowledge of the shipping companies and agents. The intended destination for these stolen vehicles was the country of Tanzania where the vehicles would realise two or three times their market value.
“It has been a pleasure working with the Officers from the East Midlands Special Operations Unit and this has enhanced our already good working practices with the British Police. Hopefully our assistance in repatriating the stolen vehicles has limited the damage and expense caused by this group.”