Gang sentenced for £1m car theft plot

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Eleven men have been sentenced for their parts in a professional plot to steal and sell cars burgled from homes across our area.

Police say the gang, a mix of burglars and stolen car handlers, were responsible for the biggest car key burglary operation ever uncovered in the country.

The thieves would target high-value vehicles, mostly 4x4s, by breaking into the owners’ houses and stealing the keys to avoid having to bypass security systems.

The thefts of about 60 cars with a value of over £1m were attributed to the operation including burglaries in Eastwood, Kimberley, Nuthall and Awsworth.

In some cases, the criminals would be in and out of a house and driving away the vehicle inside 30 seconds.

Many break-ins took place at night while the owners were in bed upstairs.

Cars including Audi Q7s, and Range Rover and BMW 4x4 models were among the vehicles targeted.

Some of the stolen cars were then used to commit other crimes, while some ended up being shipped abroad to Africa where their values tripled.

At Nottingham Crown Court on Friday, 11 men sat in the dock together as they were sentenced for roles at various levels from stealing the cars to acting as channels between thieves and exporters, to making false number plates.

Sentencing the group, Judge Jonathan Teare said they operated as a “professional criminal enterprise”.

Three other men had already been sentenced for their roles at earlier hearings.

Judge Teare said: “It must be emphasised that these were serious crimes.

“Those who have their houses burgled feel that their privacy has been invaded and their property soiled.

“Often they feel insecure, afraid that the same people may return and repeat their crime. Children are frightened to go to bed.”

After the case, detectives from the East Midlands Special Operations Unit – Serious Organised Crime described how they unpicked the operation.

Detective Sergeant Harry Rai said: “It’s the first case nationally in terms of this scale. A number of forces got together to tackle the problem.”

After identifying patterns, detectives set up Operation Pacer to target the criminals.

They ran surveillance operations, monitored social networks and other internet traffic, used forensics and data from the vehicles’ own tracking devices to gather evidence.

They found some of the vehicles were being shipped to South Africa, with some traced to Tanzania, and arrested the group last November.

Senior investigating officer Superintendent 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.”