MEMBERS of a gang who stole cars from homes across the East Midlands - including Harborough - before shipping some to Africa and using others to commit crime, have been jailed.
Most of the cars were taken after the gang burgled homes belonging to owners of high-value cars to steal the keys.
They then put false plates on the car before shipping them to South Africa via Felixstowe,
today been sent to prison for a total of 24 years.
Other stolen cars were used in burglaries and robberies in the Midlands and South Yorkshire.
Eleven men, all of whom had pleaded guilty to being involved in the plot, were sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court on Thursday and Friday (22 and 23 November).
Two others had been sentenced in August at the end of unrelated proceedings.
A 14th man was sentenced in October.
The sentencings are the culmination of a lengthy investigation led by the East Midlands Special Operations Unit – Serious Organised Crime team (EMSOU-SOC), supported by officers from Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire police forces, with assistance from colleagues in Derbyshire.
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 in so-called car key burglaries.
During one burglary in Ravenshead, the terrified homeowners were threatened with violence when the thieves could not find the keys.
Essential medical equipment for a seriously-ill young child was also stolen when the car it was kept in was taken from a home in Beeston.
Most of the cars were taken from homes in Leicestershire - including Market Harborough - Nottinghamshire 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.
Six of the gang had pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to receive stolen goods at earlier hearings.
Serbian national Nikola Oblakovic was seen driving a number of the stolen cars.
The 23-year-old, of Woburn Close, Leicester, was jailed for three years and seven months.
Issa Ali, also known as Salum Marzouk (38) and formerly of Station Street West, Coventry, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods.
Ali was responsible for storing the stolen cars in containers at Bradnocks Marsh container yard in Solihull. He was jailed for three years.
Paul McGinley (29) formerly of Firbank Court, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, owned the machine that made false plates.
He had admitted the same charge as Oblakovic and was jailed for 14 months.
Mark Mansfield (24) of Tuffleys Way, Thorpe Astley, Leicestershire received a prison sentence of two years.
Alan Mann (25) of Harwill Crescent, Aspley, was given a six month sentence, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to do 180 hours of unpaid work.
Matatizo Mkamdawire (28) formerly of William McKee Close, Coventry, had been sentenced in October to six months in prison for his part in loading the vehicles into the containers. He admitted a charge of possessing criminal property.
Six others – all from Nottinghamshire - pleaded guilty to stealing the cars, having each been charged with conspiracy to commit burglary.
• Brendan Turley (27) formerly of Coleby Road, Broxtowe, was jailed for three years and nine months.
• Ashley Osbourne (26) of Hartley Road, Nottingham, was also jailed for three years and nine months.
• James Clarke (22) formerly of Bells Lane, Aspley, was jailed for three years
• Aaron Wilson (24) formerly of Squires Lane, Bulwell, was jailed for two years
• Matthew Johnson (26) formerly of Mansfield Road, Blidworth, was jailed for 21 months
• Andrew Wheelhouse (31) of Mansfield Road, Underwood, was given a 12 month sentence suspended for 12 months. He was ordered to 200 hours unpaid work.
Ashley Charles (24) of Squires Avenue, Bulwell, and Kyle Morgan, 25, of Potters Hollow, Bulwell, had already been sentenced for their part in the plot at Leicester Crown Court in August when they were given 12 and 10-year sentences respectively for committing armed cash-in-transit robberies in Sheffield and Leicestershire.
They were given 12 months each for the burglaries to run concurrently to their sentences for the robberies.
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.”