A PROFESSIONAL criminal has been brought to justice six years after he fled the country over his role in a “ruthless” gang who stole more than £1.5m worth of goods in raids on lorries.
Nicholas Clark was jailed for 12 years, six months after being returned to the UK under a European Arrest Warrant .
Leeds Crown Court heard Clark, 40, fled to Thailand after being bailed over the raids. He also spent time in Spain and Corfu while on the run.
Clark’s Leeds-based gang targeted curtain-sided vehicles, usually after their driver had parked up to rest.
The thefts were highly organised, occurring along the main road networks throughout England.
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Most of the drivers were undisturbed, only to later wake up and find the side of their vehicles had been slashed or the lock removed.
But in one case the driver of a vehicle carrying a valuable load of whisky from Scotland destined for Paris, was tied up and robbed when he took a break in a car park at a petrol station on the A1 at Darrington, close to the M62 junction at Ferrybridge.
The driver was grabbed round the neck and dragged to the back of his vehicle where he was subjected to a terrifying ordeal.
He was tied up and forced to lie in a ditch by three men wearing balaclavas.
He was then driven in a van to a remote location near Rochdale where he was dumped, covered in cuts and bruises.
In addition to losing £2,000 cash and personal belongings, 830 cases of whisky valued at £136,000 was taken from his load before the trailer was found burnt out near Wakefield.
In November 2010 police searched a yard at South Milford where they found two stolen vehicles and more than £350,000 of property hidden in secure containers.
Stolen goods included Barbour jackets, lawn mowers and 8,500 items of clothing, worth more than £71,000, that had been stolen from a lorry near South Elmsall.
In 2012, six men were jailed to a total of 26 years over the raids.
Clark, who pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy to steal, remained at large after fleeing country before he was due to answer police bail.
Simon Batiste, mitigating, said Clark spent time teaching English in Thailand before returning to Europe.
He said Clark had taken the decision to hand himself in to police as he wanted to return to the UK as his father was ill.
Jailing Clark, judge James Spencer, QC, said: “I am quite satisfied that you were quite ruthless and you were intent on committing these crimes.
“That is why this robbery was committed.
“For this level of offending there has to be a significant sentence, not only to punish you, but to remind others of the view that the community takes of this kind of offending.”
After the case, Det Insp Mark Long of the Protective Services (Crime) Division at West Yorkshire Police, said: “Clark is a violent individual who terrified his victim.
“I would like to praise the bravery of the victim in coming forward and the officers who worked on the case to bring Clark to justice. “Only by working together with other organisations, including authorities overseas were we able to bring him back to the UK to face justice.
“He now has time inside to consider the consequences of his actions.”