THREE men have been jailed over a nationwide car cloning conspiracy centred around Leeds worth more than £1.5million.
Joseph Redmond, Luke Campbell and Matthew Peters were jailed for a total of more than 15 years after a court heard the four-year conspiracy involved the illegal theft and sale of 188 stolen vehicles.
A court heard how the “sophisticated and carefully planned” operation involved the targeted theft of vehicles across the country.
Arrangements were then made to ‘make over’ vehicles using specialist equipment so they could be sold on the used car market.
Conspirators would organise the legal purchase of a similar car and work was carried out to make them almost identical.
The stolen vehicle would be given the same registration plate, logbook, vehicle number and engine number to make it appear legitimate before being sold on.
Many of the vehicles were stolen in north London before being taken to West Yorkshire then shipped off to Ireland for sale.
Prosecutor Sharon Beattie told Leeds Crown Court: “This would leave the conspirators free to use the legitimate car’s UK identity...safe in the knowledge that the two identical two cars were unlikely ever to be seen side-by-side.
“If one of the cars had an Irish registration plate then that would make discovery less likely.”
Vehicles were sold to unsuspecting purchasers through Autotrader in the UK and ‘Done Deal’, an Irish equivalent.
A service history booklet would often be provided in a bid to reassure potential buyers.
Miss Beattie said: “The innocent purchaser wasn’t to know that the stamps in the booklet were fake - made in most instances by fake garage stamps.”
The odometer on stolen cars would be altered and MOT certificates were forged.
Hire Purchase Investigation (HPI) checks would also come back clear because they were being made on the registration plate on the legitimate car.
The prosecutor added: “Everything possible was done to make the stolen car appear legitimate.
“It was, in short, a complete and comprehensive make-over which resulted in purchasers handing over thousands of pounds to their detriment. and to the advantage of these defendants.”
The court heard Redmond and Campbell were at the heart of the illegal operation.
The pair were involved in obtaining specialist equipment and training in the use of technical equipment used in the conspiracy.
Miss Beattie said: “Since the first cars were manufactured people have been stealing them and as cars have become more sophisticated so have the methods of theft.
“As well as chassis numbers and other identifying numbers, cars have sophisticated alarms, immobilisers, coded keys, and criminals have to overcome those barriers in order to steal them.
“In this case, those barriers were overcome by a group of criminals.
“Specialist equipment and knowledge was, on occasion, needed. Car keys are, nowadays, sophisticated pieces of equipment, and so technical equipment was required to clone them.”
Peters’ role was to source and steal the vehicles used in the conspiracy.
When Peters was arrested he was found in possession of lock-picking tools, a lock-picking manual and an electronic key-coding machine.
A fourth defendant, Stephen Whittaker, allowed his home address in Leeds to be used to obtain log books used in the deception.
The court heard the total value of the offending was estimated to be £1,574,264.
It is thought the conspiracy involved many other criminals across the country.