A CRIMINAL gang has been locked up over a £400,000 conspiracy in which they stripped and sold off the parts of luxury cars stolen from homes in Leeds.
A court heard most of the vehicles involved had been stolen from homes across the city when burglars broke into properties during the night in order to get car keys.
Two vehicles were also taken during robberies in which violence was used.
Leeds Crown Court heard stolen cars would sometimes be taken to the men involved in the sophisticated illegal enterprise within hours of them being stolen. The vehicles would then be stripped of parts to be sold on for huge profits. The gang would then arrange of the empty shell of the to be taken away and scrapped.
The gang, from the Halton Moor area of Leeds, were caught red-handed when police, with the help of firefighters who used cutting equipment, forced their way into a secure compound in Sherburn-in-Elmet as they were dismantling a £50,000 Audi.
The gang also used secure premises on Whitehouse Street, Hunslet, were they were filmed coming and going with vehicles and paying a van driver to take away parts.
A total of 21 stolen vehicles were handled by the gang.
The nine-month illegal operation was ended following a covert police operation. A judge yesterday prised the efforts of officers involved in disrupting their activities, describing it as a “first rate investigation.”
The ringleaders of the operation - Christopher Hargreaves, 35, of Ullswater Crescent, and Peter Orford, 32, of Kendal Drive - were both jailed for eight years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods.
Lee Wigglesworth, 28, of Sedbergh Close, Halton Moor, was jailed for 16 months and Kevan Smith, 23, of Raylands Lane, was jailed 15 months.
A fifth man will be sentenced at a later date.
After the case, Det Sgt Ciaran Burns said: “These men were involved in an organised criminal enterprise handling hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of cars stolen in burglaries and robberies in both Leeds and North Yorkshire.
“Behind every one of those stolen vehicles is a victim who has suffered not just financial loss but often the trauma and indignity of having their home invaded by thieves and on some occasions being threatened and assaulted. By assisting in the disposal of these cars, these men helped to fuel the market in stolen goods and provided an easy outlet for the thieves to profit from their crimes.
“Their imprisonment today is the result of a prolonged and complex police investigation into the stolen goods market in Leeds. By removing this key link in the chain, we have disrupted the ability of criminal gangs to dispose of stolen motor vehicles and to conceal their crimes.
“It is another significant step in reducing burglary levels in our region.”