Fourteen members of an organised crime gang received a combined sentence of over 50 years today (22 December 2010) at Leeds Crown Court for their role in a sophisticated enterprise stealing and selling on high value vehicles.
Members of the gang have admitted to a combination of charges including conspiring to burgle, conspiring to handle stolen goods and conspiring to defraud during July 2009 across North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, and Lancashire, and between July and November 2009 across West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire.
They were sentenced as follows:
• Nevada Smith (29) of Pony Paddocks, Toll Bar, Doncaster, received an overall sentence of 5 years.
• John Doyle (24) and Dean Doyle of Brendon Walk, Bradford have both been sentenced to 6 years.
• Richard Butler (26) of Laurold Avenue, Hatfield and Manzoor Akhtar (22) of Blackmoorfoot Road, Bradford both received 18-months each for their lesser role in the gang.
• Francis Lupton (20) of Bewerley Crescent, Woodside, Bradford, was sentenced to 2.5 years.
• Nicholas Tidswell (23) of Knowles Lane, Holmewood, Bradford, received a sentence of 5.5 years.
• Matthew Richard Holmes (29) of Thorpe Edge, Bradford, was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
• Anthony David Jackson (29) of Hyde Park Road, Hyde Park, Leeds, was sentenced to 6 years.
• Arthur Gaskin (23) of Smithies Lane, Barnsley, received 3 years.
• Anthony Nolan (51) of Eldon Street, Barnsley, received a 2-year custodial sentence, and Craig Stanley (35), was sentenced to 4 years.
• Gary Swinden (52) of Field Drive, Barnsley, who operated as facilitator, providing false number plates and convincing forged vehicle documentation on a prolific scale, received a sentence of 7 years.
• Victoria Laws (41) of Field Drive, Barnsley received a sentence of 52 weeks suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work within the next 12-months.
The sentences were the result of Operation Yankee, a joint investigation involving the four police forces of Yorkshire and the Humber and supported by officers from Lancashire Constabulary. The operation began in December 2009, as a regional ‘car key’ burglary investigation after a team were identified as committing ‘cross-border’ residential burglaries and high value vehicle theft across the Yorkshire and Humber region.
The gang gained entry into homes where high value motor cars were parked on the driveways, often whilst the occupants were asleep. Once the offenders gained entry, they searched for the keys to the vehicle in order to steal it for immediate disposal via established outlets and handlers.
On occasions a stolen car may be left nearby for a couple of days to establish if it was fitted with any tracking devices. Once the offenders were content there was no police interest, they would dispose of the vehicle onto its intended recipient usually through the Autotrader magazine.
The operation saw officers from each of the four police forces of Yorkshire and the Humber come together to form one investigation team and once the investigation had begun, it became clear that the scale of the thefts were not isolated to Yorkshire and the Humber, but that the known gang were operating as far as the West Midlands, Lincolnshire, Lancashire and the North West.
In April 2010 a three-day strike was mounted by five police forces and saw 24 arrests and 13 warrants executed across six force areas. Rounds of ammunition where recovered together with blank vehicle documents and over £100,000 of cash was found behind a panel in the bathroom of a property at Pony Paddocks Caravan Park, Toll Bar, Doncaster.
Operation Yankee established that Bradford based Matthew Holmes was the burglary team leader, he would then sell on the stolen vehicles to middle-man Nevada Smith from the travelling community.
The facilitators were Gary Swinden and his partner, Victoria Laws, who, through their business Zebra Studios, Eldon Street North, Barnsley, were able supply high quality cloned licence plates and documentation which would enable Smith to sell on the vehicles under false plates with accompanying forged vehicle documents.
During the first week of July 2009, the defendants, Dean Doyle, John Doyle, Francis Lupton and Nicholas Tidswell were seen staying at a hotel and a guest-house in Blackpool. During their stay, the communities of Fleetwood, Cleveleys and St Anne’s suffered from a major crime spree as the gang stole a number of high value vehicles including a series five BMW (worth £30,000) and a Sony Ericsson mobile phone, a Range Rover (worth £33,000), and Land Rover Discovery. On leaving the hotel, a number of items were found left behind, including the stolen mobile phone, which forensics were able to trace back to John Doyle.
Nevada Smith sold on the stolen vehicles through Autotrader, using cloned number plates and forged vehicle documentation supplied by Gary Swinden and Victoria Laws. Details of many of the cloned licence plates and VRM documents were discovered on a memory stick, at the business premises of Swinden during the arrest phase in April 2010.
Between July 2009 and November 2009, high value vehicle thefts occurred across a number of addresses in North and West Yorkshire including Boston Spa, Nr Wetheby, Osbaldwick, Nr York, Ilkley, Birkenshaw in Bradford, Chapel Road, Bingley and Quaker Lane, Cleckheaton. A team led by Matthew Holmes, including Anthony Jackson, Craig Stanley, and Arthur Gaskin were involved in the car key burglary of a number of high value vehicles such as Range Rover, Volvo, Honda Accord 2.2 Sport, VW Passatt, Mini Cooper, Audi A3 and Land Rover Discovery.
Under the influence of Arthur Gaskin, Anthony Nolan signed a tenancy agreement, using the alias of “Tom Smith” for a lock up garage at Fullerton Road, Rotherham. It was at the lock up that the gang would add false number plates to stolen vehicles, to correspond to false documentation provided by Smith through his association with Gary Swinden; this would allow Smith to sell-on the vehicles to unsuspecting buyers through Autotrader and other such sell-on sites, with seemingly correct log books.
South Yorkshire Police executed a warrant at the Fullerton Road lock up on 29 September 2009, on entering the building several vehicles stolen in burglaries were recovered including a VW Passatt, an Audi Q7, Mini Cooper and Nissan Navarra.
In sentencing, His Honour Judge Hoffman described Nevada Smith (29), as the common denominator and the “hub of the wheel” that crossed over two different burglary teams and as the middle man responsible for changing the ID of stolen vehicles. Judge Hoffman regarded Smith as “high up” in the organisation and that he would travel to be nearby to where the burglaries were being committed and was actively encouraging this activity. Smith, he said, part of a well organised and well coordinated criminal gang that was professional and operating on a serious scale.
In sentencing Dean Doyle (28) and his brother John Doyle (23), His Honour Judge Hoffman described them as ‘professional criminals’, for their role in the large scale theft of vehicles. John Doyle was, he said, “a habitual offender, dedicated to crime” and Dean Doyle was described as “a career criminal who must expect long sentences.' He also described Swinden as 'having a vital role as without log books these vehicles could not be so readily sold on and at as much profit'. He also commented saying 'he turned his skills as a graphic designer to criminal purpose on a wholesale scale'.
Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Atkinson, of West Yorkshire Police, is the Senior Investigative Officer for Operation Yankee and she said: “These sentences reflect the true scale of this highly organised and highly sophisticated criminal gang. £4 million worth of vehicles have been stolen and later sold as a result of the actions of this gang.
“Matthew Holmes was the head of the gang stealing vehicles to order, and Nevada Smith operating as the middle man, was able to sell stolen vehicles on a huge scale, through the criminal cloning of licence plates and forged documentation supplied by Gary Swinden.
“In effect, they were running an extremely lucrative business, selling on stolen vehicles to unsuspecting purchasers, who lost their money once the true identity of the cars was revealed.
“I am delighted by today’s result and the joint working of the four forces of Yorkshire and the Humber. Without this combined effort supplying staff, resources, joint funding and shared knowledge, an investigation of this complexity would not have had such a successful outcome in such a short space of time.
“The officers involved have shown real tenacity in capturing and bringing to justice this highly effective criminal gang. The capture and sentencing of such career and professional criminals such as Nevada Smith and Matthew Holmes has had a positive impact upon the communities that have been blighted by their pernicious criminal activities.”
As well as support from the four police forces of Yorkshire and the Humber and, Regional Intelligence Unit, Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART), and Lancashire Constabulary, the multi-agency operation included specialist support from the DVLA and ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Services (AVCIS). His Honour Judge Hoffman commended all officers involved in the investigation.