A Burnley man has been sentenced for handling stolen vehicles from across the country totalling £100,000.
Matthew Hartley (43), of Bacup Road, Cliviger, along with Oliver Young (34) of Rossendale, and Ronald Goss, of Haslingden, appeared today at Preston Crown Court.
Hartley was jailed for 15 months, Goss was jailed for 14 months and Young was handed a 30 week sentence suspended for 18 months with 200 hours of unpaid work.
It comes after a long and complex investigation into a nationwide operation which saw stolen plant machinery and campervans brought into to Burnley and Rawtenstall to be re-identified and sold on.
The three men went to great lengths to cover up the original identities of the stolen vehicles, including creating new identification plates using the details of identical vehicles which had been sold out of the country.
The vehicles were then sold to unsuspecting buyers right across the UK.
The investigation covered the length and breadth of the country, with a total of 24 stolen vehicles – a motor home and 23 items of plant machinery – later recovered from as far afield as the Isle of Wight and Elgin in the north of Scotland.
The group admitted to handling stolen vehicles worth £100,000 in less than a yearlong period, but the total of the vehicles recovered during the investigation is over £500,000.
DC Martyn Leigh, of Lancashire Police, said the effect on victims had been "devastating".
“These three men have wreaked havoc on innocent peoples’ lives,” he said.
“It is no exaggeration to say these crimes have had a devastating impact on some of the victims. One business folded after having stock stolen, a marriage broke up under the strain and several small businesses suffered financial hardship.”
The Lancashire Police investigation began in September 2013 and detectives from the Intelligence Unit and Organised Vehicle Crime Team worked closely with the assistance of both financial and analytical experts.
Officers also worked with external agencies, including The Equipment Register and Datatag, to identify the stolen and cloned plant machinery.
In May 2013 five warrants were executed at addresses across the east of the county, resulting in three arrests and the recovery of incriminating evidence.
Further arrests and searches were conducted over the following months producing more evidence.
Hartley, Goss and Young maintained throughout the investigation that they had bought the machinery from two individuals named ‘Irish Jimmy’ and ‘Polish Pete’, believing the items were legitimate. Neither Irish Jimmy nor Polish Pete have ever been identified or traced.
A 12-week trial was initially scheduled and heard in January 2015 but resulted in a hung jury.
The case was immediately scheduled for retrial in January, this year, and in its second week both Hartley and Young put in early guilty pleas.
Goss continued to deny his guilt, but was found guilty following a trial in February this year.
DC Leigh added: “These three men were all of previously good character and ran well-respected, local companies that they used to disguise what they were really up to.
“In reality, they were well-organised and ruthless criminals.
“This was a complex and time-consuming investigation and the tenacity and perseverance of officers and Crown Prosecution Service lawyers is to be commended.
“We hope this sentence will send out a message that we will not tolerate criminals engaged in highly organised criminality ruining the lives of hard-working, innocent members of the public.”
The recovered vehicles have been returned to their rightful owners. Further investigations are now ongoing under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover money and assets from the three men.