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Yorkshire gang ordered to pay back over £120,000


12:30pm 1st September 2011

Three members of the same organised crime gang have been ordered to pay back a total of £122,851.75 that they had acquired through their respective roles in a sophisticated enterprise of stealing and selling on high value vehicles.

At Leeds Crown Court today His Honour Judge Marson QC determined that Gary Swinden (52) of Field Drive, Barnsley had benefited by a total of £138,724.32 from the proceeds of his crimes and made a total confiscation order against him to the sum of £78,073.33.  Swindon has until 28th February 2012 to satisfy the order or face a further 21 months in prison if he defaults. 

Victoria Laws (41) also of Field Drive, Barnsley, was found to have benefited by £44,712.99 from the proceeds of her crimes and was ordered to pay back the same before 28th February 2012 or receive a further term of 16 months imprisonment if she defaults.

Finally, and also at Leeds Crown Court, His Honour Judge Spencer QC determined that whilst Matthew Richard Holmes (29) of Laceby Close, Thorpe Edge, Bradford had benefited by £153,634.00 from his part in the “enterprise” he was only ordered to pay back £65.43.  A default prison sentence of seven days was attached to his order if he fails to pay back the money within one month. 

At an earlier hearing in December 2010, members of the fourteen-strong gang had previously admitted to a combination of charges including conspiring to burgle, conspiring to handle stolen goods and conspiring to defraud across North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, and Lancashire in July 2009 and across West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire between July and November 2009.

Prior to this in December 2009, officers from each of the four police forces of Yorkshire and the Humber came together to form one regional ‘car key’ burglary investigation, known as Operation Yankee.

Officers discovered that the gang gained entry into homes where high value cars were parked on the driveways, often whilst the occupants were asleep.  They then found the keys to the vehicles and stole them for immediate disposal via established outlets and handlers.  It soon 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 were recovered together with blank vehicle documents and over £100,000 of cash were found behind a panel in the bathroom of a property at Pony Paddocks Caravan Park, Toll Bar, Doncaster. 

Bradford based Matthew Holmes was the burglary team leader who would then sell on the stolen vehicles.  Gary Swinden and his partner, Victoria Laws, were the facilitators who, through their business Zebra Studios, Eldon Street North, Barnsley, supplied high quality cloned licence plates and documentation.

In sentencing the gang members back in December 2010, His Honour Judge Hoffman described them as ‘professional criminals’, for the large scale theft of vehicles estimated at a value of over £6 million.  Since then a lengthy and complex financial investigation has ensued, lead by the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team. 

Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Atkinson, now Head of the North East RART, was also the Senior Investigative Officer for Operation Yankee.  She said:

“These were highly organised and highly sophisticated criminals with Matthew Holmes at the helm; stealing vehicles to order.  Through the criminal cloning of licence plates and forged documentation supplied by Gary Swinden, the gang sold the stolen vehicles on in huge numbers.

“They were running an extremely lucrative business but thanks to the confiscation orders passed today, we have not only brought them to justice but stripped them of the proceeds of their crimes. 

“We know that this will have a positive impact upon the communities that have been blighted by their pernicious criminality and hope this sends a strong message out to anyone engaging in similar activities:  we will continue to target and disrupt organised criminals and force them to pay back their ill-gotten gains.”

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