From Mr Fixits to Mr Jailbirds: £1m masterminds of Britain's biggest stolen car cloning racket sold more than 60 vehicles in elaborate scam

By EMMA REYNOLDS  10 July 2012
The underworld masterminds of one of Britain’s largest ever car cloning rackets made £1million selling stolen vehicles on the second-hand car market.
Ashley Halstead, 40, and Timothy Ellor, 33, 'disguised' vehicles using legitimate details from similar models and hawked them online via Auto Trader and eBay, a Manchester court heard.
Unsuspecting buyers duped by the elaborate scam answered adverts and bought the affordable cars, only to discover they had been stolen.
Crooked pair: Timothy Ellor, left, and Ashley Halstead oversaw a criminal network of around 16 accomplices who posed as sellers and provided addresses where deals could take place
Police discovered Halstead and Ellor ran a network of criminals in 'three tiers.' The crooked pair 'managed' the list of stolen cars, while a sub-team posed as 'sellers' and a third allowed the stolen vehicles to be sold at their addresses.
Each car had its number plates changed and new registration numbers used in adverts on market places so prospective buyers could make HPI checks.
The gang also used blank V5 vehicle registration documents and blank road tax discs stolen from post offices, personal details of innocent people, forged MOT certificates, faked receipts of previous sales of the cars and even a bogus service history.
Ben East, 37, who’s Land Rover Freelander was stolen during a burglary at his home in Didsbury, Manchester, was shocked to find out it had been sold to innocent dairy farmer Adrian Bland who lives 150 miles in Cumbria.
Mr Bland, 40, saw the car advertised on the Auto Trader website and went to see it at a house in Rochdale. He paid £11,500 for the Land Rover after innocently believing all the forged documentation to be genuine, including the vehicle identification number matching the chassis number in the windscreen.
'Too good to be true': Farmer Adrian Bland paid £11,500 for a stolen Land Rover he was on Auto Trader, believing the forged documents to be real
Detectives traced more than 60 cars valued at a total of £571,718, which had been stolen and cloned including BMWs, Audis, VWs and a Mitsubishi pick-up truck.
Of these, 39 had been sold to innocent buyers, who paid a total of £280,000. Police estimate the racket earned the gang more than £1m.
Halstead was today jailed for four years at Minshull Street Crown Court while Ellor was given two years and four months after they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and convert criminal property. Sixteen accomplices are due to be sentenced later.
Father-of-two Mr Bland said after the case: 'I remember my wife saying at the time the price was too good to be true and she was right. But he said he had gone through a really bitter divorce and he didn’t want his wife finding out.
'He seemed genuine, I took the details of the registration and when I ran them passed the AA, they said it all appeared legitimate and above board.
'I had heard of people buying stolen cars at the pubs but we met this guy at what I thought was his home, so I didn’t question it. It was only when I sent the registration document to the DVLA I found out it had been stolen and cloned.
Conned: Mr Bland checked the registration details with the AA and was told everything was above board
'Police removed the spare wheel, the boot lining and showed me the chassis number that didn’t match the vehicle. I was absolutely furious and I felt so sick.
'I was livid that somebody had got one over me and that I had been so naive. Last year, I was employing a lad to work on the farm and since this, I’ve had to cut his hours and take on more hours myself - even though I already work a 12-hour day. I’ve had no choice financially.'
Mr East, 37, a freelance journalist, said: 'I do feel sorry for the guy that bought it because I imagine on Auto Trader it looked like a great deal.
'We felt we couldn’t get the same car again because after it was stolen, what’s to stop them coming back thinking the same car would be there again. We were also really scared that we were being watched.'
Police said Ellor, of Hyde, would be told a stolen car was 'available' so he knew the make, model and specification.
Nightmare: The original owners of the cars, the buyers and the people whose identities were taken all suffered as a result of the villainous duo's greed
He would then obtain the identities of similar models from a number of 'sources' including the internet, or even from cars he spotted on the street. He would then pass these identities on to others so the true identity of the car was disguised.
Ellor also carried out car history checks by phone and put adverts on to online market places. Halstead, of Rochdale would be told about cars that had been stolen and was known to sell some of them on, for profit.
Supt Neil Evans from Greater Manchester Police said: 'The tragedy here was that for every vehicle involved, there were numerous victims throughout the process.
'We have come across some tragic stories, such as victims of burglary who felt violated, people whose identities were hijacked, and those who saved up to buy the car that they needed, only to find themselves badly out of pocket.
'Today’s outcome is the culmination of a sensitive, large-scale and thoroughly planned police operation into an organised criminal network. In short, these people made money from burglaries.
'We urge prospective buyers of cars to always use bankers draft rather than cash, and we also want to make it clear that if a price looks too good to be true, there is every chance that it is.'
Mark Angus, Senior Crown Prosecutor said: 'There were many victims of this gang - the owners who had their cars stolen and the innocent purchasers who bought the vehicles in good faith.
'These are serious crimes that have a significant impact on victims in all sorts of ways.'
A spokesman from Auto Trader said: 'Buyers should approach all online purchases with caution and assure themselves that they have enough information about a seller to be confident in a transaction before they part with their money.'
Kristian Welch, Consumer Director for HPI said: 'Sadly, the cloning of cars is a common practice used by organised crime groups to hide the identity of stolen vehicles.'
A spokesman for CDL Vehicle Information Services (which owns MyCarCheck.com and MyTextCheck) said: 'The sums involved show that this was ‘big business’, highly organised crime. Demands for ‘cash only’ should always set the alarm bells ringing.'

Mercia Marina hosts number plate security event

By Derbyshire Police Online News

8th June 2012

Motorists are invited to improve the security of their vehicles at an event taking place in South Derbyshire later this month.

Members of the public are invited to come along between 3.00pm and 6.00pm at Mercia Marina in Willington on Monday, June 25 to see what is available to protect their means of travel and decrease their chances of becoming a victim of crime.

Officers from the local Mercia Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team will be present together with members of the Safer South Derbyshire Partnership and the CVS Safer Homes worker's will be on hand to fit free anti-theft number plate screw to vehicles free of charge.

PC Chris Fearn from the Mercia team said: “The idea of the day is to raise awareness of this kind of crime where number plates are stolen and then used in the theft of fuel. We are offering the opportunity for local people to come along to get advice and see what they can do to prevent car crime."

For further information please contact the Mercia team on: 101 or Chris Smith the Safer Communities Manager on: 01283 595924

http://www.derbyshire.police.uk/My-Local-Police/DDivision/DerbySouthSection/Mercia/News/Mercia-Marina-hosts-number-plate-security-event.aspx

Thieves snatching car number plates

6th June 2012

By Echo Online News

NUMBER_PLATE_E23_SUBMITTED

Police have received a string of reports about plates disappearing from cars.
It is believed crooks use them to get away with fuel without paying, to avoid parking tickets and possibly commit more serious crimes.
Police had ten reports of this type of crime in the borough last month.
Eileen Coppick, 61, had her plates stolen twice within a week.
The thieves took them from her car parked in her driveway, in Benfleet Park Road, Benfleet.
She said: “The first time I assumed it had just fallen off while I was driving and I replaced it, but there was a screw left on my driveway, which was a bit strange.
“A few days later the new number plate was stolen as well.
“When I spoke to the dealership, they told me they are often stolen for use in crime or to avoid parking charges.
“One of the men said it had happened to his wife a while ago and she’d got a parking ticket.
“Fortunately, she could prove she was somewhere else at the time.
“I thought it was such a crazy thing to steal. Initially you think it’s kids doing it for a dare.
“But I looked at it and there was no damage to the car, which you’d get if someone had just ripped it off, so these people knew what they were doing.”
Insp Chris Wood, of Canvey police, said: “At the moment we don’t know why number plates are being targeted specifically.
“But they are often used to disguise vehicles used in crime, particularly in terms of offences where they make off without paying for petrol.”
The advice is to be vigilant if you see anyone crouching by a car in your street.
You can also buy anti-theft screws to prevent the number plate being removed.
Anyone with information about the thefts should call Canvey police on 101.

http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/local_news/castlepoint/9744150.Thieves_snatching_car_number_plates/

Rise in number plate thefts fuelling crime in Reigate and Banstead

6th June 2012

By 'This is Surrey Today' Online News

THE areas where you are most likely to fall victim to number plate theft in Reigate and Banstead borough have been revealed through new figures.

Nork tops the list, with Horley and Redhill close behind, according to a list released by Surrey Police this week which details all reported number plate thefts since January 1.

Police say the problem is mounting with thieves taking number plates to use on cars for crimes such as stealing petrol.

Neighbourhood Inspector Richard Haycock told the Mirror: "We have had an increase, it is also obvious but fair to say that they are being stolen so they can be used in crime.

"Theft of petrol from petrol stations is one of those crimes but they are used for others. They are used to badge up other vehicles used by criminals to commit all sorts of offences.

"It can be really difficult to distil hard and fast figures because [number plate thefts] are classified as thefts from motor vehicles."

Recent rises in petrol prices are being blamed for the increase in number plate thefts, with drivers trying to dodge soaring costs by putting stolen number plates on their cars and driving away without paying after filling up their car at the fuel station.

But residents in affected areas admitted they were unaware of the potential danger their car could be in.

Banstead resident Rosie Thomlinson, 41, said: "I haven't heard about it. This is an affluent area so I suppose they come here for that, but I had no idea."

Speaking at a meeting of Horley Town Council on May 15, following a meeting with Surrey Police, Chairman Richard Olliver said: "Number plate theft is on the increase.

"People snap the number plate on the cars and go and get petrol and then rush off without paying for it, and the garages assume the wrong car's come.

"That's the main reason for the number plate thefts, particularly with the high price of petrol these days."

Surrey Police say there is an easy solution to the problem of number plate thefts.

The force is offering free “anti-theft” screws, which cannot be unscrewed, to deter thieves and offer residents peace of mind.

“To get [the number plate] off you would have to break it and then you’ve got a broken number plate which is no use to anybody," said Neighbourhood Inspector Richard Haycock.

The screw kits, which are funded by the local Community Safety Partnership, are available to all Reigate and Banstead residents.

http://www.thisissurreytoday.co.uk/Rise-number-plate-thefts-fuelling-crime-Reigate/story-16237380-detail/story.html

 

Stolen Number Plates used in Sheffield Petrol Thefts

29th April 2012

Matthew Smith (www.nationalnumbers.co.uk)

Over 100 number plates were stolen, with 51 separate incidents of petrol theft from Sheffield’s filling stations in just three months.

At the rate of one ‘drive-off’ every other day, petrol thefts have soared as a result of rising prices and the perception that global companies can take the hit.

DI Tate revealed that stolen number plates are often used on more than one occasion.

In addition, they are also used to ‘clone’ stolen vehicles to get them out of the country without detection.

“If someone steals number plates they have a very short period of time to utilise them,” DI Tate added.

“The theft will quickly be raised on the police national computer to identify them. The lifespan of these plates is relatively short.

“There’s one thing that would stop drive-offs, and that is making people pay before receiving their fuel.

“The technology is there but petrol stations are reluctant to do it because of the extra sales generated when customers go into a shop after filling up.”

Number plate thefts reached a total of 113 for the three month period, resulting in at least one set of number plates being taken every day from cars in the city of Sheffield.

Police are fully aware of how stolen registrations are strongly linked with covering the tracks of vehicles involved in bilking.

For the same period last year, 125 number plates were taken with 48 incidents of bilking from petrol stations.

“There has to be an element of fuel costs involved and I think it is seen among criminals as a victimless crime,” explained Detective Inspector Helen Tate from South Yorkshire Police’s crime management unit.

She added: “In times of economic struggle, when people are finding it difficult, these are the kinds of crimes that are the first to escalate.”

South Yorkshire Police are now calling on the public to assist in catching those responsible.

For a unique personalised registration that really says something about you, at a price you can afford, just call the experts at National Numbers, on 01642 363738.

http://www.nationalnumbers.co.uk/articles/stolen-number-plates-used-in-sheffield-petrol-thefts-2432

'It wasn't my van involved in Liverpool burglary'

This News Article illustrates the frustrations of dealing with the Police, Insurance Companies and the DVLA when your vehicle has been cloned

23rd March 2012

'This Is Cornwall' Online News

A TRURO man learnt his van was suspected of being used in a burglary in Liverpool – when the police arrived at his house.

But Bob Henderson's Peugeot Boxer had been in Cornwall the whole time.

Mr Henderson, 45, discovered he had been a victim of car cloning whereby criminals copy the identity of a vehicle already on the road, including the registration number.

A week later the same vehicle was involved in other illegal activity in Liverpool.

Mr Henderson, a Cornwall Council worker, has been left cleaning up the mess since the burglary on March 5 and is now considering whether he may have to get new registration plates.

He said: "The police turned up at my house asking to see me. When my wife asked what it was about they said there had been a burglary in Liverpool.

"I was ill last year and when the police arrived my wife thought something had happened to me."

Mr Henderson has since been endlessly dealing with police, insurance companies and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

He said: "I've been running around like a headless chicken trying to explain to everyone that it's not me.

"I've no idea why it has happened. How they got my registration I don't know and the police have no idea."

Merseyside Police confirmed Mr Henderson had been contacted as a result of a burglary at an office in Liverpool.

The police also confirmed another incident a week later involved the cloned van but said they could not give any further details.

The police spokesman said there was no further risk of Mr Henderson being contacted as a result.

Mr Henderson was considering applying to the DVLA to get new registration plates and a new logbook.

A spokesman for DVLA said: "To assist innocent victims of cloning we will pass details of the cloned vehicle, including details of the tax disc serial number, to the police.

"This will allow the police to easily distinguish between the genuine vehicle and the clone should they stop a vehicle displaying the numberplate.

"We will consider issuing a new numberplate on request if we are satisfied that there is a genuine case of vehicle cloning."

http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/wasn-t-van-involved-Liverpool-burglary/story-15625311-detail/story.html

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