A GANG behind a £2m plant hire scam have been jailed.
The four men and a woman have been given prison sentences totalling almost 12 years for their part in a nationwide scam to steal high-value excavators and plant equipment.
They included a man from Netherton and one from Batley.
The complex conspiracy, which involved the direct theft of equipment and the use of companies to hire valuable machinery, is estimated to have cost businesses in excess of £2m over a two-year period.
Although some of the stolen items were recovered, Bradford Crown Court heard yesterday that other equipment had been shipped out of the country to Turkey.
Prosecutor Tom Storey said the conspiracy involved thefts from businesses in Elland, Tadcaster, Harrogate, Yeadon and Cleckheaton.
But the scam also reached as far as North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Gloucestershire and Wales.
Mr Storey said the 22 separate thefts involved stolen goods worth more than £1.8m, but adding on lost hire fees the total loss figure could be in excess of £2m.
Demo UK Ltd, of Bierley Bradford, Sitetec UK Ltd, of Low Moor, Bradford, Demowaste Ltd, of Cleckheaton, and Brighouse-based Leeds Demolition Services Ltd were all used during the conspiracy, but by the time of the police investigation none of them had filed any accounts.
Peter Green, 46, of Highfield Drive, Batley, and 46-year-old Mark Lambert, of Amber Wharfe, Shipley, were each jailed for three years and nine months after they admitted the conspiracy to steal charge which covered the period between August 2008 and August last year.
Single mum Sharon Pearson, 39, of Capa Terrace, Odsal, Bradford, also pleaded guilty to the same charge and was jailed for 18 months.
Cocaine addict David Colley, 43, of Chapel Street, Netherton, Huddersfield, and Matthew Wheatley, 22, of Mark Close, Idle, Bradford, were imprisoned for 15 months each after they admitted playing a part in the conspiracy.
Colley admitted travelling up to Stainton, North Yorkshire, on a “reconnaissance” trip the day before a piece of machinery worth £65,000 was stolen.
Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC told the five defendants that they had all pleaded guilty at a commendably early stage to a complex and sophisticated conspiracy to steal high-value earth-moving equipment and excavators up and down the breadth of England and Wales.
The judge said the conspiracy involved the creation of companies to obtain the vehicles and the businesses and individuals targeted had lost property of extreme value.
Judge Durham Hall said it had been a “ruthless and persistent attack” on the businesses involved and he noted that some of the offending continued even after the defendants were aware of the police investigation.
The judge told friends Lambert and Green that although there were “shady figures” in the background who may have given them the idea to use bogus companies they had enthusiastically embraced the scheme and ran it on a day-to-day basis.
He said they had recruited the willing help of Pearson in an administrative and clerical role.
The judge said the offending involved the “targeting to order” of high-value equipment which was shipped out of the country.
At the end of the hearing the judge said he had no hesitation in commending the work of the officers who had investigated the case.
POLICE revealed the scale of the huge operation to catch the plant hire gang.
The conspiracy was targeted at 14 counties across England and Wales including Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Merseyside, Derbyshire and North
And officers in each area became involved in the hunt.
Det Sgt Paul Greenwood, of the West Yorkshire Crime Division, said: “The gang had two methods of stealing the equipment.
“Firstly, they would identify a piece of machinery, break into the yard, load it on to a wagon and then steal it.
“In other offences, the thieves had set up three companies which they used to contact legitimate plant hire companies to hire and subsequently steal, high value plant machinery.
“The majority of the machinery was recovered, with some being traced abroad to Iraq, Turkey, Ireland and Portugal.
“It was a complex investigation and we are delighted with the sentences.
“By stealing the machinery, these people were ruining the
livelihoods of their victims.
“We hope that the punishment handed out demonstrates that the police do take this type of crime seriously and that we are robust in tackling organised criminals of this kind.”
Some machinery has yet to be recovered.
Police are urging anyone who has any information about the whereabouts of a Volvo machine or a Manitou loader or any others that they may suspect to have been stolen, to contact West Yorkshire Police's Crime Division on 0845 60 60 606.