Intelligence key to cracking open multi-million pound conspiracy

ONE week it would be an Audi, the next week a BMW or Land Rover, but the details on the crime log would always be roughly the same.

Across Yorkshire, burglars were breaking into houses and stealing car keys so they could drive away in an expensive vehicle parked outside – often while their victims slept upstairs.

It was a problem shared by all four of the region's police forces, and it was only solved when they worked together to crack one of the largest car crime conspiracies they had ever seen.

The forces launched Operation Yankee in December last year and, within four months, officers were making a series of arrests across the north of England.

It was an early success for Yorkshire's regional intelligence unit, which was created last year to combat organised crime gangs whose activities stretch beyond police force borders.

Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Atkinson, who led the investigation, said: "To build a conspiracy case requires quite lengthy investigation but, by not having each force looking at their own area with tunnel vision, we were able to see the bigger picture and make a complete case.

"Each force held some significant pieces of the jigsaw but, prior to the creation of the regional intelligence unit, it would have taken a number of months to uncover the conspiracy.

"Because the forces were able to bring together their intelligence at meetings, we could quickly work out that a business called Zebra Studios, in Barnsley, was central to the whole operation."

Zebra Studios was a signwriting business run by Gary Swinden and Victoria Laws, who produced vehicle registration documents, false number plates and vehicle identification stickers to make stolen cars appear legitimate.

Their services were in great demand – police believe they had contact with criminals from 18 counties – and a regular customer was Nevada Smith, a traveller from Toll Bar in Doncaster who acted as a middle man in the conspiracy.

Smith had links to a gang of Bradford-based robbers, who travelled across Yorkshire and Lancashire to steal cars which could be furnished with fake documents and sold on to unsuspecting buyers.

"Although these offenders lived in West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, their crimes were being committed across the region," Det Ch Insp Atkinson said.

"As we started to cast our net wider, we were contacting victims from across the country.

"There are clear lessons to be learned from this case.

"Keep your car keys out of view and if a car is being advertised at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is," added the chief inspector.

Judge commends inquiry officers

THE investigation costs incurred during Operation Yankee were shared by Yorkshire's four police forces.

Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Atkinson led a team of three sergeants and 10 detective constables, who were assisted by a Leeds-based lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Judge Paul Hoffman commended the team when he sentenced the conspirators at Leeds Crown Court.