Suspended sentence for garage owner who worked for gangster

A GARAGE owner who altered the appearance of a stolen high-performance car for one of Yorkshire's most notorious criminals has narrowly avoided a jail sentence.

Ian Conroy's company modified a black BMW M5 brought in by Leeds gangster Dennis Slade, currently serving a life sentence for plotting to kill another crook and masterminding a series of robberies including a daring 1m raid.

Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday the car, valued at 45,000, had been stolen in 2007 when two men attacked its owner and snatched the keys from him.

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It was later seen bearing false number plates during a lengthy police surveillance operation which followed the movements of Slade and his associates.

Conroy, 39, of Alexander Avenue, Leeds, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to handling stolen goods. He was sentenced to 51 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, ordered to do 250 hours' unpaid work and made to pay 1,200 costs.

The court heard he had been convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in 1998 and cautioned for an unrelated offence in 1996.

Defence counsel Sean Smith told the court that Conroy was a hard-working father-of-two who was aware of Slade's "reputation" but had only dealt with him as a customer on "approximately four or five occasions".

Mr Smith said Conroy agreed to carry out the work for Slade because "he was concerned for what might have happened to himself or indeed his family" if he refused.

Judge James Spencer QC, sentencing, said he was satisfied that Conroy had known the car was stolen and had played a part in altering its appearance.

He told Conroy: "That, to me, is a very serious offence because what you were doing by your criminal activity was assisting him (Slade) in his retention of that vehicle, a vehicle that was used by him and his gang, no doubt for criminal activities."

The judge added: "You have come within a whisker of going to prison today.

"Anybody who flirts, as you were doing, with such criminals runs the serious risk of following them when they go off to prison."