Secret operations nab car smugglers

BRITAIN’S largest container port has been at the heart of a national operation to detect and destroy crime gangs behind high-value stolen car rings, police have revealed.

Two separate undercover operations over the past eight months have netted nearly 100 vehicles, worth more than �2million, at ports across the country. This has included a large operation carried out at the Port of Felixstowe.

The investigations involved police covering Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire, as well as the UK Border Agency, HM Customs and AVCIS – the vehicle crime intelligence service.

Stolen Aston Martins, Porsches, Mercedes and other high-performance cars have been discovered at ports in Liverpool, London, Tilbury, Southampton and Felixstowe, waiting to be shipped abroad.

In a slick and swift operation, gangs steal vehicles to order, mainly by burgling houses to get the keys, before driving them to warehouses.

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There the plates are changed and the cars are put in 40ft or 20ft containers to be shipped out to Africa or the Middle East. Police said the speed with which the thieves move can be quite incredible.

Speaking at Felixstowe docks, Detective Sergeant Steve Hynes, of the Eastern Area Intelligence Unit, said: “We have recovered cars here that were stolen the night before and have still got rain on them. These vehicles are a high-value commodity. They are bags of money in a box.

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“The people who do this are experts and I’m sure they are just part of a chain. This is about money laundering. It’s about providing vehicles to organised crime syndicates.

“A number of organised crime gangs have been arrested and disrupted right across the UK. In Bedfordshire burglaries have decreased by 58% since the arrest of an organised crime group.” Det Sgt Hynes said although some of the containers only had cars inside them, other vehicles were camouflaged by using scrap metal, fridges or televisions.

He said on one occasion officers spent eight hours removing scrap metal from a container to find cars behind it. The impact of their crimes has been enormous.

Det Sgt Hynes said: “One of the victims had a Range Rover stolen and never got an insurance payout because he left the car running in his driveway to defrost it.”

In September, Operation Lever found 72 stolen cars about to be shipped abroad. A second operation – Revel – which lasted three weeks ended yesterday.

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