Men stole car keys from owners while they slept

Antony Cotton - dismantled cars.'Jailed for three years in Jan 2012
Antony Cotton - dismantled cars.'Jailed for three years in Jan 2012
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TWO men have been jailed for running a professional vehicle ‘chop shop’ - dismantling nearly £160,000 worth of cars stolen from driveways while their owners slept in their beds.

The cars had all been stolen in so-called Hanoi burglaries - where intruders break into homes specifically to steal car keys, then drive away.

In the last six months alone officers have closed down six ‘chop shops’ across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire - an average of one a month, South Yorkshire Police said.

“These chop shops have a huge impact on vehicle crime,” Detective Chief Inspector Zaf Ali told The Star.

“With an average high value car worth around £25,000 it does not take long for these chop shops to have up to £1 million worth of cars going through them.”

Antony Cotton from Darnall in Sheffield, and Steven Mills from Eckington, took delivery of stolen high value vehicles, stripped them, then sold on the parts, Sheffield Crown Court heard.

Among their haul of 12 dismantled cars were stolen VW Golfs, BMWs, three different models of Audi and a Seat Leon.

Sheffield Crown Court heard Cotton, aged 32, would receive a phone call informing him of a meeting place and travel to the location with Mills, 29.

“They would take the stolen car, put on a false number plate and it would be stripped down for parts which were sold to various buyers for cash,” said Bev Tait, prosecuting.

Judge Simon Lawler QC said: “This was a professional set up. A number of high-value, fairly new, cars were taken in burglaries which caused the most enormous distress and upset to those involved.”

Acting Detective Sergeant Matt Miller said the cars had been stolen in ‘night time dwelling burglaries’ - and would be reduced to their parts in a matter of hours at a chop-shop in Worksop.

“These crimes are particularly distressing for home owners, who are usually asleep in bed, when someone creeps into their home,” he added.

South Yorkshire Police said they are determined to shut down ‘chop shops’.

High value cars including Audis and Volkswagens were particular targets - and DCI Ali said there had been a huge surge in the theft of Land Rovers, with 45 stolen in Sheffield in the last six months.

In the last week a new Skoda Fabia, a VW Golf, a Renault Laguna and a silver Transit van have all been stolen in Sheffield in what police suspect are thefts for parts.

“As well as the misery it causes victims, these offences have a negative impact on all motorists in increased insurance premiums,” he said.

“We would urge people to report suspicious activity around lock-ups, domestic garages and even large scale industrial units.”

Cotton, of Bowdenwood Road, Darnall, and Mills, of Ducksett Lane, Eckington, were jailed for three years each after admitting conspiracy to handle stolen goods.

Operation Hanoi was the first police operation launched to address the problem, in West Yorkshire five years ago.