Thieves from Sheffield were part of a gang that stole £300,000 worth of hire cars from airports across the country.
The gang, mostly Czech and Slovak-born, used genuine bank and address details to bamboozle Hertz, Europcar, Avis, Sixt and Thrifty hire firms at Manchester, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol airports. A Sheffield hire firm was also targeted.
Twelve cars and vans were stolen – of which £188,000 worth are still missing.
Jailing the gang at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex, Judge Charles Gratwicke said he was ‘staggered by the ease’ with which the crooks had obtained the cars.
He said: “It’s not for me to tell anybody how to run their business, but it seems to me if the system is still the same it’s wide open to abuse.”
After the hearing, DC Jean Seager, of Stansted Airport police, said: “Hertz says its car crime is down 50 per cent nationwide since we disrupted this gang.”
Four men from Sheffield – Miroslav Horvath, aged 31, of Waltheof Road, Manor; 33-year-old Karel Scuka, of Beacon Road, Wincobank; Michal Filak, 21, of Middle Hay View, Gleadless Valley, who acted as interpreter and recruiter; and 47-year-old Kevin Hooley, of Addison Road, Firth Park – admitted conspiracy to steal between April 2012 and March 2013.
The cars included Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Ford models.
Christopher Paxton, prosecuting, said the cars would be on their way out of the UK within days. One vehicle was stopped at the Channel Tunnel and another at Dover.
Judge Gratwicke said: “Everyone went into the conspiracy with their eyes open to deliberately, dishonestly steal the cars. Some were of high value, causing losses to the hire companies and no doubt increased hire charges to the public.”
But he accepted the men were not the prime movers and had not been paid well. A ‘main man’ has fled abroad.
Filakwas jailed for 30 months, Horvath for 21, Scuka for 18, and Hooley for nine, suspended for two years.
A fifth man from Leeds was locked up for nine months.