A total of 46 machines were stolen mainly from across the North West between 2015 and 2018, and were then sold on to a gang who operated out of an industrial unit in Nelson, Lancashire where the stolen goods were modified to hide their original identification numbers.
The gang then sold the machines on to buyers across Europe, and in some cases as far away as Australia.
The machines were valued between £8,000 and £105,000 each, with the total value thought to be approximately £1.3m.
Those who went on to purchase the machines believed they were buying from legitimate businesses and only became aware they had bought stolen goods when the equipment was seized as part of the police investigation.
Two buyers lost multiples machines each and in victim impact statements described how they suffered significant financial losses and anxiety about the loss of their professional reputations.
The investigation was launched after a victim, who had a digger stolen from him, noticed that an identical vehicle was being sold from the unit in Nelson.
Officers attended the unit and although the digger had been moved on, they found gang members in the act of cloning another stolen machine.
The stolen digger was later tracked down with another two stolen vehicles in the Clayton le Moors area.
One of the men who bought several of the stolen machines, believing he was buying from a legitimate company, said: “I have been trading in the plant/machinery business for over 20 years and my business has been built on trust and goodwill. Immediately on receiving the information from the police I have felt like my good name has been tarnished, and helpless to do anything about it.”
“I have lost confidence in doing business, worrying how other businesses now view me.”
PC Neil Goodison, of Lancashire Police, said: “The group’s audacity was staggering, with stolen machinery sold on to unsuspecting buyers locally and as far away as Spain, Sweden and even Australia.
“We welcome these sentences and hope they serve as a warning that we take criminal activity like this very seriously. We will not stand for our rural communities being targeted in this way, leaving innocent people suffering financially and mentally.”
The seven sentenced at Preston Crown Court were:
- Max Wynn, 34, of Plymouth Grove, Wigan – eight and a half years in prison
- Karl Langley, 44, of Nelson Road, Burnley – two years in prison, suspended for 18 months
- Alex Grice, 33, of Brunshaw Road, Burnley – five years and 11 months in prison
- Richard Wynn, 47, of Ravenoak Lane, Burnley – eight and a half years in prison
- Craig Douglas, 41, – 18 months in prison, suspended for 18 months
- Gavin Mellor, 53, of Hope Street, Burnley – two years in prison, suspended for 18 months
- Ian Mellor, 72, of Clwyd Street, Ruthin – 10 months in prison, suspended for 18 months