Car clone gangs using Hunts as crime hub

CAR cloning gangs are using Huntingdon and St Neots as live showrooms for stolen cars worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. The organised gang are stealing prestigious cars from across the country, driving them to Huntingdonshire where they recruit loc

CAR cloning gangs are using Huntingdon and St Neots as 'live showrooms' for stolen cars worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The organised gang are stealing prestigious cars from across the country, driving them to Huntingdonshire where they recruit local people to sell them to unsuspecting customers.

Cambridgeshire police believe the two towns have become a base for a multi-million pound car crime enterprise.

DS Simon Peters, who has been investigating the gang's activities, told The Hunts Post that while car cloning is a national problem, St Neots has become Cambridgeshire's car cloning hub.

He added: "It is a hive of activity when it comes to this type of crime. Victims are coming from all over the UK to St Neots and Huntingdon thinking they are getting a bargain vehicle."

What the customers are actually getting is a stolen, cloned car.

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Police believe the increase in the crime in Huntingdonshire started in January of this year after 23,000 blank logbooks were stolen en route to the DVLA in Swansea.

The logbooks are now in the hands of criminals who target high-value cars, stealing them from driveways across the UK. The cars then have their vehicle ID numbers changed to match the number on the logbook before it is advertised for sale on the internet.

Potential customers are taken to housing estates and communal parking areas in Eaton Socon, Eynesbury and Huntingdon where cash-only transactions take place.

The list of cars being offered for sale includes some of the world's most expensive marques such as Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Range Rover, Land Rover and Jaguars.

The thieves have even stolen £100,000 Bentleys and rare sports cars, such as the £300,000-Mercedes SLR McLaren.

"The cars are reasonably priced - just enough to be creditable but enough to make you tempted," said DS Peters. "Using pay as you go mobile phones and credit cards gained fraudulently to place the adverts, the criminals usually ask to meet buyers at a random venue and then ring to change it at the last minute.

"Customers will then be shown around the car and the cash transaction will take place. Victims are normally so chuffed that they are getting a bargain that they put aside any suspicions."

The cars are often advertised less than two days after being stolen.

DS Peters said he was "surprised by the sophisticated and technical skills shown by those at the top".

He added: "It's such a quick turnaround. This is a major criminal enterprise that does not respect borders. It's big business and they're making millions of pounds."

A BBC television programme has highlighted the problem and the links to Huntingdonshire.

In one case a man travelled from London to St Neots to buy a Land Rover he had seen advertised for £13,000. In another, a Mini Cooper was stolen from Cambridge and was viewed in St Neots by a buyer who had travelled from Essex.

So far police have recovered in Huntingdonshire six vehicles stolen by the gang, including a £60,000 Porsche, and arrested five people.

But the St Neots and Huntingdon workers are believed to be only the gang's footmen.

DS Peters, who has been in the police force for 16 years, said: "There are three lots of people involved - those stealing the cars, those changing the identity and those selling them on.

"The ones selling them are living in Cambridgeshire, namely St Neots and Huntingdon, These areas are ideal locations for this type of crime because they are close to major road and rail links and have lots of communal parking areas."

He added: "The people selling the cars are relatively minor players but work for big criminals. They are met in pubs and asked if they want to make a couple of thousand pounds by selling cars. The individual sellers can make anywhere between £8,000 and £15,000 a time.

"As soon as we knock one team down another takes its place because of the amounts of money involved."

Police are now urging residents to help fight these criminals.

"The thieves are not from Cambridgeshire and nor are the victims but the sellers are. The co-conspirers of this criminal enterprise are living among us in Cambridgeshire," he said.

"If you're living in an area where a £60,000 car suddenly appears in your street with no real owner and people seem to be viewing it, then contact us.

"People in St Neots and Huntingdon can help us by being more aware of what's going on in their neighbourhoods. People think this is just a metropolitan problem but it is not. The rate these cars are trickling through St Neots and Huntingdon is alarming."

INFORMATION: Anyone with information regarding stolen vehicles should contact police on 0845 4564564 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.