A MAN from Hornchurch who was the ringleader of a prolific gang of car thieves has been jailed for 12 years.
Manjit Sandhu, 32, was one of eight people sentenced on 12 April at Southwark Crown Court for a total of over 46 years following a major operation by the Metropolitan Police targeting vehicle theft across London.
The operation – codenamed Operation Brasshand – was led by the Met’s Organised Vehicle Crime Unit and targeted thieves who broke into residential homes at night to steal car keys, which were then used to steal the victims’ high-value cars from outside their houses.
The criminals also used key programming technology to steal other vehicles – a technique often referred to as ‘keyless car theft’. The vehicles stolen were usually prestige models such as Range Rovers, BMWs and Mercedes. The criminals used vehicles that looked like minicabs, complete with TfL ‘private hire’ stickers, to commit the crimes.
Between March 2015 and August 2016, the police identified over 120 offences that the gang were responsible for, worth nearly £3 million, with the true figure likely to be much higher. Some of the vehicles were broken for parts, whilst others were exported intact to Africa.
Police linked the offences and launched an investigation. On 17 August 2016 the operation culminated with the execution of a series of search warrants, including a raid on a pub in Manor Park, E12, run by the father of Sandhu. In the basement of the pub officers found bags containing stolen car keys, a key programming device, ‘blank’ keys and a tool for picking vehicle locks.
Sandhu was not present at the time of the search and went into hiding, but was soon located and arrested. A number of his co-defendants were arrested in raids at their home addresses and other evidence was recovered, including further keys for stolen cars.
In one instance, some of the offenders stole a BMW after breaking in to a house to get the key, but were unaware that the stolen car was fitted with a ‘dash cam’ that captured images of them as they got in and out of the car.
The prosecution also used evidence from Sandhu’s own CCTV system to show him leaving home in the early hours of the morning in order to commit offences. Sandhu’s offending was so brazen that he even committed an offence on the very same day that he received a suspended sentence for involvement in the theft of another vehicle. That incident is not related to this case.
Detective Inspector Caroline Clooney, who leads the Met’s Organised Vehicle Crime Unit, said: “This was an extremely prolific and well-organised criminal gang. They brought distress to many victims whose homes they broke into, who not only lost their vehicles but in many cases were traumatised by the thought of someone having been in their house while they slept. Although the case involved over 120 offences, it is clear that this team were responsible for an even greater number of crimes.
“Almost all of the houses that were burgled had uPVC front doors that had not been double locked, allowing the offenders to gain entry very quickly using simple tools. I would urge all householders to ensure that their front door is correctly locked at night – this means not only lifting the handle on a uPVC door, but also using the key to lock it. Unless it is locked with the key, the door remains vulnerable to the method employed by the criminals in this case.”