Car theft gang jailed for stealing motors worth £2.6million

Car theft gang jailed for stealing motors worth £2.6million

07/09/2021

Police warn car owners over keyless thefts as gang is jailed for 23 years for stealing high-performance motors worth £2.6million

  • The group frequently used cloned wireless key signals to open car doors 
  • They could access cars on drives across Merseyside, Cheshire and Lancashire 
  • Gang were responsible for 162 burglaries, thefts and attempted burglaries
  • Around £2.6million- worth of cars, jewellery and other luxury items was stolen
  • 7 gang members were sentenced to total of 23 years and three months in prison

Police have warned car owners over keyless thefts as a gang is jailed for 23 years for stealing high-performance motors worth £2.6million.

The group frequently used cloned wireless key signals to open the doors of cars parked on drives across Merseyside, Cheshire and Lancashire – therefore avoid the need to break into houses to steal key fobs.

In total, the gang were responsible for 162 burglaries, thefts and attempted burglaries. 

Around £2.6million- worth of cars, jewellery and other luxury items was stolen, police said. The vehicles included Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Land Rover and Mini models.

Seven gang members were sentenced to a total of 23 years and three months in prison at Liverpool Crown court today. 

Police have warned of a rise in the number of keyless thefts in recent months, and have urged vigilance among drivers.

A keyless car theft gang have been jailed for 23 years for stealing high-performance motors worth £2.6million. Pictured: CCTV footage shows the thieves stealing a BMW from a house in Liverpool


Neil O’Brien, 19, (left) of Knotty Ash, was jailed for six years in prison for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles. Noah Hassan, 29, (right) was sentenced to four years and nine months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles

How can drivers prevent keyless car theft? 

  • Keep keyless entry fobs out of sight or hidden
  • Buy a Faraday Bag/signal blocking case to keep keys in. These can be bought online. To make sure they work in blocking the signal, try to unlock your car with the key still in the bag
  •  Use physical security devices, such as mechanical steering locks, driveway posts, wheel clamps and trackers
  • If you have a vehicle that is not keyless, park this in front of the keyless vehicle
  • Contact your dealer and check if your vehicle has any outstanding software updates, which may improve security 
  • Check if the keyless fob can be turned off/on, your dealer can confirm and advise how to do this • 
  • Be vigilant, and report any suspicious activity in your neighbourhood to the police 

Merseyside Police’s Operation Castle – an dedicated burglary team – said the investigation into the group is the biggest they have ever completed. 

The court heard how 50-year-old gang member Paula Heathers was in a relationship with Keith Russell – a senior player in the group.

Russell received payment for some of the burglaries from the gang’s ringleader via Heathers, who accepted deposits into her bank account, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

Heathers was briefly detained yesterday when she allegedly took photographs of police officers and lawyers on her mobile phone, inside the court. 

She was released from the dock and told she would be summoned back to court at a later date.

The other gang members sentenced today were:

  • Lewis Tankard, 20, of Huyton, was jailed for five years and seven months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles
  • Neil O’Brien, 19, of Knotty Ash, was jailed for six years in prison for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles 
  • Noah Hassan, 29, was sentenced to four years and nine months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles 
  • Stephen Hooten, 29, of Craigburn Road, Tuebrook, was sentenced to five years and two months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles 
  • Sireen Rafiq, 36 – also known as Shamilia Tabassum – from Blackburn, Lancashire, was sentenced to 21 months for transferring criminal property 
  • Paula Heathers, 50, of Stoneycroft, was sentenced to 14 months suspended for two years and 115 hours of unpaid work for possessing criminal property
  • Susan Russell , 20, of Stockbridge Village, was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years, 60 hours unpaid work and a curfew, following a trial at Liverpool Crown Court

Three more men – including Russell – will be sentenced later this year. 

The court heard how 50-year-old gang member Paula Heathers (pictured) was in a relationship with Keith Russell – a senior player in the group. Heathers was briefly detained yesterday when she allegedly took photographs of police officers and lawyers on her mobile phone, inside the court


Lewis Tankard, 20, (left) of Huyton, was jailed for five years and seven months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles. Stephen Hooten, 29, (right) of Craigburn Road, Tuebrook, was sentenced to five years and two months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles

Detective Sergeant Darren Hankin of Operation Castle said: ‘It is very pleasing to see this OCG (organised crime group) dismantled following an extensive operation, working closely with our colleagues at our neighbouring Cheshire and Lancashire forces.

Mother-of-two gang member ‘took photos of police officers in court after being spared jail for money laundering’

A mother-of-two allegedly took photos of police officers in court after she was spared jail for money laundering.

Paula Heathers, 50, was in a relationship with 42-year-old Keith Russell, described as one of the main players in a £2.5m burglary plot. 

Prosecutors said Russell received payment for some of the burglaries from the gang’s ringleader via Heathers, who accepted deposits into her bank account.

She was set to walk free from court after her defence lawyer outlined the impact that jailing her would have on her two sons, both of whom have ADHD.

But after she was spared jail and decided to stay and watch other

members of the gang being sentenced, she took out her mobile phone and started taking photos which is strictly forbidden and carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

Heathers was arrested and detained in the cells at Liverpool Crown Court, before she claimed only to have taken the photos to show one of her sons what court looks like.

‘It soon became clear that this OCG were sophisticated, prolific and causing misery wherever they went. 

‘The OCG organised their burglary of vehicles and their onward distribution via a network of associates.

‘Operation Castle is a dedicated team of detectives and we’ve seen more than 500 years in prison handed out to suspects since we launched in 2018.

‘Every sentence handed down makes the communities of Merseyside and beyond safer from the harm, distress and inconvenience that burglary brings.’

Discussing the keyless thefts, Detective Sergeant Hankin added: ‘Theft offences we investigated as part of this operation were keyless entries, something we have seen emerging in recent months in Merseyside and elsewhere.

‘As well as the undoubted deterrent of today’s sentences, we’re keen to educate owners of keyless cars on some simple, inexpensive steps they can take to minimise the chances of their cars being stolen in this way.

‘While keeping your keyless entry fobs out of sight or hidden is recommended, it does not necessarily stop it from being cloned.

‘We are asking car owners to consider investing in a Faraday Bag/signal blocking case for their keys.

‘They block the signal from the fob, are relatively inexpensive – costing as little as around £5 – and are widely available online.

‘It is important however to research the product you are buying and once purchased check that they effectively block the signal by trying to open your car while the key is in the bag or case.

‘Additional physical security devices, such as mechanical steering locks, driveway posts, wheel clamps and trackers are also effective in protecting vehicles from thieves.

‘If you have a vehicle that is not keyless, it would be advisable to park this in front of the keyless vehicle.’

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