Members of a family-run theft ring which targeted farms and small businesses all over Devon and Cornwall have been found guilty of varying charges relating to the thefts which had an estimated value in excess of £200,000.
Daniel Small, aged 60, was a key link between his two sons Daniel and James and other members of the gang, who helped dispose of the Land Rovers and other farm vehicles which they stole in 28 raids.
Small was found guilty after a two- week trial at Exeter Crown Court and will be sentenced alongside his two sons, who both admitted to two counts of conspiracy to steal last year.
Despite claiming to be a born again Christian who turned his back on a life of crime, mobile phone evidence proved beyond any shadow of doubt he was linked to the burglaries and thefts.
At the trial, Donald Tait, prosecuting, said: “Daniel Small senior did not often leave home, but was in touch with the others by telephone.
“They stole anything that was not nailed down and as you know, his two sons have both pleaded guilty to being involved in this unlawful enterprise.
“The principal people were Small and his sons and we say he was the principal organiser. All this stealing caused a lot of heartache to a lot of people.
“There was a lot of inconvenience where farmers were involved. It affected their businesses. You can imagine the disruption when a livestock seller is unable to take their stock to market.”
Small stored stolen property stored at a neighbours farm in South Barton Farm, Wembury, owned by his friend Barry Stephens, aged 59. Nothing incriminating was found at his own yard, where he bought and sold cars and vans.
During the trial, the court heard how the gang had targeted farms and businesses across Devon and Cornwall, during a six-month crime spree in which they stole Land Rovers, horse boxes, trailers, quad bikes, rigid inflatable boat and jet skis.
Mr Donald Tait, prosecuting, said:”This case involves the large scale theft of motor vehicles, particularly Land Rovers, which are much sought after, and a number of items of agricultural equipment such as trailers and horse boxes.
“The case even features a rigid inflatable boat and some jetskis. We say there was stealing on a grand scale so these men could make money out of other people’s property. The value is well in excess of £200,000.
“The investigation was named Operation Grail and started as an inquiry into acquisitive crime in South Devon and East Cornwall predominantly as well at the South Hams and Teignbridge.
“It started with a series of thefts of Land Rovers from various locations. It became apparent they were taken out of the county and police came to the conclusion the thefts were connected.
Barry Stephens, aged 59, of South Barton Farm, Wembury, has admitted receiving a telescopic lift, an Ifor Williams trailer, a quad bike and a Transit tipper truck which were recovered from his property.
Maurice Isaacs, aged 44, of Puriton, denied the second conspiracy count but was found guilty.
Stephen Benney, aged 31, also of Puriton, was cleared of conspiracy on the orders of the judge after evidence showed Isaacs had been using his phone at the material times.
He pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice by making a video recorded phone call to Isaacs from the custody suite at Heavitree Road Police Station in Exeter, asking him to dispose of their shared mobile phone.
Four other men have admitted related offences and all ten will be sentenced later this year at a hearing which is expected to last at least a day.
Judge Erik Salomonsen released Daniel Small Senior, Isaacs and Benney on bail.
Victims Of The Crime Wave:
Thorn Farm, Bridgerule, Holsworthy.
Coombe Farm, Lifton.
Callisham Farm, Yelverton.
Westmac, Bittaford x 2,
Tor Town Farm, Moortown, Tavistock.
Station Yard, South Brent.
Beacon Riding School, Bittaford x 2.
Queen Anne’s Battery Marina, Plymouth.
Yappers Farm, Tamerton Foliot,
Edgecumbe Road Motors, Lostwithiel.
Slipson Hill Farm, Yealmpton.
Whitley Farm, Thurlestone, Kingsbridge.
Parkway Industrial Estate, Plymouth.
Plymouth Van and Car Sales, Valley Road, Plymouth.
Well Park Farm, Dean Prior.
Wiswell Farm, Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
Barton Farm, Avonwick, Totnes.
Meads Farm Harford, Ivybridge.
Tin Park riding stables, Cornwood.
Lutton Farm, South Brent.
Dorwill Cattery, Ivybridge.
South Barton, Brixton.