In the Media

Thieves placed bugs and hacked onboard computers of luxury cars

PUBLISHED July 2, 2012

Alan Watkins, 42, created false identities for over 150 stolen cars worth up to £3.5m to sell them on in Cyprus. He particularly targeted models of BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers.

Watkins had details of over 500 vehicles and had all the required documentation to create false registrations for over 300 stolen luxury cars - a practice known as 'ringing'.

Watkins would single out cars based on if similar models had been exported to Cyprus, and chose similar vehicles in car parks across Essex.

When the unsuspecting owners left their car, Watkins' accomplicies would target the car with a signal blocker, preventing the remote controlled locking systems from working, Southwark Crown Court heard.

The thief would then enter the unlocked car, and hack into its computer system to access information about its key before installing a covert GPS tracking device.

The information from the computer on the was then passed onto Watkins, who created a copy of the key, so that thieves could steal the car, without causing any damage to it, at a later date.

The GPS tracking devices allowed the gang to work out the easiest time and place to steal the car.

David Durose, prosecuting, said Watkins created 'ringing packages' which were bundles of documents and identification certificates to give

"Watkins was involved in car-ringing on what can only be termed as on an industrial scale over many years," he said.

"There is specific evidence connecting these conspiracies to the ringing of over 150 separate stolen vehicles.

"This is a conservative estimate as the seized evidence, including Watkins' own records of his offending, suggests the true figure may be significantly higher."

"The number of vehicles involved in this conspiracy is thought to be unprecedented in the experience of the Metropolitan police stolen vehicle unit.

"The expertise and quality of the ringing involved, particularly when there is evidence that Watkins did this himself, is also unprecedented.

"The Crown suggest that an average range of £15,000 to £20,000 puts the value of the stolen vehicles that Watkins has been involved with personally at between £2.5 million and £3.5 million."

Watkins appeared in Southwark Crown Court with Lee Fullick, 51, who helped clone the stolen cars, and Sukvinder Matto, 35, a professional car thief.

Mr Durose described their operation as "systematic and highly organised."

"Handwritten notes of lists of names with figures alongside, apparently sums owed to different people, were found at his home," Mr Durose said.

"The Crown submit that Watkins' role in the enterprise manifests itself in the fact that it was his responsibility to pay others who had done jobs for him as part of his criminal enterprise."

The court heard that Watkins was caught out after a laptop of his was seized when he was arrested in connection with an aggravated burglary that he was later acquitted of.

When police searched Watkins' home they found pictures of him with bundles of cash.

When police raided his home they not only found evidence of the car-ringing gang, but a stun gun, pepper spray, CS gas canister, 9mm ammunition, and false driving licences.

Fullick and Matto were later linked to the gang through the police investigation.

Watkins, of Witham, Essex, admitted conspiring to steal, and conspiring to handle stolen goods, as well as possession of the stun gun, pepper spray, CS gas canister, and three counts of possession of a false identity document with intent.

Fullick, of Blackmore, Ingatestone, Essex pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to handle stolen goods.

Matto, of East Ham, east London, admitted conspiring to steal.

A confiscation hearing will take place in relation to Watkins and Fullick will take place later this year. ends