In the Media

Travellers who lived in luxury have millions of pounds seized

PUBLISHED August 8, 2007

A group of travellers who had no jobs or any other legitimate source of income but who shopped at Harrods, wore fur coats and drove luxury cars have had nearly ?3 million confiscated.

Although police expected to uncover cash and property when they made a series of raids at a Leicestershire site, nothing could have prepared them for what they found at homes belonging to the Biddle and Stretton families.

A fleet of top-of-the-range cars, including Mercedes, BMWs and a Porsche were the most visible assets. But they also seized almost ?1 million in cash, much of it buried in tins in the gardens or stuffed inside cuddly toys. One member of the group had hidden nearly ?5,000 in her dishwasher.

Also unearthed was ?500,000 of jewellery, ?200,000 of Royal Worcester crockery and 1,500 high-quality items, from antiques to designer clothes. Receipts from Harrods and Selfridges were strewn around the homes. Nearly all had been bought with the profits of vehicle crime.

Now, eight months after the final defendants were sentenced, the courts have ordered the largest confiscation order of its kind in this country. On Monday a judge at Nottingham Crown Court ruled that ?1,923,285 should be confiscated from five members of the Stretton family. Hours later, at a separate hearing, a judge at Derby Crown Court said that ?666,000 should be taken from the Biddles. A smaller amount had earlier been confiscated from three other people.

The culmination of the case comes four years after officers began Operation Lucky, more than two years since the raids and follows a marathon court process in which 16 people were convicted of various offences, from tax evasion and benefit fraud to car ?clocking? and selling stolen vehicles.

The ringleaders were Elvis Biddle, 29, and Heath Stretton, 37, who were both jailed last year for 3? years. They masterminded the group?s activities from the Justin Park travellers? site near Market Harborough.

Leicester Crown Court was told last November how the families had made their money from ?clocking? high-mileage cars and selling stolen caravans. Put simply, they bought vehicles at auction for a pittance, reduced the mileages and sold them on, supported by forged documents and altered MoT certificates.

During the hearing, the court was told how police found no trace of any legitimate income during Elvis Biddle?s entire life. Yet inquiries found that he and his girlfriend had spent more than ?140,000 in the final months of the families? criminal empire. A search of his parents? home recovered ?370,000 of luxury goods.

Florence Biddle, his mother, had claimed family allowance and used it to buy one of her sons a Rolex watch.

At Heath Stretton?s home, his wife?s eight fur coats worth ?63,500 were seized with a ?20,000 personal numberplate, a ?28,990 diamond bracelet and five Chanel handbags worth ?8,115.

Mrs Biddle, 55, and her husband, John, 49, were each given two-year sentences last November. Boysie Biddle, 20, was sent to a young offender institution for 12 months. Members of the Stretton family were given custodial sentences. The Stretton parents, Catherine and Joseph, were each given 12-month conditional discharges.

Detective Superintendent Chris Tew, of Leicestershire police, said: ?For years these individuals were living a lifestyle most people could only ever dream of, yet none of them had a legitimate job.?