A TRIO were involved in the theft and ‘fencing’ of stolen cars and plant machinery worth more than £475,000, a court heard

Prosecutors described the operation, run from a yard owned by Lewis Hester, as “professional and sophisticated”, operating across northern England.

Preston Crown Court heard that Hester, along with Matthew Clegg and Timothy Bolchover, were working to disable tracking devices on high-value vehicles within a short time of them being taken.

Alex Langworth, prosecuting, said that the gang was linked to the scrap yard empire of Tommy Smith, in Great Harwood.

But Mr Harwood told the court that while there were a number of connections between the two stolen car networks, it could rightly be said that this was a separate entity.

Bolchover, 34, of Lion Street, Church, and Clegg, 35, of Beech Close, Rishton, who each admitted to conspiracy to steal and conspiracy to handle stolen goods. Bolchover was jailed for 46 months and Clegg for 42 months.

Hester, 26, of Lyndhurst Avenue, Blackburn, who pleaded guilty to the same offences, will be sentenced on Friday afternoon.

Jailing Clegg and Bolchover, Judge Simon Newell said: “This was carried out in a professional and sophisticated way.”

The judge told the court that low loaders were used, in some instances, to take away stolen plant machinery.

Cloned plates were used and trackers were disabled and some of the offences occurred shortly after domestic and commercial burglaries, added Judge Newell.

Daniel Chadwick, for Clegg, said his client, a father-of-two who worked as a general labourer, accepted that he would be receiving a custodial sentence.

But Mr Chadwick said it was clear that the defendant was “not the mastermind” behind the offending.

Patrick Williamson, for Bolchover, said his client, who was the carer for at least four children, and also worked as a labourer, was at the lower end of the hierarchy when it came to the conspiracies.

Judge Newell also sentenced Zachery Sanderson, 20, who pleaded guilty to handling a stolen Fiat 500 to a 12 month community order. This will include a three-month curfew.

Sanderson, of Simpson Street, Hapton, had previously faced more serious charges, which were later dropped.

Tommy Smith was jailed for six-and-a-half years last August for running a £1million stolen goods operation and money laundering.

Six others, including his wife Mary, were also sentenced following a series of court hearings.

Undercover observations were kept on various scrap yards across East Lancashire as part of the wider operation.

Proceeds of crime hearings will take place for the trio later this year.