A woman from Blackburn has been sentenced along with six other people to a total of 23 years in jail as part of the North West's biggest investigation into organised burglary offences.

Sireen Rafiq (also known as Shamilia Tabassum) of Seacole Close, Blackburn, was jailed as part of a large scale operation launched in January last year, following multiple thefts of high performance vehicles worth an estimated £2.6million.

Stolen from the Merseyside, Lancashire and Cheshire regions, the vehicles were often recovered by police from addresses in Blackburn.

Detectives from the burglary team, dubbed Operation Castle, welcomed the sentencing of Rafiq, along with four others to a total of 23 years and three months in prison - plus the suspended sentences handed to two other offenders - who were responsible for 162 burglary, theft and attempted burglary offences.

Lancashire Telegraph: Sireen Rafiq, from Blackburn

The thefts investigated were keyless entries, in which wireless key signals were cloned, enabling the offenders to open the vehicle on the driveway, start the engine and drive the vehicle away.

This means the criminal is able to avoid having to break into homes to steal key fobs.

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

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

"A conspiracy was evidenced in which the OCG organised their burglary of vehicles and their onward distribution via a network of associates.

“On October 20 2020, a strike day took place across Merseyside and Lancashire and seven of the suspects were arrested and subsequently charged.

"The remaining three were later charged and the vast majority, faced with overwhelming evidence, pleaded guilty prior to trial.

Lancashire Telegraph:

“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.

“We understand that burglary often has a massive impact on victims. It can be a really personal and invasive crime and victims can struggle to come to terms with offenders having entered their homes and stolen personal items, which don’t always have huge monetary value, but on a personal level can be irreplaceable.

“Key to these successes can often be information from those communities targeted, so I would continue to ask people to report anything suspicious, and come forward with any information you may have seen or heard."

Lancashire Telegraph: (L-R: Sireen Rafiq, Lewis Tankard, Neil O'Brien, Noah Hassan and Stephen Hooten)

The following sentences were handed out:

  • Lewis Tankard, 20, of Seel Road, Huyton - five years and seven months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles
  • Neil O’Brien, 19 of Prestwood Crescent, Knotty Ash - six years in prison for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles
  • Noah Hassan, 29 of no fixed abode - four years and nine months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles
  • Stephen Hooten, 29 of Craigburn Road, Tuebrook - five years and two months for conspiracy to commit burglary and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles
  • Sireen Rafiq (also known as Shamilia Tabassum), 36, of Seacole Close, Blackburn, Lancashire - 21 months for transferring criminal property

Additionally, 50-year-old Paula Heathers of The Green, Stoneycroft was sentenced to 14 months suspended for two years and 115 hours of unpaid work for possessing criminal property.

Heathers and the six others all pleaded guilty.

Susan Russell, 20, of Corner Brook, 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, 38-year-old Kashif Rafiq (also known as Anjum Nawaz); 42-year-old Keith Russell and 34-year-old Paul Wharton will be sentenced later in the year.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Detective Sergeant Ian Bingley, from Cheshire Constabulary’s proactive team in Warrington said: “This was a painstaking and complex investigation involving all three forces working jointly to gather and collate evidence that would lead to identifying and capturing the organised crime group’s conspiracy.

“They would commit the burglaries during the night, this was at times terrifying for the victims who were at home at the time.

"They ruthlessly forced their way into the property, searched for the keys to the owner’s high powered vehicles and then drove away with the cars."