Daniel SmallDaniel Small © Plymouth Herald

A father and his two sons are facing jail over a massive conspiracy to steal Land Rovers and other agricultural machinery from farms across Devon and Cornwall.

Daniel Small, 60, was the kingpin behind a gang, which included his two sons Daniel and James, that targeted farms and other businesses.

Together, the gang carried out 28 raids during a six-month crime wave in which at least £200,000 worth of goods was stolen.

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Exeter Crown Court heard that the gang normally struck overnight at unattended farm buildings or small businesses and the raids spanned an area from east Cornwall to Plymouth, north and west Devon, Teignbridge and the South Hams.

“They stole anything that was not nailed down”
Prosecutor Donald Tait

The thefts included nine Land Rovers, trailers, quad bikes, horseboxes and a rigid inflatable boat from Queen Anne’s Battery Marina in Plymouth.

The victims included farms, riding schools, stables, car dealers and a cattery. It caused massive disruption, especially to farmers who were unable to get their livestock to market because trailers and transporters had been stolen.

Huge disruption

At the start of 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.”

Land Rover in a pasture with sheep

Library pic © FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

Exeter Crown Court heard Mr Small senior used a farm near his home in Linketty Lane, Plympton, south-west Devon, to store some of the stolen property so nothing incriminating was found at his own yard, where he bought and sold cars and vans.

Mr Small claimed to be a born-again Christian who had found God and turned his back on a life of crime, but mobile phone evidence showed he was linked to many of the burglaries and thefts.

He only went out on a couple of the raids, but was in constant touch with his two sons when they were being carried out.

He was also the link with neighbour and farmer Barry Stephens, 59, whose farm at Wembury was used as a staging post for much of the stolen kit before it was moved on or sold.

Following a two-week trial at Exeter Crown Court, Mr Small senior was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to steal between 7 July 2015 and 5 January 2016. One relates to farm machinery and the other to vehicles.

He was found guilty after jurors studied dozens of pages of mobile phone evidence based on which masts had picked up calls from the two sons on the nights of the thefts.

Traveller’s site

These showed they were not only at or near the scenes of the crimes, but were also in regular phone contact with their father, who in turn was often in touch with Mr Stephens.

The phone evidence linked in with automatic number plate surveillance on the A38, M5 and other main roads which showed many of the stolen Land Rovers were taken to a traveller’s site near Bridgwater.

His sons, James Small, 36, of Berkshire Drive, Plymouth, and Daniel Small, 25, of Ward Place, Plymouth, have both admitted the two counts of conspiracy to steal.

Farmer Barry Stephens, 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, 44, of The Paddocks, Woolavington Road, Puriton, denied the second conspiracy count but was found guilty.

Stephen Benney, 31, of the same address in Puriton, was cleared of conspiracy on the orders of the judge after evidence showed Mr Isaacs had been using his phone at the material times.

Four other men have admitted related offences and all 10 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, Mr Isaacs and Mr Benney on bail.

Were you a farmer who was a victim of this gang? If so, we would like to hear from you. call the news desk on 020 8652 4905 or email philip.case@rbi.co.uk