A gang who preyed on isolated farms in a massive conspiracy to steal Land Rovers and other farm machinery has been jailed for more than 16 years.
Daniel Small, 60, and his two sons, Daniel and James, targeted farms and other businesses across Devon and Cornwall.
During a seven-month crime wave, they carried out 31 raids in which more than £240,000 worth of goods was stolen.
The gang normally struck overnight at unattended farm buildings or small businesses in an area spanning from east Cornwall to Plymouth, north and west Devon, Teignbridge and the South Hams.
The thefts included nine Land Rovers, agricultural trailers, quad bikes, horseboxes and a rigid inflatable boat from Queen Anne’s Marina in Plymouth.
Exeter Crown Court heard their criminal enterprise was discovered thanks to painstaking police work.
Detectives used automatic number plate surveillance of the stolen Land Rovers on main roads and analysis of mobile phone data to link the gang’s criminal activities to a traveller’s site in Puriton, near Bridgwater, Somerset. The site was owned by mechanic Maurice Isaacs.
The court heard Mr Small Snr claimed to a born-again Christian who had turned his back on a life of crime. However, mobile phone data linked him to many of the burglaries and thefts.
He only went out on a couple of raids, but was in constant touch with his two sons.
Mr Small Snr was also the link with neighbour and farmer Barry Stephens, 59, who used his farm near Plymouth as a staging post to store the stolen farm machinery before it was moved on or sold.
Daniel Small Snr, of Linketty Lane, Plympton, south-west Devon, was found guilty of two conspiracy to steal between 7 July 2015 and 5 January 2016. One related to farm machinery and the other to stolen vehicles.
Judge Erik Salomonsen jailed him for four years and eight months.
Daniel Small Junior, 25, of Ward Place, Plymouth, and James Small, 36, of Berkshire Drive, Plymouth, both admitted two counts of conspiracy to steal. They were jailed for four years and five years, respectively.
Mr Stephens, of South Barton Farm, Wembury, received a 10-month jail sentence suspended for a year.
Four other men received non-custodial sentences for their part in the crimes.
Judge Salomonsen told the gang the thefts had caused financial losses and mental trauma for farmers at a time when their farm incomes were depressed.
‘Report farm crime’
Speaking after the case, Det Cons Steve Watts, of Totnes Police, told Farmers Weekly: “It has been an ongoing criminal business for a long time. It was very convenient for the Smalls to have this access to an ally [Barry Stephens] with access to buildings, land and everything else.
“For large stolen goods, the gang also needed to have seclusion and space – hence why they went to the traveller’s site in Puriton, controlled by one person, Maurice Isaacs.
“A lot of these goods were stolen from farms and left on fields, for the simple reason that the gang did not know if the machinery contained tracking devices.
“If farmers find stolen machinery suddenly turns up on their land, they need to report it to police immediately. The chances are the criminals are waiting to see if it gets picked up or not.”
Stolen John Deere tractor recovered after nine years
Devon farmer Philip Hosking said the theft of his John Deere tractor caused him a huge amount of grief.
The gang forced open a padlock on a barn at Ley Coombe farm, in Modbury, Ivybridge, and stole the John Deere 2040S X-E tractor overnight in August 2007.
Mr Hosking, 80, paid £7,500 for the tractor and was forced to take out a £9,000 loan to buy a replacement.
Police discovered the stolen tractor last March at farmer Barry Stephens’ farm, South Barton Farm, in Wembury, following his arrest. The machine has been impounded.
“When the tractor left here it had clocked about 8,500 working hours. The police said when they recovered it, it had 50,000 working hours on the clock,” said Mr Hosking.
“I lost the tractor at a really tough time. There was a crisis for small farms and I had to borrow money to buy a replacement.
“It’s hard to accept that someone else had been using it while I was struggling. The tyres had been replaced, so it clearly had been used a lot.”