A GANG of car-key burglars raided homes across Staffordshire and the West Midlands to steal high value vehicles, a court heard.
Some of their victims had to watch helplessly as their prized motors worth tens of thousands of pounds were driven away.
Homes in Lichfield, Rugeley and Kings Bromley were targeted, as well as further afield in Ashby de la Zouch and Stratford on Avon.
So far, though, only one member of the gang - Phillip Thompson - has been tracked down, after police found one of the stolen vehicles, a £28,000 Audi TT Quattro, in Burntwood.
In it was found a balaclava with DNA that matched up to Thompson, a con- victed robber who was out of jail on licence, said Anthony Potter, prosecut- ing.
Thompson, aged 33, of Lichfield Road, Stafford, was jailed for a total of 63 months after admitting conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to steal motor vehicles.
Judge Paul Glenn told him: “These offences cause massive distress and inconvenience to the victims. The fact you get a thrill from driving high-pow- ered and high-quality vehicles is no consolation to them.”
The judge said the crimes committed by the gang were “indicative of professionalism”.
Stafford Crown Court heard that the gang had already been operating before Thompson joined them in November last year, shortly after his release from prison on licence.
It started on October 22 with the theft of a silver Audi TT worth £18,000 from Featherstone near Wolverhampton whilst a woman was alone in the house.
She had to watch helplessly having been told to stay indoors as they got into the car and drove it off, the court was told.
Thompson’s involvement began on November 14 after the theft of a £22,000 BMW from Ashby.
It and the silver Audi were spotted by CCTV travelling in convoy down the M42, the defendant being in one of those cars.
They were heading to Rugeley where an attempt to steal a BMW 3 was foiled by the householder.
Two days later the gang struck in Stratford, stealing a Golf GTi which became the vehicle used to ferry the gang around.
In Lichfield, a Nissan and a Mercedes together worth £75,000 were stolen and on November 21 two Toyotas were taken in Staffordshire, although Thompson was not part of those offences.
But he was involved in three incidents on November 23. In the first two, in Lichfield and Kings Bromley, the gang was scared off by builder David Scott and by Michael Reid, who foiled the bid to steal his BMW 5.
But they did get away with the Audi TT Quattro from a house in Quarry Close, Rugeley.
A window was forced to gain entry and the defendant’s footprint was found on the sill.
Police found the Quattro later the same day and officers say the defendant’s sister, Tracey, approached the vehicle.
She said he had asked her to fetch a balaclava.
Thompson was arrested at the address in Stafford where he was living and the stolen Golf was discovered parked nearby.
Michael Garrett, defending, said Thompson had a fascination with motor vehicles. “It’s the thrill of taking and dri- ving - this isn’t a case of taking to order.
“Although he is a prolific offender, he is not a very good one. He’s a bad burglar because he keeps getting caught. In the present matter, he is the only person to have got caught.”