Nigerian car theft gang smashed in London
This is the moment a ruthless £1 million-a-year gang, which stole 120 cars a month stripping them down for spares in hours, was smashed by police.
Prestige motors, most of them Mercedes, were stolen to order from residential streets all over London by the highly organised crooks.
They were then delivered to a shabby scrapyard in east London where expert mechanics immediately set about removing every useful part, leaving just the shells, which were crushed.
A police source said: "The only way I can describe it is like an industrial production line. They were incredibly professional, like a Formula 1 pit crew but in reverse."
Within hours of being stolen, the cars no longer existed, often before their owners even knew they were missing.
Police believe the international crooks, the biggest car theft gang in London, were shipping the engines, gearboxes and other parts to West Africa where they fetch a high price for use in taxis.
The alleged ringleaders - three men in their forties thought to be Nigerians - were arrested at the breaker's yard in Stratford.
A further four suspects - three white British men and a boy aged just 16 - were arrested nearby soon after. Detectives think these four were the thieves who took the cars from streets and driveways and were working for the other three.
These astonishing pictures show how police secretly filmed the gang, who raked in an estimated £70,000 a month, as they set to work on a silver Mercedes as soon as it was driven through the gates.
In just 180 minutes there was nothing left but an empty carcass. The mechanics quickly removed the engine, followed by the steering column, gearbox and axles. They then turned it on its side as they continued to strip it bare.
As a police helicopter hovered above, dozens of plain-clothes cops then swooped on the yard and nabbed the men, believed to be the ringleaders.
The police source told how the gang were caught after a long covert surveillance operation
He said: "Last February we noticed a big spike in the number of Mercedes being stolen, all the same type. It was about 120 a month.
"We managed to disrupt the network slightly when we arrested a few people and reduced it to about 30 a month, but recently it has risen again.
"That's why we launched this operation. These are the ones who are behind the whole thing, a step up the ladder. Not only have we arrested a team of local car thieves but the ringleaders as well."
Police said they were stunned at the huge scale of the operation and the efficiency and lightning speed with which the million-pound-a-year gang converted up to 120 cars a month into spare parts and scrap metal.
DCI Stuart Dark, of the Met's Stolen Vehicle Unit, said today (FRI): "This was a sophisticated international network.
"It was quite clear to us that this was a professionally run operation. These people knew exactly what they were doing, what vehicles they wanted, how to get the bits off at high speed and how to ship them out of the country.
“The cars were stolen from the street or driveways outside people’s houses. They were not the most pricey cars. The victims were average Londoners.
“People will have woken up in the morning and found their car gone, with all their personal possessions still in it.
“There is also the danger in this sort of crime that people will go out to confront the thieves and could potentially get hurt.”
"Bomb proof" Mercedes E class saloons have taken over from Peugeot 505 as the "African taxi" of choice. The gang targetted pre-1996 models because they lack the latest anti-theft technology and though worth £6,000 complete they are more valuable as spare parts.
The parts from the stolen cars were broken down with special industrial equipment before being shipped by container ship to Nigeria.
The shells were taken away and crushed for scrap, leaving no trace that the cars ever existed.
The gang also occasionally stole luxury cars to be shipped whole to customers who had specifically ordered them.
Detectives found a £40,000 BMW X5, a flashy 4x4 favoured by Premiership footballers, which they believe was destined for a Nigerian crime boss.
Outside the yard was a tatty old articulated lorry marked "Goldenlay Fresh Farm Eggs", in which cops found the BMW and piles of unidentifiable Mercedes engines and other parts. The illicit consignment was hidden behind cardboard and rubbish in case Customs officers looked in the back.
Three black men, believed to be Nigerian, one aged 45 and two aged 43, were arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods and money laundering.
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