Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Wiltshire gang jailed for 'half UK's caravan thefts'

Clockwise from top left: Martin McDonagh, Martin Ward, John McDonagh, Charlie Ward
All gang members have previous convictions related to caravan theft

A gang of travellers who stole hundreds of caravans worth more than £700,000 have been jailed.

The four men, who were based in Wiltshire, are thought to be responsible for half the country's caravan thefts between 2004 and 2007.

Charlie Ward, 28, Martin Ward, 21, John McDonagh, 31, and Martin McDonagh, 29, were jailed for between four and nine years at Winchester Crown Court.

The insurance industry reported a 47% drop in claims following their arrest.

The men were found in possession of stolen caravans, cars and motor homes, jewellery and cash when they were arrested in Chiseldon in October 2007.

'Distress and anguish'

They were found guilty of conspiring to steal after a three-month trial but cleared of money laundering.

The court heard that the Ward-McDonagh family began stealing caravans from driveways and motorway service stations in 2004.

Police raids
The men were arrested during raids in 2007

Fathers-of-five Martin McDonagh and Charlie Ward were sentenced to four years and five years for two separate offences. The sentences will be served consecutively.

John McDonagh and Martin Ward were jailed for four years for their part in one of the conspiracies.

Sentencing the men, Judge Patrick Hooton said the crimes had caused distress and anguish to the victims.

"This trial lasted for three months and during the course of it I heard evidence of repeated thefts of caravans and motor vehicles which in total could be described as theft on a grand scale repeated time after time after time," the judge said.

He said the conspiracy had been well organised.

The men, who travel between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, all had previous convictions related to the theft of caravans.

Confiscation proceedings will now take place against the gang to seize their assets.

Nineteen police forces were involved in the operation to catch the men.

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