FOUR men have been jailed for their part in an "industrial scale" criminal conspiracy to steal large amounts of metal from across the Midlands.

An investigation was launched by West Mercia Police’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit in June 2011 into the dealings of Gary Kitchin, aged 48, of Oatleys Crescent, Ledbury.

It was discovered he had a managing role in the theft and disposal of national infrastructure cable belonging to utility companies spanning several counties in the region.

Between October 2010 and July 2011, he was paid nearly £100,000 in cash from one dealer in Gloucestershire alone, the majority of which was proved to be stolen copper cabling.

Detective Constable Max Voyce, from the unit, said: “Our operation was a difficult and extensive investigation into the finances and criminality of this organised crime group.

“Their activities were on an industrial scale and inquiries have been conducted with every utility company and national rail service in the country to ascertain how much of the cable that forms part of the national infrastructure has gone missing in recent years and whether we could link them to Kitchin and his associates.

“We have worked closely with these bodies, especially BT, to gather evidence and intelligence that has led these jail sentences. The work we have done to together has set a benchmark for the efforts made to protect national infrastructure assets.

“The disruption and break up of this organised crime group will assure the public that West Mercia Police will employ every means available to them to ensure the security of the national infrastructure and secure prosecutions for all involved in this type of crime."

Kitchin recruited a workforce to extract the cabling from the ground and burn off the identifiable plastic sheathing before selling it to the scrap dealers and this team would travel rural areas at night after identifying locations to steal the cable.

At Birmingham Crown Court on Friday, March 28, Kitchin was sentenced to 38 months imprisonment for conspiracy to steal and 12 months to be served concurrently for money laundering.

He pleaded guilty to the offences in December.

Proceedings are now ongoing to retrieve as many of his assets as possible under the Proceeds of Crime Act and a hearing is scheduled for later this year.

Those sentenced alongside Kitchin, included Simon Beardsley, aged 49, of Barnards Green Road, Malvern, who was imprisoned for 28 months.

Gareth Spooner, aged 30, and Alex Carr, 29, both of Stroud, were imprisoned for 27 months and 18 months respectively.

All three pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal in October 2013.

Beardsley used his Mitsubishi Shogun 4x4 to pull the cable from the ground and an address in Welland, near Malvern, to burn the sheathing from the cable.

When they executed a warrant in December 2011 at the address, officers seized copper cabling, tools and identifiable remnants of sheathing belonging to British Telecom.

Spooner and Carr assisted in the thefts, removing the inspection lids and cutting the cabling into lengths.

These were then passed to Beardsley and Kitchin to be cleaned before selling the cabling to scrap yards.