HEREFORDSHIRE crooks are among those who have been made to pay back more than £2m of their ill-gotten gains over the last 12 months by a specialist unit.

West Merica’s Economic Crime Unit has cracked down on fraudsters, thieves and drug traffickers, using confiscation powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act to "hit them in their pockets".

Nicola Saxelby, a dodgy book-keeper and compulsive shopaholic from Ledbury, was among the worst offenders.

The unit brought a confiscation case against Saxelby, 49, to the tune of £211, 000 – money stolen from a Withington family who had employed her to manage the finances of its farm.

And more than £1m of the £2.3m total discovered by the unit’s financial investigators went back to victims of crime.

Detective inspector Mark Glazzard, who heads up the ECU, said: ““The lifestyle and status crime brings is the main motivation for most criminals.

“Without cashflow, deals can’t be made and people can’t be paid.

"For these reasons, many organised criminals fear attacks on their finances and lifestyle more than prison.

“We are continuing to work with our partner agencies to target criminals in any way we can, not just through prosecutions but by hitting them where it hurts – in their pockets.

“Most importantly, we are able to compensate some victims through the confiscation process.

“Victims are central to what we achieve so it is satisfying that our efforts go some way to relieve their distress.”

When a conviction is made, the ECU makes an application to the court to strip the criminal of any benefit gained from illicit behaviour.

That often means forcing them to sell assets, including their cars and homes.

DI Glazzard added: “This is a significant result and demonstrates our commitment to ensuring criminals do not leave the judicial system with any benefit from their criminality.”