A HIGHLY organised gang who stole more than £300,000 worth of cars during a spate of two-in-one burglaries have appeared in court today (Thursday, March 27).

High value cars including BMWs and Audis were stolen before being sold on with fake number plates or broken down and sold as spare parts.

The eight members, who were arrested as part of Operation Parker, targeted 26 homes in Middlesbrough and Stockton over a six-month period.

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David Brooke, prosecuting, said the gang often gained access to properties through insecure doors, forced entry or by 'fishing' through letter boxes for keys.

The vast majority of the thefts occurred while the victims were home late at night.

He said: "The conspiracy involved a campaign of burglaries comprising a significant number of well-organised and pre-planned domestic burglaries, often committed in the evening or after dark, in which properties where high value cars, some very high value cars, were present were targeted and thereafter a well-organised and relatively sophisticated system being used to dispose of the vehicles quickly and no doubt for considerable financial gain."

Outlining the charges against the defendants, who all played differing roles throughout the six month burglary spree, Mr Brooke said there was a high degree of planning involved, including the use of false registration plates and leaving stolen cars parked up for several days before returning to pick them up and dispose of them.

He read out victim impact statements from some of the people who lost vehicles as a result of a burglary.

One victim described the defendants, who all admitted the charges against them, as "thoughtless thugs" and "disgraceful human beings", while another said he was left shaken and upset, and had been made to feel unsafe in his own home.

The eight in the dock at Teesside Crown Court were Trevor Keenan, 30, formerly of Keith Road, Grove Hill, Middlesbrough; Ashley Brown, 23, Askham Close, Middlesbrough; Lee-Jay Brown, 20, of HMP Holme House Prison; Luke O'Neill, 20, West Lane, Whinney Banks, Middlesbrough; Donovan Hackleton, 21, Ayresome Street, Middlesbrough; Bradley Anderson, 20, Brompton Street, Middlesbrough; for conspiracy to burgle homes.

While John Jospeh Wilkes, 37, Lulsgate, Thornaby; and Philip Mark Johnson, 39, of Rutherglen Walk, Stockton; are facing charges of handling stolen goods.

Keenan, Ashley Brown, Lee-Jay Brown, Hackleton and Anderson were remanded in custody while Wilkes, Johnson and O'Neil were released on bail.

They are expected to be sentenced tomorrow (Friday, March 28).