AN AUDACIOUS conman set up his own maintenance company which hired unsuspecting workers to steal two-and-a-half miles of railway track worth £250,000.

But yesterday, it was the end of the line for Glen Pendleton, who masterminded the scam to steal 350 tonnes of track in broad daylight.

He was sent to jail for two years.

The 41-year-old had even set up his own company - KGT Enterprises - to oversee the cheeky operation.

For six days, his gang of workers armed with JCBs, hammers and digging tools, dismantled the Leamside line near Penshaw, Sunderland.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how Pendleton used his contacts to hire heavy machinery and employ a workforce from Sheffield.

He paid them £50 a day to pull the tracks up, load them on to a lorry and transport them to South Yorkshire.

The former railway worker used knowledge of the industry gained while working for rail maintenance company Jarvis.

He issued his "workforce" with genuine Jarvis jackets so passers-by would not get too suspicious.

The plot only unravelled when they were spotted by a genuine Jarvis worker in January, who called the police.

Robert Adams, prosecuting, said: "The company was set up purely as a front for what later happened.

"On January 10, 2003, the company hired a tipper truck and the hire fee was paid by Mr Pendelton.

"Work began on January 11, 2003. The workforce was recruited from Sheffield and paid between £30 and £50 per day.

"Pendleton hired a JCB and the workers spent six days cutting up the line into 40ft lengths for removal into the yard of a scrap metal dealer.

"By January 15, work was progressing more slowly than was hoped and the defendant hired a second JCB."

The police were called on January 16 after the tip-off from the legitimate Jarvis worker.

Pendleton was arrested and admitted stealing the line and said he could have made about £8,000 profit for himself. The lines were to be sold to a scrap firm for £40 per tonne.

The court heard how the line was mothballed in 1992. Rail officials hoped it could have been reinstated one day.

But because of the damage done to the 16-mile track, the cost of reinstating the line would be more than £826,000.

Pendleton's defence team insisted that rumours that the line was about to be sold for £1 were true, but the prosecution said the Strategic Rail Authority intended to reinstate the line for freight and possibly passenger use.

John Temple, defending, said Pendleton had no intention of removing the full line.

"He has made no financial gain from this at all," he said.

"Some of the line was lifted and left at the side of the track, other parts were taken to a scrap metal dealer but the payment of £40 per tonne was intercepted before he received it."

Pendleton, of Worksop, Nottinghamshire, admitted theft between January 16, 2002, and January 17, of £250,000 worth of track belonging to Railtrack.

He had no previous convictions for dishonesty, but was given a life sentence in 1974 after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Judge David Wood, sentencing Pendleton to two years behind bars, told him: "By working for Jarvis Ltd, you have obviously acquired a lot of expertise and know-how about the railway.

"Unfortunately it seems to be the position you decided to set up a company of your own with the intention of lifting Railtrack's lines and selling them for profit - and that is exactly what you did.

"This was quite a sophisticated operation. You are an intelligent man with a good deal of knowledge of the business.

"Had you got away with it, you would have made a substantial benefit."