Burglars who looted £1.2million in 250 break-ins forced to hand back just £1

Thousands of crooks convicted of everything from burglary to fraud and drug smuggling are avoiding handing back their illegal gains.

The Proceeds of Crime Act is supposed to give courts the power to order criminals to surrender the profits they've made from breaking the law.

But many get nominal orders because they've managed to hide their assets or have simply spent the loot.

Figures obtained by the Mirror under the Freedom of Information Act show that 4,057 Proceeds of Crime orders made in the past five years were for a nominal £1.

A further 597 orders were made for confiscation of between £1 and £10.

The number of orders to pay £10 or less amounts to about a fifth of the total Proceeds of Crime orders.

A stark example occurred in May and involved members of a 12-strong organised crime gang that carried out 250 burglaries across the east of England.

Danny and Timothy Stone-Parker, aged 24 and 28, had earlier been jailed for six and a half years, and 20-year old Charlie Webb had got five years.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing at Norwich crown court heard that they benefited to the tune of £1.2million but each was ordered to pay just £1.

Accomplice Joseph Holmes, 21, who was jailed for four years and had netted £257,216, was also told pay £1.

When they were sentenced Judge Stephen Holt had described the conspiracy to burgle as the most serious he had ever encountered.

Detective Inspector Craig Harrison, who led the investigation, said: “Every one of their crimes had a victim so the trauma and devastation caused in quite a short space of time was immense."

The Proceeds of Crime orders however were anything but immense.

In another example, parasite Pauline Tagg befriended a 94-year-old woman, taking control of her bank accounts under the pretence of helping with her shopping.

Tagg went on to steal £68,000, spending the cash on holidays and gambling before being caught and jailed for two years and four months for theft.

Suspicions were raised when letters came from the bank and a utility company telling her of direct debit cancellations due to a lack of funds in her account.

A proceeds of crime investigation resulted in an order in April to pay just £1 because 67-year-old Tagg from Braintree in Essex apparently had no assets. The stolen money had gone on what the court heard was her "luxurious lifestyle".

Judge David Turner QC said: "I am told the overall benefit figure is £68,068.03 and the available amount if £1. I make a confiscation order in that sum."

Drug smuggler Lewis Swaysland, 34, made £40,000 from spice that was brought into the UK in Malteser packets and was jailed for 12 months.

He got a nominal confiscation order of £1 after Hove crown court in East Sussex was told in May that he had no assets.

His 56-year-old mother Terena Swaysland, who got a nine month suspended prison sentence, was found have profited by around £50,000 had £39 in her bank account and so was given a confiscation order for that amount.

Bakery company administrator Joan Whitrick, 58, was given a ten month suspended sentence for stealing from her employers, a financial investigator putting her gain at more than £21,000

At a Proceeds of Crime hearing in May, Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, told Bradford crown court that a nominal sum of £10 should be ordered.

Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC remarked: “It used to be £1”.

“I am told it is now £10,” Mr Sharp said.

“Inflation, Mr Sharp,” the Judge replied.

The Judge told Whitrick: “I am happy to draw a line under this today. If you win the Pools or the Lottery, a lady like this financial investigator here might come knocking.”

A total of 3,840 Proceeds of Crime orders amounting to £163m were made in 2018-19, down from 5,357 the previous year.

A Government spokesman called the Proceeds Of Crime Act “an important tool” in preventing criminals getting away with illegally gained assets.

“The court can make a confiscation order for small amounts where the amount that the offender can currently afford to pay is lower than the value of the criminal gain, but this allows investigators to revisit the case when new or hidden assets are identified,” he said.

“This holds criminals to account up to the full value of their criminal gains.

“Our new Asset Recovery Action Plan sets out how we will explore the potential for new tools, resources and approaches in our relentless pursuit of the proceeds of crime.”

This did not impress Harry Fletcher, director of the Victims' Rights Campaign.

“The police all say the same thing, they cannot cope, so if a criminal did later come into money there will be nobody to check up on that,” he said.

“The plethora of these £1 and £10 orders bring the Proceeds of Crime scheme into disrepute and lets down the victims.

"It's absurd, the whole purpose of this measure was to force the criminals to pay towards the administration of justice.

“There's no sense of justice here, it's absurd.”

In another case, crooked car dealer Gwyn Roberts took cash and part-exchange vehicles for luxury cars that he never delivered.

The 50-year-old from Llandudno Junction, north Wales, was jailed for seven years in March for fraud.

This week a Proceeds of Crime hearing at Caernarfon crown court was told that his criminal benefit was £769,210.

He was ordered to pay back £1 after the court heard that his only asset was a pension which could not be accessed.

Judge Huw Rees told Roberts, who was watching from prison via video link: “I make the order of the nominal sum of £1, not to be collected.

“As far as you are concerned that is the matter unless you come into money in the future.”

Data trafficker David Cullen, who made more than £1.4million selling details of people involved in road accidents, was the subject of a Proceeds of Crime hearing last month.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office said afterwards: “The confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act is a warning shot to anyone using or thinking about using personal data illegally.”

Really? The order was for £1.

Admittedly the ICO says that Cullen’s financial circumstances will be regularly reviewed and the confiscation order could be increased, but until that happens it's no kind of warning.

Cullen, 35, ran Manchester-based No1 Accident Claims Limited, which sold the data it illegally harvested on 1,323 individuals to personal injury law firms.

He was also fined £1,050 for what the ICO called “his blatant disregard of people’s right to privacy and our data protection laws.”

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