Alan Watkins was the ringleader of a gang that specialized in the theft of BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers. Police were able to link him to 170 stolen vehicles, but believe the actual figure is higher.
Watkins would use the internet to identify cars that had been exported to Cyprus. His gang would then search car parks in London and Essex seeking similar vehicles. Once located, the gang would follow them until they were parked and left. As the owner departed, they would use a remote signal blocker to prevent the vehicle’s remote-locking system from functioning, leaving an empty and unlocked luxury car.
At this point the thieves would enter the car and hack into the computer system to get details of the key. They would also plant a GPS tracking device.
Back at ‘HQ’, Watkins would forge a new electronic key for the car, and prepare documents giving the target vehicle the false identity of the similar vehicle that had been exported to Cyprus. Because of the GPS tracking, the gang knew at all times where their target was located. At a convenient time they could then use their own key to enter the car and just drive it away – complete with its new identity.
When the police raided his home, they found photos of Watkins holding bundles of cash (the value of the 170 cars is more than £3.5m), and details of more than 500 vehicles. Watkins himself was apprehended while trying to exit via a window. He was sentenced to eight years in prison at Southwark crown court on 6 July.
Such high tech thefts are likely to increase as the use of computers in cars increases. Last week the European Parliament adopted a resolution to make eCall compulsory. This is a system that sends an automatic distress call to the emergency services in the event of an accident. The nearest emergency centre would be sent a message containing details of the accident location, vehicle identification, direction of travel and time of accident.