FOUR members of a gang responsible for a car crime wave across North and East Yorkshire have been brought to justice.

The group ran their operation as a business, stealing vehicles or machinery to order and selling it on, sometimes within hours, York Crown Court heard.

On one occasion their actions led to a 20-minute high-speed chase through rural villages in North Yorkshire, after they were spotted stealing a trailer in Ampleforth.

They nearly ran its owner, Mr Nicholson, off the road by unhitching the trailer Rover with their truck, causing £5,000 damage.

The gang also struck in Stamford Bridge, Dunnington, Wilberfoss, Elvington and Stockton-on-the Forest, before finally being caught after offering to steal cars for undercover police detectives, and bragging about their achievements.

Two of the men have now been jailed, while two others, 19-year-olds Joshua Luke Cooper, of Heather Bank, Osbaldwick, and Anthony Wharton, of Farrar Street, York, walked free from court with two-year community orders. Their supporters cheered as the orders were issued.

A third gang member, Duke Wayne Wharton, 32, danced with delight as he was jailed for a year and eight months, and a fourth, Adam Winterburn, 23, of Lilac Avenue in Tang Hall, who had sent the trailer careering towards the Land Rover, was jailed for two years.

Tim Capstick, prosecuting, said Duke Wharton, of Kexby near Dunnington, rammed Mr Nicholson’s Land Rover Discovery twice and pushed it backwards for 35 metres to prevent it chasing him, when members of the gang were spotted stealing Mr Nicholson’s trailer in Millway, Ampleforth.

Mr Capstick told the court the gang offered to steal cars “to order” for undercover police officers, to whom they sold the proceeds of their night-time raids and bragged about their achievements, unaware they were being targeted as part of a police sting. In total, they stole items worth £30,000.

Recorder Patrick Palmer told the four: “This was plainly a business that was being run. It was a business to steal.

“It was planned, it involved multiple thefts, it involved some items of high-value property.”

All four men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal last year.

Duke Wharton also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and was banned from driving for two years. Cooper, Anthony Wharton and Winterburn all pleaded guilty to arson.

Cooper and Anthony Wharton were each ordered to do 12 months' supervision and 200 hours’ unpaid work as part of their community order.

Mr Capstick said detectives went undercover to trap the gang, posing as buyers of stolen goods. They paid for lawn mowers, sat navs and cars, in cash, clothes or trainer shoes, mostly at meetings at Duke Wharton’s home.

For Winterburn, David Dixon said his client had set up in the scrap metal business when he ran into financial problems and then moved into stealing items.

He said he now ran a valeting business.

For Duke Wharton, Nicholas Barker accused the police of being agent provocateurs, and said his client had left the gang to get a job with a national construction company.

The judge gave commendations to the three undercover police officer.