THE man at the centre of the 'car ringing' scam has been told to pay back £10,000 in six months - or go to jail.
The two Mid Cheshire men behind the £500,000 scam - William Bernard Drinkwater, 29, of Fairfield Road, Leftwich, and Patrick Bland, 24, of Grampian Way, Winsford - were jailed in March, and Drinkwater was the subject of a proceeds of crime hearing at Chester Crown Court on Friday.
He was ordered to repay £10,000 within the next six months, or he would be jailed for six months.
Drinkwater, often known as 'Bernie', admitted handling 11 of 29 cars involved in the scam between January 2001 and December 2004 and Bland admitted handling nine. Drinkwater was told he would have to serve half of an 11-month sentence, and Bland half of an eight-month term after both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to receive stolen goods at Chester Crown Court.
The specialist police operation lasted more than two years, beginning in 2003 when officers identified one stolen car and began uncovering links to others being sold through motor trade magazines.
They became convinced that stolen cars, usually taken in 'hook and cane' burglaries, were being disguised and passed off as other vehicles which the men had bought from salvage yards.
Painstakingly, the team of four officers carrying out the investigation tracked down 29 'ringed' vehicles across England and Wales. They say more could have been involved, and said around £500,000 passed through Drinkwater's bank account.
Insp Stewart Sheer, who led the investigation, said: 'It is important that people convicted of criminal offences are not allowed to benefit financially from their crime.
'In this case the criminal activity was carefully planned and complex. It took two years to investigate and resulted in several people who bought 'ringed' cars losing thousands of pounds. An order of the type which has been secured sends out a message to the victims and to criminals.'