A contract driver with a vehicle auctioneer stole a car within minutes of picking it up from a VW dealership to deliver to a Motability organisation for use by a disabled person.
And at Warwick Crown Court Michael Johnson was jailed for 12 months for what the judge described as ‘theft in breach of a high degree of trust.’
Johnson, 35, of Steeping Lane, Long Lawford, Rugby, had pleaded guilty to the theft of a VW Golf belonging to British Car Auctions (BCA) in September last year.
Prosecutor Liz D’Oliveira said that at the time Johnson was employed by BCA as a contract driver to collect and deliver vehicles on behalf of the company based in Bordesley, Birmingham.
Each employee is provided with an electronic device which includes a GPS system to monitor collections and deliveries.
On September 27 Johnson was to collect a black VW Golf from the Listers VW dealership in Coventry and to deliver it on behalf of Motability to an address in Leighton Buzzard the next day.
Miss D’Oliveira explained that cars are tracked by a digital signature being put on the driver’s device when he collects the vehicle, followed by another signature from the person taking delivery of it.
But the Golf never arrived, and several weeks later Motability contacted BCA to ask what was happening about the car, so the auction company checked a paper copy of what had been recorded on Johnson’s device.
That revealed it had been collected from Listers on September 28 – and signed for in the name of J Hall as having been delivered just three minutes later.
And Lynsey Knott, defending, conceded that the GPS system showed the collection and delivery were both recorded from the same location, which was Johnson’s own address.
Miss D’Oliveira said the Golf was picked up by an ANPR camera in December, but when the driver was traced he said he had bought it in a roadside sale in Clacton-on-Sea, having checked that it had not been reported stolen.
But he had since sold the car, which was worth £9,475, and it has never been recovered.
Miss D’Oliveira added that in March Johnson was convicted of fraud by offering a computer for sale on ebay in 2010 and then not sending it to the buyer who had paid for it.
Miss Knott said Johnson had lived with his grandparents after his parents split up, but then moved out and lived with various friends in what he described as ‘sofa-surfing.’
“He was mixing with the wrong people, and it led to drug use and to an environment where these offences occurred. In return for them providing him with drugs, demands were made of him.
“There was pressure put on him by members of the travelling community when they learned he had this job. He could have gone to the police, but instead he became involved in this offence.”
Judge Alan Parker commented: “I am satisfied others must have been involved because this car was handed over within minutes of it leaving Listers, and I am prepared to accept it was not the defendant who thought of this.”
Jailing Johnson, whose pleas of not guilty to stealing three other cars from BCA were accepted, the judge told him: “You were put in charge of a VW motor vehicle and were expected to deliver it safely and honestly.
“That did not happen, because within minutes of leaving Listers in Coventry it was handed over to a third party, and in due course it was sold on and has never been recovered.
“Had the vehicle been delivered, it would have been to a Motability organisation. It is clear it was intended for someone who needed it for assistance in their daily lives.
“It is a sentence I can consider suspending, but I regard this offence as far too serious to permit such a course.”