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POLICE SWOOP ON THE FALCONS; Fraud gang used airport base to launch stings on Scots hotels: SUNDAY MAIL INVESTIGATES.

Byline: GORDON CURRIE

A FRAUD gang nicknamed the Coventry Falcons used cheap flights to fly to Scotland and book into top hotels before stealing the ID of guests.

The robbers flew from East Midlands Airport to systematically break into rooms at hotels across the country to steal credit cards and ID documents before emptying victims' accounts.

The mob stole a fortune after using a variety of disguises to pass off the genuine documentation and bank cards as their own.

In just one month, detectives linked the theft of more than pounds 20,000 cash from various bank accounts in Scotland to the gang.

Now the Scottish government has stepped in with a proceeds of crime action against one of the mob, who was caught red-handed by an observant bank worker.

Simon Close was rumbled when he tried to clear pounds 4900 out of an account but was tripped up by security questions asked by the teller.

In the proceeds of crime action lodged at Perth Sheriff Court, Close is being chased for the pounds 1239 he had on him when arrested.

The action states: "The Coventry Falcons are an organised crime group based in the West Midlands. They are involved in various types of criminality including crimes of acquisitive dishonesty.

"They are known to be involved in theft, fraud, deception and identity theft and reset. They are known as the Coventry Falcons because members of the group fly from East Midlands Airport to various parts of the UK to perpetrate criminal schemes.

"Their modus operandi is to take part in sneak-in thefts from hotel bedrooms. The hotel bedrooms are locked but unoccupied.

"They steal cheque books, credit cards and ID documents. They then use the stolen items to commit fraud to obtain money and goods. Such frauds are often committed before the victim realises the items are missing.

"Simon Close is a member of the Coventry Falcons and is actively involved in the gang's criminal pursuits."

Close, the 35-year-old son of a priest and a teacher, and an accomplice were arrested in connection with robberies from nine hotel rooms in central Scotland.

They were charged in connection with the theft of items which ultimately led to more than pounds 20,000 being obtained by gang members.

Close and his welldressed colleagues booked themselves into the hotels and waited until businessmen left their rooms unoccupied to go for dinner or attend meetings.

The other man was charged with robbing nine rooms at Murrayshall Hotel, Scone, Perthshire; Huntingtower Hotel, Perth, and Crieff Hydro over two months last year.

At Perth Sheriff Court this year, Close was jailed for seven months after he admitted getting nearly pounds 2000 from an account belonging to a Richard Holland at a Falkirk post office.

He also admitted attempting to obtain a further pounds 4900 from an account belonging to Simon Atkins at a Stirling bank.

All of the other charges against him and his alleged ccomplice were dropped.

The court was told that the scam was rumbled after Close managed to use Mr Atkins's card with the correct PIN number - but failed to answer a series of follow-up questions from suspicious bank staff. Close was arrested by police while staying at the Inchyra Grange Hotel in Polmont, near Falkirk.

The action states that Close had a moustache and wore a trilby hat when he withdrew the first sum but was clean-shaven and wearing a different style of clothes when he tried again the next day.

Defence lawyer Krista Johnston said Close - whose wife is an air stewardess - met someone who suggested he should get involved in the scam to rip off businessmen while they were staying in upmarket hotels.

The gang's activities are being monitored by the National Intelligence Sharing Alliance.

Rick Ball, community safety sergeant with North Yorkshire Police, said: "They travel all over the Midlands, stealing into NHS hospitals, business premises and shops."

A senior Tayside Police officer said: "It was a well-organised, systematic scam and it was making thousands of pounds every week.

"They were becoming too well-known in the Midlands, so they started using East Midlands airport as a hub for spreading their tentacles around the rest of the UK." The proceeds case is scheduled to be heard at Perth Sheriff Court at a later date.

SUNDAY EMAIL reporters@sundaymail.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Crime hub: Gang flew from East Midlands airport, an hour from Coventry Jailed: Simon Close at Perth Sheriff Court and, left, the Huntingtower and Crieff Hydro hotels
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 20, 2009
Words:749
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