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THE CAR STEAMERS; Cocky gang boss snared by photos.

Byline: CHRIS HUGHES

THESE were the pictures which saw the downfall yesterday of a cocky teenage thug and his knife-wielding gang after an 18-month orgy of car theft and terror.

Ringleader James Wooden, 18, arrogantly posed for photos with a camera he had found in a stolen BMW. But he left the camera and film in the back seat. When police recovered and returned the car, its owner was amazed to find snaps of Wooden posing in her car.

As he was sentenced yesterday to five years in a young offenders' institute, Wooden punched two security guards in the dock and screamed "f***ing freak" at the judge.

Blackfriars crown court in London heard how the seven-strong gang committed 54 burglaries, stealing 22 cars as well as pounds 100,000 in cash, gems and electrical gear.

Police believe they were responsible for countless other crimes, stealing more than 60 cars worth at least pounds 2million.

They targeted homes with expensive cars in the driveways "steaming" their way in and stealing keys, often while the occupiers slept.

Sometimes wielding knives, the gang would often travel to their target homes in wealthy Wraysbury, Gerrards Cross, Henley, Windsor and Chalfont St Giles, in stolen cars including Mercs, BMWs and Audis.

They broke in through windows or simply by smashing the front door down before searching for valuables and car keys.

The men, all from Hayes, Middlesex, used the nearby M4, M40 and M25 to get to and from the heart of London's commuter belt at speeds in excess of 120 mph.

Several times they escaped police in high speed chases, weaving through traffic and once smashing into a police van to get away.

Judge Deva Pillay told them: "These burglaries were the activities of a ruthless, committed and focused gang."

James Rafferty, 21, and twins David and Derek Augustine, 24, were sentenced to five years' jail.

Justin Palmer got three years and Daniel O'Leary two years. Shaun Nedd, 22, was given 200 hours' community punishment for handling stolen goods.

CAPTION(S):

SMUG: Wooden in stolen Audi TTPOSER: Proud of pinched BMWBOOTY: Wooden in a Merc 4x4; ARROGANT: This one's a Cavalier; LETHAL:Sword Wooden stole
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 29, 2003
Words:362
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