Brazen car thieves steal vehicles as drivers fill up at petrol stations

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Watch: Brazen car thieves steal vehicles as drivers fill up at petrol stations

Two car thieves have been jailed after they were caught on camera stealing vehicles while drivers filled them up at petrol station forecourts.

The high-speed thefts took place in a matter of seconds while drivers had their backs turned.

Dozens of motorists were targeted in Birmingham and Solihull, West Midlands, as they filled up with petrol, inflated tyres or hoovered the interiors of their vehicles.

Police have described the thefts as among the most audacious they have ever seen.

Car thief William Lewis peers into the window of a Suzuki Swift while the driver fills up the vehicle, in one of the many shocking thefts. (SWNS/West Midlands Police)
Car thief William Lewis peers into the window of a Suzuki Swift while the driver fills up the vehicle, in one of the many shocking thefts. (SWNS/West Midlands Police)

Shocking footage shows William Lewis, 37, jumping into driver seats while owners' backs are turned before speeding off – on some occasions while petrol hose nozzles are still attached.

One woman, who was vacuuming her car at a garage, was lucky not be injured as Lewis lurched backwards before escaping in her VW Golf.

In footage of another theft, a terrified young schoolboy can be seen being forced to leap from a car when Lewis sneaked into the vehicle while his dad inflated the tyres.

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A court heard Lewis worked alongside Nelson Herne, 42, to steal at least 16 vehicles with a combined value of more than £150,000.

Detectives scoured CCTV and identified a red Renault Clio used by the pair to stalk petrol stations for unsuspecting victims.

West Midlands Police found the Clio was registered to a woman known to Herne and seized it during a raid on her address on 1 October last year.

William Lewis, 37 (left) and Nelson Herne, 42, committed 'some of the most brazen car thefts' police had ever seen. (SWNS/West Midlands Police)
William Lewis, 37 (left) and Nelson Herne, 42, committed 'some of the most brazen car thefts' police had ever seen. (SWNS/West Midlands Police)

A pair of boxing gloves were found in the boot that had been inside a Ford Kuga stolen on 23 July at an Esso garage in Marston Green, Birmingham.

The Kuga owner also turned detective herself and found a man who she thought was responsible for stealing her car on Facebook using the fake name Billiam Lewis.

Further CCTV showed Lewis's partner Laura Lightwood, 34, and Michelle While, 39, using bank cards taken from stolen vehicles at various shops.

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Herne, of Solihull, and Lewis, from Halesowen, West Midlands, were arrested and later admitted conspiracy to steal vehicles between February and July last year.

On Friday, Herne was jailed for 27 months and Lewis for 30 months at Birmingham Crown Court.

Lightwood, of Halesowen, and While, of Kitts Green, Birmingham, admitted fraud and handling stolen goods.

William Lewis steals a car while its owner vacuums the back seat on a station forecourt. (SWNS)
William Lewis steals a car while its owner vacuums the back seat on a station forecourt. (SWNS)

Lightwood received an 18-month community order, including a rehabilitation course, but While failed to attend court and is now wanted.

Detective Sergeant Mick Clark, from Solihull Force CID, said after the case: “These were some of the most brazen car thefts I’ve seen in 14 years’ police service.

“Victims were caught completely off guard: you just don’t expect anyone to come sneaking across the garage forecourt in the middle of the day, jump in your car and drive away.

"You can see on the CCTV that victims look genuinely shocked.

“We identified the red Clio that Lewis and Herne were using.

"Herne would help identify targets and send Lewis, who’s a heavy drug user, across the road to commit the offence.

Lewis' partner Laura Lightwood (left), 34, and Michelle While, 39, admitted fraud and handling stolen goods. (SWNS)
Lewis's partner Laura Lightwood (left), 34, and Michelle While, 39, admitted fraud and handling stolen goods. (SWNS)

“They were causing a great deal of inconvenience and concern for motorists and I’m pleased that thanks to the hard work of our team they were caught and now in jail.

“And finally a big thank-you to the young woman who found Lewis on Facebook after her car was stolen.

"That was an important breakthrough and a good piece of detective work.”

It comes as army tanker drivers have been put on standby to deal with the UK's ongoing fuel crisis.

The price of petrol has risen to its highest levels since September 2013 following a wave of panic buying across the UK.

Forecourts have run dry as drivers buy up all available petrol over self-fulfilling shortage fears.

The crisis has been brought about by a shortfall in the number of licensed HGV drivers able to transport fuel in the wake of Brexit.

In response to the crisis, the government has announced that military drivers will now receive specialised training to drive HGVs.

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