A NETWORK Rail engineer at the heart of a £2million theft scam from the transport system has been jailed for more than four years.
Anthony Innins organised a criminal gang who risked lives to steal copper cabling from across the UK train network.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the 42-year-old was at the head of a six-man gang who stole the cable and transported it in specially-hired vans to merchants who bought in bulk.
His gang alone was responsible for over half-a-million pound loss to the rail company.
During an investigation, codenamed Pathfinder, undercover police investigated a total of £2m loss to Network Rail through such thefts.
Innins, of Plumtree Avenue, Sunderland, who already had 25 criminal convictions dating back to the 1990s, was jailed for four years and two months.
Robert Baker, 29, of Eastbourne Square, Sunderland, was jailed for three years and five months over the cable thefts and an unrelated shed burglary.
Darren Jones, 44, who is serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated burglary, was given a further 27 months.
George Pascoe, 39, of Rowlandson Terrace, Sunderland, was jailed for 27 months.
Boden Hughes, 27, of Fulwell Road, Sunderland, will learn his fate for his involvement when he is sentenced today for arson onboard a North Sea ferry.
James Curry, 29, of Calshot Road, Sunderland, will also be sentenced today. All admitted conspiracy to steal.
Laura Harris, 28, of Froude Avenue, South Shields, was originally accused of being part of the conspiracy, but the case against her will be dropped.
Judge James Goss, QC, said: “The repercussions are beyond mere value of the property stolen and impact on the rail network, its funding efficiency and safety.
“This was sophisticated, professional crime.
“At its heart and without whom the conspiracy could not have operated, was Anthony Innins.”
The court heard the gang targeted unmanned masts that were connected to the main power source through the copper cabling.
Innins was able to tell the gang where the masts were – some in very isolated areas – and make sure the power was off.
The cabling and masts were in place ready for a new signalling system project to improve the network.
The court was told the group targeted 14 sites across the UK risking electrocution to get the cable.
Prosecutor Mark Guiliani told the court: “Innins was a highly-trusted and highly-regarded employee of Network Rail.
“He was an engineer on the project. As such he had extensive knowledge of the installations from which copper cable was stolen.”
The court heard the gang made about £50,000 by selling more than 10,000 kilos of copper to scrap merchants.
They were traced through mobile phone records, hire vehicle agreements and surveillance.
Sailesh Mehta, defending Innins, said the engineer, who had worked for the firm for more than seven years, is a married dad of three who turned to crime to cope with debt.
The court hard Pascoe was involved in two lorry loads of copper and had got involved for cash when he was asked to act as driver.
Baker was involved in three of the thefts, at a time when he was out of work and drinking to excess.
Jones was involved in seven of the thefts.