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Recovery driver in dock over chop shop

Keith Winter

A man accused of involvement in a chop shop run by a crime gang dealing in high-value cars is still driving a recovery lorry, a court has been told.

A lawyer for Keith Winter asked District Judge Mark McGarrity to remove the 29-year-old's curfew to allow him to cover shifts for a vehicle recovery firm - an application opposed by the prosecution.

Winter, from Green View in Richill, Co Armagh, faces two counts of handling stolen goods - namely, vehicles and car parts - and two counts of possessing criminal property on May 21 and 24 this year.

His co-accused, 34-year-old Kyle David Coulter, a dairy farmer from the Ballybreagh Road in Portadown, is also on bail charged with a single count of handling stolen goods, namely cars and car parts, on May 21.

They were charged after what police described as a chop shop for stolen high-end cars was discovered on Coulter's 240-acre farm, along with car parts allegedly wrapped and ready for posting and £30,000 in cash.

A prosecuting lawyer said the investigation centred around an "organised and sophisticated crime gang alleged to be committing keyless car thefts".

He told the court 40 cars with a combined value of hundreds of thousands of pounds had been stolen in the past 12 months.

The lawyer said searches of Coulter's property "led to the identification" of Winter and led police to a number of other properties allegedly linked to him.

Coulter previously claimed Winter rented outbuildings and a yard from him - and that is where the shells of six allegedly stolen cars and vehicle components were discovered.

A detective constable said that searches of the other properties allegedly linked to Winter uncovered more parts.

She added that police had found a recovery truck believed to be tied to the defendant.

The detective constable further claimed that items from cars believed to have been stolen had been destroyed in a fire set at one of the defendants' properties.

Defence counsel Aaron Thompson told Dungannon Magistrates' Court on Friday that Winter, his boss and colleagues were working around his client's 7pm to 6am curfew to keep the 24-hour business operating.

"He is a fairly new member of staff and they think highly of him, but other people are having to do the less popular shifts because of that," Mr Thompson said, adding that his client had not breached any bail conditions.

However, a lawyer for the Public Prosecution Service said removing the curfew would be highly inappropriate, given that the alleged car thefts "took place during the hours of darkness and this recovery lorry was found at one of the farm buildings rented by the co-defendant".

District Judge McGarrity said while he would not fully remove the curfew, he was "persuaded that there should be some variation" and extended it from 11pm to 6am. He then adjourned the case until August.

Belfast Telegraph