Four jailed after counterfeit ring smashed

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Four men were jailed today after a multi-million pound operation to produce counterfeit cash was smashed, police said.

Lee Mitchell, 39, Christopher Brooke, 29, John Hartley, 61, and Ian Cole, 56, pleaded guilty to offences under the counterfeiting and forgery act when they appeared at Leeds Crown Court today.

West Yorkshire Police said investigating officers recovered a large quantity of Zeta paper which is used to make counterfeit currency and was capable of producing £4.8 million in fake notes.

Mitchell, of Greenside, Pudsey, West Yorks, was jailed for 12 years, as was Brooke, of Swinnow Gardens, Bramley, West Yorks.

Hartley, of Cheltenham Road, Bradford, was jailed for five-and-a-half years while Cole, of Golftyn Lane, Northop, Mold, North Wales, was jailed for six years, police said.

Detectives launched an investigation after counterfeit notes were found in circulation in Leeds in 2009.

In June 2009 officers executed search warrants at addresses in the Bramley and Beeston areas of Leeds, and found more than £5,000 in cash and electrical equipment which could be used to create money. Mitchell and Brooke were arrested on the same day the warrants were executed.

Later, police stopped a Range Rover on the M62 motorway near junction 22 at Saddleworth Moor where officers found more than £380,000 worth of counterfeit notes. Hartley was arrested at the roadside.

Further investigations then led officers to execute a search warrant at Cole's home address in Northop.

Inside, officers found over £650,000 of counterfeit notes, part-printed notes and equipment which could be used in the production of counterfeit cash.

Mitchell and Brooke, who were on court bail at the time awaiting sentence for counterfeiting offences related to the cash found in Leeds, were also found at Cole's home address and were arrested.

During the investigation, West Yorkshire Police were assisted by the national counterfeit currency unit at the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and worked closely with the Bank of England.

Detective Inspector Warren Stevenson, of West Yorkshire Police, said: "This was a complex investigation which spanned the country and has seen a multi-million pound counterfeiting operation closed down.

"Officers have been able to recover over a million pounds worth of counterfeit cash and part-produced notes as well as the equipment used to create the money.

"This has prevented the notes circulating around the country and leaving residents and businesses with worthless cash.

"Each member of this organised crime gang had their own roles: Mitchell and Brooke had the skills and the knowledge to produce the cash, Cole was the facilitator and Hartley was the distributor.

"They were all driven by greed and were using the fake notes to fund their lifestyles.

"Mitchell and Brooke proved their determination to continue to produce the fake cash and also a lack of respect for the law when they failed to attend court to be sentenced for earlier counterfeiting offences.

"Despite pleading guilty to the offences relating to the cash found in Leeds, they failed to answer court bail and were found in North Wales at Cole's farm.

"I hope these sentences send out a clear message to others who create or plan to create counterfeit cash. We will find you, close down your operation and put you before the courts.

"Counterfeit cash does affect the economy, especially local businesses that end up with cash which is worthless.

"As a result of what these men have done, law-abiding citizens will have most certainly found themselves out of pocket."

Victoria Cleland, head of notes division at the Bank of England, said: "Maintaining the public's trust in our banknotes is a key role for the Bank and it is essential if the economy is to function properly.

"That is why we welcome this outcome because any counterfeit banknotes, however insignificant in number, might undermine that trust and often the victims of a counterfeiting crime are individuals who cannot afford to lose out."