Athletic criminal mind, Kirstie Covele, drove her teen accomplices to 13 of the 33 burglaries of high end automobiles in 2016
An Olympic hopeful and aspiring model who acted as the getaway driver in an incredible $889,000 [£700,000] auto theft spree has been locked up for two years.
British equestrian eventer Kirstie Covele drove her young accomplices to 13 of the 33 burglaries carried out across north Kent and south east of the British capital, London in just two months in the summer of 2016. Authorities flagged the model and aspriring Olympian when her Fiat Punto triggered automatic number plate recognition cameras as she traveled in convoy with the stolen vehicles.
The 18-year-old told police after her arrest that although she drove her co-defendants around, she did not know of their criminal activity and was simply paid petrol money.
Her father was dying from motor neurone disease at the time and the court heard she acted criminally as a consequence of ‘trauma, distress and stress’.
The gang of eight, mostly teenagers and some aged just 15 at the time, stole a range of vehicles, including high-value Mercedes, BMWs and Audis, with a total value of £696,500.
Wearing ‘skeleton’ or ski masks and armed with screwdrivers, they burgled homes in towns and villages in the early hours of the morning while the occupiers were asleep.
Having nabbed car keys, the gang would then make off with the vehicles to be either sold on with false plates, stripped of parts or burnt out.
Police later found video footage of one of the vehicles on fire in a field, a Mercedes worth $51,000 and stolen in Kent, on the phone of one of the thieves. For their trouble, the crew were paid $1,900 to be shared between them for each car stolen between June 12 and August 14 in 2016.
Several break-ins were committed in one night, with some residents having two cars stolen off their driveways.
Former agricultural college student Covele, looked stunned as she was sentenced to two years in a young offenders’ institution.
Father-of-three Thomas Ripley, 21, was described as the ‘controlling mind’ of the organised enterprise and involved in 21 break-ins and thefts. He was jailed for five years.
Ripley and Jack Hever, 20, Freddie Friend, 17, and 16-year-old Harry Turnert, pled guilty on the charge of conspiracy to burgle.
Apprentice engineer Hever was sentenced to three years’ youth custody,
Friend was given a two-year detention and training order, and Turner was sentenced to an 18-month detention and training order.
Three members of the car theft ring – Shannon Kelynack, 19, Charlie Parker, 16, and a 16-year-old girl who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal.
Kelynack was given two years’ youth custody and Parker was sentenced to a 12-month detention and training order.
Stating that there was a ‘strong interest’ in the public knowing about the crimes, including the identities of those involved, the judge Williams lifted a court order banning the naming of those under 18, except in the case of the 16-year-old girl.
Sentencing the seven gang members, Judge Adele Williams said the burglaries ‘bore the hallmarks’ of professional crime.
“Tools were used to gain access and many of the householders were asleep in their homes. I have read victim personal statements and they make plain not surprisingly how badly affected they have been by these crimes, with feelings of violation of their homes as well as the financial loss and inconvenience they have suffered.
“The houses were targeted for their high-value cars. They were disposed of either in their entirety or for their parts. I have no doubt there were those higher up the chain who were older and more sophisticated criminals than you, but each of you played your part in this criminality.”
Prosecutor Shannon Revel said the eight defendants were identified through mobile phone data and ANPR cameras.
“A total of 33 burglaries were committed over a two-month period and had the same key elements,” she told the court.
“In groups of two or more, they broke into residential properties and in the majority the residents were at home in the early hours of the morning.
“They stole cars ranging from Vauxhall Astras to Mercedes and BMWs, driving them away. They then saw one of two fates – number plates were changed and attempts to scratch off the identification numbers were made, and then sold on. A small number were destroyed – smashed up and set alight.
“Tools were used to enter the properties. Some of the defendants wore masks and gloves.”
was also an aspiring model
Sam Thomas, defending, said she became involved with the gang at a time of ‘trauma, distress and stress’ as her father was dying from motor neurone disease.
She currently works on a voluntary basis at a livery based in Orpington.
Five of the gang were arrested within hours of the final break-in in Hartley on August 14 in which two Mercedes worth a total of $114,000 [ £90,000] were stolen.
Kelynack was driving a Fiat Punto with Ripley, Hever and two of the 16-year-olds as passengers. The Mercedes keys were found under a seat, as well as a large screwdriver, ski mask and gloves.
Kelynack acted as a driver in 13 of the burglaries. Her attorney, Daniel Darnborough, said it was a reflection of her naivety and lack of criminal sophistication that she had used her own car.
Alexia Zimbler, defending Ripley, said he was considered a ringleader by reason of his age.
Hever was described as a look-out who received little payment for his role.
The court was told he claimed to have acted out of bravado to impress his accomplices.
However, he has since become a mentor in schools, talking to children about the consequences of offending.