Family cars stolen to order and shipped abroad: how Covid loans fuelled a crime wave

Gangsters stealing cars from suburban drives for clients in the Middle East were aided by cash from the Treasury’s pandemic loan scheme

It was after midnight when Martin O’Neil woke to the sound of his French bulldog barking. He left his partner asleep and went downstairs. In the kitchen, he found that the patio door had been removed and the keys to his £50,000 Mercedes-Benz E-class were missing. Outside, a set of car headlights flicked on, shining through his front door. When O’Neil, 45, tried to open it, a man on the other side told him: “If you come outside, I’ll f***ing kill you.”

From the bedroom window, his partner Rachel, a hospital matron, watched as two men in balaclavas and hoodies drove away in their car. She called the police. They arrived 20 minutes later but did not catch the thieves.

“These guys were prepared to do anything to get my car,” said O’Neil, who lives in Greater Manchester. “If I tried to stop them, I think they would have killed me.”


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