A CRIMINAL gang who tried to intimidate witnesses into not testifying against them by setting fire to their cars have been jailed for a total of 26 years.

Stephen Probert, aged 40, of no fixed abode, Evan Beman, aged 39, of Ty Mawr Farm, Usk Road, Pontypool and Cameron Davies, aged 24, of Vine Street, Abercarn, are all currently serving jail terms for their roles in a organised theft of cars worth a total of more than £100,000 including some from the Motorpoint dealership in Newport.

They appeared at Cardiff Crown Court today for sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by setting fire to vehicles along with Kallum Mogford, aged 19, of Baillie Smith Avenue, Abertillery and Damian Winnett, aged 22, of Blaen-Blodau Street, Newbridge.

Probert and Beman also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pervert justice by intimidating police witnesses and a charge of conspiracy with another person to set fire to a number of cars at a business premise in Aberdare.

All defendants have plead guilty to conspiracy to set fire to a car right outside the home of a witness.

Tim Evans, prosecuting, said the ‘violent, selfish, intimidating and outrageously dangerous bullying way’ that these men behaved was an ‘extreme example’ of perverting justice.

The court heard, Probert, the gang leader along with Beman and Cameron while on trial in February of this year tried to 'petrify' two central witnesses into not attending court.

Probert is currently serving a six-year jail term; Beman three years and Davies a two-year jail term.

Probert and Beman were caught by prison service telephone recordings talking about trying to find the home address of police witnesses and a civilian data analyst.

Mr Evans said Probert and Beman arranged via ‘childish code’ on a prison telephone for someone to set fire to several cars at a dealership called Cars R Us in Cwmbach in Aberdare.

Mr Evans said this was a ‘dramatic serious attack’ on the business of Emlyn Cox which is managed by his son Jamie Cox, the partner of Sandra Thomas, a central witness and former partner of Probert.

Mr Evans said the intention was to ‘terrify’ Ms Thomas and Karen Cox, another witness, who is a member of the Cox family, to stop them from giving evidence.

Several cars were destroyed in the fire including a £3,000 Nissan X Trail which was completely gutted along with a Chevrolet Spark worth £4000.

A number of cars had their windows smashed and petrol poured inside including a Citroen C3 worth £6000, a £5,000 Mini and a £5,000 Suzuki Swift.

Mr Evans said: ‘It is clear that the arsonist had planned to ‘torch’ all of those cars.

Jamie Cox confirms that it had a “massive effect” on their business.’ Mr Evans said Ms Thomas ‘is without a doubt a very courageous woman’ as she said she would still be coming to give her evidence following the first fire.

The court heard, on March 14, the week Ms Thomas was due to give evidence, at around 10.30pm two men set fire to a car on the driveway of Ms Thomas’ house in Cefn Fforest which she shares with her partner Jamie Cox and her two children; a seven-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl, who is the daughter of the defendant Probert.

CCTV footage shows two figures pouring liquid on the car and lighting it on fire which the prosecution say are Mogford and Winnett who then made off in a car with Davies who was on bail at the time of the trial.

Mr Evans said: ‘The result was clearly a potentially horrific, dangerous fire.”

Ms Thomas said since the fire she and her partner constantly think about what would have happened if the car had exploded or if the fire spread to their home.

She said her seven-year-old son 'doesn’t feel safe' in his home.

The court heard, the men were caught after Emlyn Cox saw one of the men spit on the ground down the road from the fire outside his son’s home.

The spit matched Mogford who was arrested and claimed he was recruited by Davies and offered money to set fire to the car in what he thought was an ‘insurance job.’ Karen Cox, who shares a daughter with the defendant Probert, said she knew the fire at the car dealership was a 'message to the whole family' and not just Sandra Thomas.

She said their lives changed after that fire and they had security cameras installed.

She said: “I kept thinking that we’d be next.”

Mr Evans said Probert and Beman were recorded talking about ‘warranties' which was code for some action against witnesses.

They talked about trying to find out where a civilian data analyst with Gwent Police lived along with Beman saying he found the address of a retired police officer Neil Passmore who was a central witness in the trial.

Mr Passmore said he remembered attempts by Beman during the trial to find out where he now worked.

Mr Evans said Probert and Beman also talked about finding where Richard lived which he said was code for Richard Harris, the famous actor, which the prosecution believe was referring to Martin Harris, the other central police officer, in the investigation.

Mr Passmore said due to the threat Gwent Police have taken security precautions to protect him and his family at a cost of 'tens of thousands.'

He said his family will now be moving house because of 'constant fear' of the defendants knowing where his family live.

The court heard Probert has 93 previous convictions for 28 court appearances including two conspiracies to defraud. Beman has 17 previous convictions for 11 appearances ; Davies has 29 convictions for 17 appearances , Mogford has 31 convictions for 16 appearances and Winnett has no previous convictions.

Nigel Fryer, defending Probert, said the 'reality of these fires was to scare rather than to cause actual physical harm.'

David Elias, defending Beman, said his client was the 'conduit' from Probert to the people who committed the arson.

Ashraf Khan, defending Davies, said his role was 'very limited.' He said Davies took part for financial reasons and because he felt 'obliged' to go along with what had been arranged by others 'higher up the criminal ladder.'

Meirion Davies, defending Mogford, said his client 'regrets' getting involved in something 'way over his head.'

Hashim Salman, defending Winnett, said his client was 'ashamed' of his actions and felt 'vulnerable' since being on remand.

Judge Patrick Curran QC sentenced Probert the leader of the gang to 10 year imprisonment; Beman who he said played an 'essential part' in the crimes to six years; Davies was given four years imprisonment; Mogford three years and eight months and Winnett three years. Probert, Beman and Davies' sentences will run consecutively to their original sentences.

The judge gave the highest possible commendation to Sandra Thomas for her courage in giving evidence.

He also commended Darren Jones along with his friend who tried to put the fire out at the car dealership in Aberdare, Neil Passmore and the civilian data analyst.

Senior investigating officer Nick Wilkie said: “This has been a protracted, complex and sometimes distressing investigation into the activities of an organised crime group and the violence, fear and misery they have inflicted.

“The criminal gang would use and threaten violence as part of their criminality in order to intimidate witnesses and prevent them from attending court to give evidence against them.

"Again I would like to thank the witnesses in this case for having the courage to come forward to give evidence after everything they have been through.”