A FARMER helped police to catch a three-man metal theft gang, York Crown Court heard.

He sounded the alert at 6am on March 31 last year when he heard an engine and saw a vehicle that had just smashed through one of his fences, said Angus MacDonald, prosecuting.

He took the registration and 15 minutes later, police tracked the vehicle to a service station at South Milford and arrested the gang.

The vehicle contained copper cable, a drum, heavy duty switches and equipment to remove them from the disused Gascoigne Wood mine near Sherburn-in-Elmet.

Judge Guy Kearl QC said police were trying to stem a “tide of offences” involving metal theft.

“You have participated in that tide,” he told the vehicle’s driver Gary Dean Sephton, 33, and Lee Jepson, 41, both of South Kirby near Pontefract, and John David McKenna, 24, of Little Houghton near Barnsley.

He jailed Jepson for four months consecutive to a 16-month sentence he is serving for burglary. Sephton was given a four-month sentence suspended for two years on condition he did 100 hours’ unpaid work and 15 days’ specified activities, and McKenna got six months’ supervision. The judge said McKenna had been asleep in bed until the others woke him and took him along with them. All three men admitted burglary and Sephton admitted criminal damage to the fence.

For Sephton, Kate Batty said he could lead a law-abiding life, for Jepson, Daniel Smith said his family had left the country since he was imprisoned and Michael Jowett for McKenna said it was his only offence.