Wigan's week in court
The latest round-up of those who have appeared before Wigan magistrates and in the dock at crown court.
A Wigan man, described as the “driving force” behind a criminal operation which handled 46 pieces of stolen plant machinery from across the North West is beginning an eight-and-a-half year jail sentence.
Max Wynn is one of seven men who admitted to or were convicted of involvement in the handling and sale of the equipment whose value totalled more than £1m, police describing the plot as one of “staggering audacity”.
The 34-year-old of Plymouth Grove, Standish, had initially denied handling stolen goods, entering into a money laundering arrangement and converting criminal property, but later changed his pleas to guilty.
The plant machines were stolen mainly from across the North West between 2015 and 2018, and were then sold on to a gang who operated out of an industrial unit in Nelson, where they were modified to hide their original identification numbers.
The gang in Nelson then sold the machines on to buyers across Europe and in some cases as far away as Australia.
The machines were valued between £8,000 and £105,000 each, with the total value thought to be approximately £1.3m.
Those who went on to purchase the machines believed they were buying from legitimate businesses and only became aware they had bought stolen goods when the equipment was seized as part of the police investigation.
Two buyers lost multiple machines each and in victim impact statements described how they suffered significant financial losses and anxiety about the loss of their professional reputations. The members of the gang each played different roles, but all appeared at Preston Crown Court to be sentenced.
In the dock as well as Max Wynn was his 47-year-old brother Richard Wynn, of Ravenoak Lane, Burnley who also received eight and a half years in prison for conspiracy to handle stolen goods after being found guilty by a jury.
Alex Grice, 33, of Brunshaw Road, Burnley, received five years and 11 months in jail after admitting to handling stolen goods.
There were four other men dealt with by the court for lesser parts in the operation: Karl Langley, 44, of Nelson Road, Burnley got two years in prison, suspended for 18 months, after admitting to three counts of handling stolen goods; Craig Douglas, 41, received 18 months in prison, suspended for 18 months after admitting to handling stolen goods; Gavin Mellor, 53, of Hope Street, Burnley, was given a a two-year custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months, having initially denied money laundering but later changing his plea. Ian Mellor, 72, of Clwyd Street, Ruthin, was handed a 10-month jail term, suspended for 18 months after admitting to money laundering.
The investigation was launched after a victim, who had a digger stolen from him, noticed that an identical vehicle was being sold from the unit in Nelson.
Officers attended the unit and although the digger had been moved on, they found Max Wynn and Alex Grice in the act of cloning another stolen machine.
The stolen digger was later tracked down with another two stolen vehicles in the Clayton-le-Moors area.
The court heard Max Wynn was the “driving force” behind the operation.
He was the director of the company that bought and sold on the stolen machines and his name was on the lease of the industrial unit in Nelson.
This is where the work was carried out to get rid of any identification numbers on the stolen machines.
In total Wynn is believed to have been connected to the handling and sale of all 46 machines.
The money from the sales was then laundered, being transferred to his friends, family and associates.
He also spent some of it on himself and used it to buy further stolen items.
Paperwork revealed that he charged all of his customers VAT but never submitted a tax return, instead pocketing the extra money himself.
Langley was closely connected to Max Wynn, as shown by phone records and his frequent visits to the industrial unit in Nelson.
The value of machines he is thought to have been involved with totals £50,000. Grice had a variety of roles in the conspiracy and was a highlytrusted employee of Max Wynn. He received a fee or commission for every machine he helped to hide the identity of.
Richard Wynn was frequently hands-on with the operation - transporting and delivering machines to customers.
He sometimes dealt with prospective purchasers and helped facilitate the money laundering part of the operation. Douglas was a “handler” for the sale of one specific machine, valued at around £80,000.
He carried out work on it to try and make the sale appear more legitimate, by removing livery from it and replacing it with his own.
Gavin Mellor assisted Max Wynn with the purchase of companies which were used to make the sale of machines appear more legitimate.
The money laundering aspect of the operation was described in court as being “sophisticated”, with significant planning, with the laundering conducted over a long period of time.
His father Ian Mellor also laundered money from stolen machines with the express purpose of giving large amounts of cash back to Max Wynn.
The prosecution said it was clear that Mellor Snr was aware of the purpose of the operation from the outset, given that his online banking payment references contained the identity of stolen machines.
He also laundered money through a convoluted layer of “shell” companies.
While the companies he used appeared legitimate, they carried out no or minimal trade, while providing an excellent cover for the laundering process.
One of the men who bought several of the stolen machines, believing he was buying from a legitimate company, said: “I have been trading in the plant/ machinery business for over 20 years and my business has been built on trust and goodwill.
"Immediately on receiving the information from the police I have felt like my good name has been tarnished and helpless to do anything about it.”
He added that he has been worried about financial difficulties, saying “I have lost confidence in doing business, worrying how other businesses now view me.”
PC Neil Goodison, of Lancashire Police, said: “We linked the high-value thefts of plant machinery to Max Wynn, and our investigation then led us to the other six men, and the industrial unit in Nelson. “In total we uncovered a conspiracy involving more than a million pounds worth of equipment, which was stolen from innocent victims and – via Max Wynn and his gang – then modified to hide its identification and sold on to further innocent victims.
“The group’s audacity was staggering, with stolen machinery sold on to unsuspecting buyers locally and as far away as Spain, Sweden and even Australia.
“We welcome these sentences and hope they serve as a warning that we take criminal activity like this very seriously.
"We will not stand for our rural communities being targeted in this way, leaving innocent people suffering financially and mentally.”
Former Wigan Warriors second rower Gareth Hock has been charged with multiple offences.
The 39-year-old, who retired from rugby league back in 2019, is due to appear before a Manchester Crown Court judge later this month.
He has been charged with controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate and/ or family relationship between January 1 2009 and November 11 last year.
Hock is further accused of failing to report an accident and failing to stop after an accident.
It is alleged that the former Great Britain and England international was at the wheel of an Audi A6 which crashed on Gathurst Road, Orrell, on November 11 2022 and then drove off.
He was arrested on February 14 and appeared at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court two days later.
He pleaded not guilty to the motoring offences, but has yet to enter a plea to the controlling and coercive behaviour charge.
Hock, who also played for Leigh, Salford and Widnes during his rugby league career, is on bail until he appears at Crown Square on March 22 for a pretrial preparation hearing.
A Wigan teenager will be tried later this month over allegations that he tried to do another person serious harm.
The 18-year-old, who cannot be named, appeared before Wigan Youth Court to deny attempting to cause a named male grievous bodily harm on August 14 last year.
He has, however, pleaded guilty to knife possession, issuing threats and causing £1,000 of criminal damage to a couple's living room window, all on the same day.
He was released on conditional bail pending his trial at the same court on March 30. Conditions include residing at his home address and not having contact with the complainants.
The owners of a £5.3m chemical recycling plant which they say vanished from a Wigan storage company’s yard are heading to the high court in a bid to get it back.
And if Waste Technologies UK can’t retrieve the 91-tonnes’ worth of components that have gone missing, its bosses hope a judge will order that their value and/or damages be paid out to them instead.
It is making a claim for breach of contract or bailment for David Brown and/or his business Store 24 Seven Northwest Ltd’s “failure to keep safe and/or deliver up a pyrolytic recycling plant, with an alternative claim against Mr Brown for inducing Store 24’s breach of contract.”
Waste Technologies says it had arranged in early 2019 for the revolutionary technology - that converts plastic into mixed oils and has several unique features which would be of interest to industry rivals – to be stored at a facility on Miry Lane, although subsequent reports suggested it may have gone to a yard on Wallgate instead.
The idea was that it would be kept there for an indeterminate period until a suitable site could be found for it to be reassembled and put to use.
The plant was dismantled at the time; its owner says that around 95 per cent of its parts were left to be stored in Wigan and that these components would require almost a dozen lorries with trailers to move.
But Mr Brown, of Llandegla, Denbighshire in Wales, disputes that the bulk of the plant was entrusted to his business, saying that only a “couple of lorry loads” were left with Store 24 Seven.
It is claimed that a UK-based director of Waste Technologies was asked to take pictures of the machinery that could be shown to investors who were interested in it. But when he went down to Miry Lane, he could not get in.
His recollection from a previous visit was that the plant parts were highly visible, even if dismantled, but now they were nowhere to be seen.
It is alleged that Mr Brown and/ or Store 24 Northwest Limited had moved the plant from where it was being stored without any explanation, despite requests for an explanation as to its whereabouts.
Thomas Spencer from the litigation and dispute resolution team of Mackrell Solicitors which is representing Waste Technologies, said: “Our client’s position is that this is a unique pyrolytic plant which sets it apart from others of its type, and this makes it particularly valuable.”
Waste Technologies say it is worth £5.3m although ultimately it will require an independent expert to estimate its value during the proceedings in the High Court, King’s Bench Division.
There is due to be a preliminary hearing in London around the end of April or the beginning of May, after which it is thought the case may be transferred to Manchester, although it could be anything up to two years before the trial takes place before a High Court judge.
It was first reported publicly that the plant had disappeared in the summer of 2021.
Waste Technologies later issued a £10,000 in its quest to find it, but the money remains unclaimed.
An 82-year-old man has pleaded not guilty to a catalogue of Wigan child sex abuse accusations, some dating back more than half a century.
Trevor Bennett this week made his first appearance before a Bolton Crown Court judge who was told that a total of 14 charges of historical sexual assault have been brought against the pensioner.
And having now formally denied the accusations, he will have to wait 14 months before a trial takes place.
The hearing was told that there are four complainants in all. One alleges four counts of indecent assault when she was under the age of 14 between October 1973 and December 1974.
The remaining charges bar one concern a charge of sexual touching of girls under the age of 13 which are alleged to have happened between January 2009 and December 2012.
One of the complainants was aged between eight and 12 during those periods and has brought four charges of sexual touching plus one of assault by penetration. Another was aged between six and 10 between those times and alleges that she was sexually assaulted twice, and the fourth complainant says that she was molested three times between the ages of five and 11.
All the offences are alleged to have been committed in Wigan.
Bennett, of Bridgewater Road, Mosley Common, near Leigh, was told that a pre-trial review hearing will take place at Bolton on June 2, while the start date for his trial has been scheduled for May 13 2024.
Before then he has been released on unconditional bail.
None of the victims can be identified for legal reasons.
A Wigan motorist has admitted to being almost four times over the drink-drive limit.
Rodney Heaton, 47, of Gathurst Road, Orrell, gave a reading of 138 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath when police stopped him at the wheel of a silver Peugeot on July 29, borough magistrates heard.
The legal limit is 35 microgrammes.
He will learn his fate on April 4 before which he has been served with an interim driving ban while a pre-sentence report is prepared.