Showman found guilty of stealing campaigner's 40ft park home

Exeter Crown Court

Exeter Crown Court. - Credit: Archant

A travelling showman has been found guilty of stealing an entire 40-foot mobile home from a woman who has spent years trying to protect other park home residents.

Sonia McColl was left effectively homeless after the £28,000 home was stolen while it was being moved to North Devon to act as a granny annexe at her daughter’s bungalow.

She had invested much of her savings in the luxury caravan which looked like a house and had a pitched roof with eaves.

Fairground operator Stewart Gregory stole it from a haulage yard in Willand, East Devon, with the help of ‘inside man’ Darren Baseley.

Ms McColl, aged 72, who won an OBE for her campaigning work, was left out of pocket because the home was not insured at the time of the theft.

Gregory stole the home after he was sub-contracted by Willand based TS Haulage to move it from Nuneaton to Ms McColl’s daughter’s home in Bishops Tawton, Barnstaple in early November 2017.

It proved impossible to move it into the garden and it was taken back to the yard in Willand while more preparatory work was undertaken.

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The mobile home was about to be moved back to North Devon by another firm when it was stolen in the early hours of November 22.

Traffic cameras later tracked it moving across country to Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire but it was never recovered.

Gregory’s Iveco trailer unit was caught on grainy CCTV removing the caravan from Willand and mobile phone data showed he had driven through the night from his home in Surrey to carry out the crime.

He had been in phone contact on the way with Baseley, who was the sales manager at the haulage firm and had access to the yard.

The two men were taking an opportunity to make money and did not appear to have been part of any plan to take revenge on Ms McColl for her campaigning work.

Baseley was recorded last year discussing the theft with his boss at the haulage firm.

In the call, he said: “I thought it was just going to be a crime number. It was just a crappy caravan and an old biddy. I didn’t know she had an OBE and some weight behind her.”

Gregory, aged 43, of Aldershot Road, Normandy, Surrey, denied theft but was found guilty. Baseley, aged 47, of Henrys Run, Cranbrook, admitted the theft.

He denied blackmailing haulage boss Terry Sowden by claiming he and his son Ryan were in on the theft and asking for £3,000 help with legal fees in return for keeping quiet.

He was found not guilty of blackmail.

Recorder Mr Benjamin Newton adjourned sentence on both men and ordered probation pre-sentence reports.

Ms McColl, who is a prominent member of the Park Home Owners’ Justice Campaign, is expected to attend the sentencing hearing on July 2 in person.

During a six-day trial, Baseley told the jury his phone calls were not intended to extort money and he merely wanted his boss to honour an agreement to help with his legal costs.

Gregory denied that he returned to Devon to steal the caravan and said he had lent his phone and truck to a mystery Eastern European man named Ash.

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