Thieves jailed for stealing campaigner’s caravan bound for North Devon

A pair of hauliers have been jailed for leaving a park homes campaigner homeless and living in fear by stealing her GBP28,000 static caravan. Fairground operator Stewart Gregory and transport manager Darren Baseley planned the theft of the 40-foot fully furnished home which was in transit to a new site in North Devon. They were jailed after campaigner Sonia McColl told a judge at Exeter Crown Court that the theft was organised as revenge for her years of work standing up for the rights of residents on mobile home sites throughout Britain.

She was so frightened by the theft that she now lives in hiding under a new name while only using her old one during her campaigning work. The 72-year-old has been awarded and OBE for her work with the Park Home Owners’ Justice Campaign that led to a change in the law and greater protection for residents. She read out a powerful victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing of the two men who stole the fully furnished 40-foot-long home from a haulage yard in Willand, East Devon in November 2017.

She said: “The impact of this theft has changed every part of my existence over the past three years. My life is the only thing that is truly mine. “Fear, loss, anger and stress are only words and you have to experience what I did to know how it truly feels and the indescribable shock, horror and numbness.

As I widow, I feel desperately alone, helpless and very, very, vulnerable. “I could not get another home; I was not insured. When I heard of the loss, I felt physically sick.

I am 100 per cent sure this was done as payback. I have seen the things site owners do. “I have never felt safe again.

I am always looking over my shoulder and fearing retribution. When they stole my home, they stole everything except my life: my refuge, my safety and my security. “In my opinion they both need to be put away for as long as possible to reflect the grief and misery they have caused.”

The stolen static caravan disappeared 'without a trace'

The stolen static caravan disappeared ‘without a trace’ – Credit: DC Police

She said she now leads a double life, having changed her name by deed poll and not registering on the electoral roll so she can keep her new address secret. She only uses her old name in her continuing campaigning work. The caravan was en-route to Mrs McColl’s daughter’s home in Bishops Tawton, Barnstaple, in November 2017 when it vanished in the middle of the night.

Gregory drove his truck from his home in Surrey and was met at the yard by ‘inside man’ Baseley. They loaded it onto a trailer and Gregory then drove it to East Anglia, where it vanished without trace. The two men were taking an opportunity to make money and denied being part of a 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 at a trial in May. Baseley, aged 47, of Henrys Run, Cranbrook, admitted the theft.

They were jailed for 22 and 20 months respectively by Recorder Mr Benjamin Newton, who told them both that the crime was so serious that only prison was appropriate. He said: “The effect on Mrs McColl was devastating, as can be assessed by the victim statement she read out today. The home was of substantial value to her.

That understates its importance to her. “You caused her emotional distress, fear, and loss of confidence.” The Recorder said neither man had done anything since to help her find it or to save up to pay compensation.

Mr Daniel Pawson-Pounds, for Baseley, said he had played a subsidiary role and acted out of character and at the behest of others. His family will suffer if he goes straight to jail. Mr Nick Lewin, for Gregory, said he now accepts his involvement and regrets getting involved.

He said he was paid GBP1,000 to do the job and was not part of any plan to target Mrs McColl.