A gang of high-value car thieves have been jailed for a total of 20 years after stealing dozens of vehicles from homes across south London.

The ten-strong criminal network commissioned the theft of at least 50 cars, ranging from Aston Martins and Mercedes to more standard family cars, by organising overnight house break-ins to steal keys while the owners slept.

Police raided 16 addresses across Croydon, Bromley, Bexley, Lewisham and west Kent, recovering a large quantity of dye-stained cash, a handgun, seven cars and a variety of spare parts, drugs and numerous mobile phones.

Among the group was 27-year-old Anthony Murray, from Albert Road, Croydon, who was sentenced to a year in prison suspended for two years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal.

He was also given a 12-month supervision order and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Police initially arrested 17 people when they swooped on the suspected car thieves on July 2009.

The ringing network removed the identification numbers from the stolen cars and replaced the number plates with stolen ones from almost identical vehicles, before selling them on for below-market prices.

Innocent members of the public who bought the cars were left completely out-of pocket when police recovered them as the vehicles were legally still the property by the original owner or insurance company.

All ten pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and were sentenced at Croydon Crown Court on August 17.

Acting Bromley borough commander Martin Huxley, whose force led the investigation, said: “As vehicles have become more difficult to steal due to enhanced security, police have seen an increase in this style of burglary that is particularly worrying.

“Victims are usually indoors and asleep when entry is gained, either by force or inserting an implement through letter boxes, targeting car keys to steal vehicles.

“I am pleased to announce that as a result of these arrests there has been a significant reduction in car key burglaries, however this method is not unique to one criminal network and we still see these offences occurring on the borough.

“We must not become complacent with security, so please ensure your doors are double-locked, keep car keys out of sight of the front door and if you are buying a car be cautious of anything being sold for under the market price.”

The ten sentenced: William Back, 26, of HMP High Down - four years.

Jamie Webb, 27, of Hurst Road, Sidcup - three years and four months.

Jason Webb, 23, of Milborough Crescent, Hither Green - two years and eight months. A four-month suspended prison sentence for a previous offence was also reactivated, to be served consecutively.

Freddie Webb, 25, of Swanley Lane, Swanley - two years and ten months.

Guy Harbord, 27, of no fixed abode - one year and eight months. A one-year suspended prison sentence for a previous offence was also reactivated, to be served consecutively.

Perry Brown, 23, of Constable Mews, Bromley - nine months. Also pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis with intent to supply and concealing criminal property of £20,000 in dye-stained cash, for which he was sentenced to one year and six months to be served consecutively.

Tony Nicholls, 40, of Arabin Road, Lewisham - one year and six months. A six-month suspended prison sentence for a previous offence was also reactivated, to be served consecutively.

Leigh Spinks, 24, of no fixed abode - one year and eleven months.

Anthony Murray, 27, of Albert Road, Croydon - one year, suspended for two years. Also given a twelve-month supervision order and required to carry out 200 hours unpaid work.

Kirsty Burgess, 28, of Bromley Road, Beckenham - twelve-month community order.

Confiscation proceedings have commenced against William Back, Jamie Webb, Freddie Webb and Perry Brown under the Proceeds of Crime Act.