Four men conspired to fake vehicle plates to dupe people into buying £400,000 worth of stolen plant machinery, it was claimed in court.

A jury at Burnley Crown Court heard claims that a group of friends worked together in Hyndburn and Rossendale to alter the identity of 23 stolen vehicles from West Yorkshire and sold them on to ‘innocent purchasers’.

The prosecution claims that once they had been ‘cloned’ with new certificates and vehicle plates they were sold across the country and abroad through eBay, the Farmers Weekly newspaper and auctions.

Mark Swift, 42, of Haywood Road, Accrington, Ronald Goss, 58, of Dean Road, Haslingden, and Matthew Hartley, 42, of Bacup Road, Cliviger all deny conspiracy to conceal, disguise, convert or transfer criminal property’.

The trial heard how Oliver Young, 33, of Edgeside Lane, Waterfoot, pleaded guilty to conspiracy earlier this year and is awaiting sentence.

Nicholas Courtney, prosecuting, told the jury Mr Hartley, owner of firms called Whatmore’s in Oswaldtwistle and MSH in Rawtenstall, started ‘doing work’ for Young when Whatmore’s ‘was struggling as a result of the recession’.

The jury heard claims that Young ‘suggested’ they start selling plant machinery and use them at Whatmore’s before selling them on.

The prosecution claims Mr Hartley ‘understood’ Young got the machinery from two people called ‘Irish Jimmy’ and ‘Polish Pete’. The court heard claims that Mr Goss accepted being involved in the sale of plant machinery, receiving £500 for each sale by ‘Irish Jimmy’ and seeking the help of Mr Hartley to ‘conduct that business’.

Prosecutors also claim Mr Swift, who worked for Mr Hartley, accepted delivering or supervising the collection of the machinery under instructions, but claims he thought Mr Hartley was the ‘genuine owner’.

Mr Courtney said: “Young’s guilty plea proves there certainly was a conspiracy or agreement between him and at least one other person.

“The prosecution suggests the defendants were acting together in their dealings. It’s not just an unlucky coincidence they were in possession of so many stolen pieces of machinery with false identities.”

The jury heard that concerns were raised by machinery database firm The Equipment Register (TER) where accounts were registered in the names of both Mr Hartley and Mr Goss.