Woman who stole vehicle keys so thieves could target used car dealership walks free from court

  • Car keys thief handed conditional discharge by Southampton Magistrates’ Court
  • Natalie Ferre stole keys to two vehicles at Stratus Cars and handed them on to car thieves
  • Black Peugeot and white VW were taken, the latter of which hasn’t been recovered

Time 7:29 am, May 22, 2024

A woman who swapped car keys at a used car dealership as part of an elaborate scheme to steal vehicles has walked free from court.

Natalie Ferre, 50, posed as a would-be customer to get her hands on the keys to two vehicles at Stratus Cars near Basingstoke in Hampshire.

But when staff turned their backs, the light-fingered Ferre swapped the keys for ones that looked similar before handing them back.

She then passed the keys on to a third party who stole a black Peugeot and a white Volkswagen from the site.

Bosses at the dealership, which stocks around 250 used vehicles, didn’t notice that the cars were gone until they carried out a stock check days later.

The Peugeot was later recovered but the Volkswagen has never been found.

Appearing at Southampton Magistrates’ Court yesterday, Ferre, of Middle Park Way in Leigh Park, near Havant,  pleaded guilty to a single count of theft including theft by finding.

The man accused of stealing the Peugeot – 23-year-old Charlie Cordwell – was also due to appear but failed to show up at court.

The court hearing, attended by Car Dealer, was told that the matter was complicated by the fact that Ferre is currently serving a suspended sentence for stealing a vehicle worth £37,000 belonging to Eclipse Car Sales in Winchester.

That offence took place in November 2022 – after the incident at Stratus Cars – and she was handed a one-year prison term, suspended for 12 months, at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court last December.

Outlining the case, prosecutor David Finney said: ‘The victim in this case is a business called Stratus Cars. They have 250 cars on the site ranging from scrap to Range Rovers.’

He said the proprietor arrived at work [on June 26, 2022] and found that a padlock and chain were missing from the gate but there was no sign at that time that anyone had attempted to tamper with any of the vehicles.

‘He noticed that the lock was damaged and there was no CCTV on that side to cover that gate. He then noticed the theft of two vehicles during a stock-take on July 1, so some five days later.

‘The vehicles he was interested in were a black Peugeot and a white Volkswagen. These vehicles could not be located, even though there were Volkswagen and Peugeot key fobs in the office designated to them.’

He added: ‘Another member of staff said he recalled showing those two vehicles to a lady who asked to be given the keys.

‘He explained she had arrived at the dealership in a Mercedes and that she had handed the keys back to him and said she would return to possibly test-drive one of them.

‘The registration of the Mercedes [she was in] was taken and found to be on false plates and linked to two people, neither of whom were the defendant.

‘The owners of the business now believe that the female who came in on the first occasion took the keys and gave the showroom two similar but different keys before handing the genuine keys on to the people who then came back to steal the cars.’

In mitigation, Jane Joslin said Ferre had suffered a ‘mental breakdown’ shortly before the key theft and admitted that she had ‘fallen in with the wrong people’.

She added that both the key theft and the vehicle theft she was sentenced for last year should have been dealt with together at a previous date.

Joslin said: ‘At the time that the offences were taking place, back in 2022, she had gone through a mental breakdown.

‘During that breakdown, she discovered drugs, therefore getting involved with the wrong people. They then asked her to go to the showroom and swap the key fobs.

‘She hasn’t stolen this vehicle. She regrets her actions and does not have any great recollection of that time due to her mental health and drug issues.

‘She has now been clean from drugs and alcohol for the last 14 months and has moved in with her sister.’

After hearing all the evidence, magistrates agreed to hand Ferre, who wore a white T-shirt and blue jeans, a 12-month conditional discharge.

The ruling means she won’t be sentenced for the offence as long as she doesn’t commit any further crimes in the next 12 months.

She was, however, ordered to pay prosecution costs of £85 as well as a £21 victim surcharge.

A warrant was issued for Cordwell’s arrest after he failed to appear at court. No address was given for him.

Jack Williams's avatar

Jack joined the Car Dealer team in 2021 as a staff writer. He previously worked as a national newspaper journalist for BNPS Press Agency. He has provided news and motoring stories for a number of national publications including The Sun, The Times and The Daily Mirror.

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