HUNDREDS of police officers took part in raids at more than 20 properties as part of an investigation into thefts of cars across Essex and London.

Vehicles were stolen from across Essex, including Witham and Audley End.

The raids, which took place shortly before 6am last Thursday, saw 450 officers seize 25 vehicles, ten flat-bed trucks, £180,000 in cash and £40,000 worth of jewellery.

A cannabis factory with around 200 plants was also discovered.

The joint operation, by Essex Police, the Met and British Transport Police, was part of an investigation into the theft of 90 vehicles – especially high-value cars such as Range Rovers and Land Rovers – worth almost £5million.

The vehicles were stolen between November 2018 and February 2020.

Vehicles were seized from Shenfield, Loughton, Brentwood, Ingatestone, Epping, Billericay, West Horndon and Hockley as well as the Havering, Barking and Dagenham areas in London and Kent.

Acting Supt Lewis Basford, who is leading the operating, said: “Vehicle theft causes serious harm to the victims, both in terms of financial loss of the vehicle itself and the impact it has on their life.

“It can affect your home life, your ability to take your kids to school and going to and from work.

“If you use your vehicle for work, it could mean you’re not able to work at all.

“Today’s operation highlights the excellent partnership and collaborative work that takes place between forces to tackle the issue.

“Essex Police, the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police have shared intelligence and pooled resources with more than 450 officers involved in today’s warrants, emphasising how seriously we treat this issue.

“Organised crime groups cause misery to our communities and work across borders making effective partnership work like this crucial to disrupting and dismantling them.

“We will continue to work together to tackle these kind of groups.

“Essex and London are safer places for vehicle owners today as a result of this work.”

Seventeen men – aged between 19 and 48 – were arrested and later released on bail or under investigation.