A car theft victim won police praise for her ‘good detective work’ in using social media to track down a serial thief.

William Lewis and Nelson Herne were this week jailed over hijacking 17 cars worth at least £150,000 as their owners filled up with petrol in Birmingham and Solihull.

Clear CCTV footage showed Lewis, 37, sprinting into shot seconds after the Suzuki Swift driver arrived at the pumps.

He ‘brazenly’ leapt in and sped off. West Midlands Police said the thefts between February and July last year were ‘some of the most audacious we’ve ever seen’.

In another, Lewis snuck into a 4×4 while a schoolboy’s dad was paying, forcing the child to jump out as the car jolted backwards.

Their reign of terror crumbled when a Ford Kuga theft victim found Lewis was on Facebook as Billiam Lewis with a fake first name.

At Birmingham Crown Court, Lewis and Herne, 42, admitted conspiracy to steal vehicles and were jailed for 30 months and 27 months respectively.

Lewis’s partner Laura Lightwood, 34, was given an 18-month community order after she used bank cards taken from the stolen vehicles to make purchases at shops.

A second woman, Michelle While, 39, is being hunted for the same crime after skipping court.

Praising the Kuga owner, detective sergeant Mick Clark said: ‘A big thank-you to the young woman who found Lewis on Facebook after her car was stolen.

‘That was an important breakthrough and a good piece of detective work.’

The Solihull policeman added: ‘These were some of the most brazen car thefts I’ve seen in 14 years’ police service.

‘Victims were caught completely off guard: you just don’t expect anyone to come sneaking across the garage forecourt in the middle of the day, jump in your car and drive away. You can see on the CCTV that victims look genuinely shocked.

‘We identified the red Clio that Lewis and Herne were using. Herne would help identify targets and send Lewis, who’s a heavy drug user, across the road to commit the offence.

‘They were causing a great deal of inconvenience and concern for motorists and I’m pleased that thanks to the hard work of our team they were caught and now in jail.’

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