A gang of fraudsters who charged £2,500 to take people's driving tests on their behalf has been jailed for a total of three years.

The group, headed by Belgian national Dzemail Trstena, offered to take both theory and practical driving tests for provisional license holders at centres across the Home Counties and West Midlands.

Police say the scam allowed an unknown number of potentially "dangerous and unskilled" drivers on UK roads.

One fraudster, Bulgarian national Emil Petkov, was caught on CCTV being turned away from more than 30 theory test centres between 2010 and 2014 when the photo ID he presented was discovered not to be his. Others were caught taking practical tests.

Spencer Barnett, of the Met Police's Organised Crime Partnership, said: "We will never know how many tests they successfully cheated, but they were brazen and persistent in their repeated attempts. I have no doubt that they would have kept going had we not stopped them when we did."

A court heard how Trstena, 45, would ferry fake candidates to test centres around the country while claiming to be their driving instructor.

One member of the gang, Musa Matluma, aged 34, from Macedonia, was arrested in June 2014 while caught fraudulently sitting a theory test.

A 42-year-old British bus driver, Colin Julian, and Trstena were then arrested at their homes the following month after fraudulently taking practical driving tests at a centre in Kettering. The final member of the gang, Petkov, 31, handed himself in to Leytonstone Police Station on the same day.

The group was sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court on Friday (12 August).

Searches by National Crime Agency (NCA) and Met Police officers had found the gang to be in possession of a large number of provisional licences and theory test booking documents.

The find led to seven provisional licence holders also being prosecuted, with detectives saying their main motive for not wanting to take the tests was difficulty reading or speaking English. They were given between four and eight-month prison sentences, except one defendant who was handed a suspended sentence.

Andy Rice, head of Counter-Fraud and Investigations at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), said

: "Although instances of impersonation fraud are rare in relation to over 3m theory and practical driving tests which are taken each year, DVSA continues to take them seriously, and work closely with the police and NCA to bring offenders to justice.

"Impersonators taking tests on behalf of others allow untested and unqualified drivers onto our roads. These unqualified individuals pose a real risk to other road users and pedestrians as they have never been tested to ensure that they meet the minimum standards for driving and are unsafe."

"This sentence sends out a clear message that those who put road users and the public at risk by cheating the driving test process, will be pursued and prosecuted."

driving test
Clockwise from top left, Dzemail Trstena, Colin Julian, Emil Petkov and Musa Matluma were all convicted of taking other people's driving tests NCA