A prolific “car-key burglar” who stole vehicles worth more than half a million pounds across Surrey and seven other counties has been jailed.

Edgaras Pilvinis, 23, a cage fighter from Barking in Essex, burgled homes, took car keys and then stole high-performance cars from driveways including in Copthorne.

He was jailed for seven years at Guildford Crown Court after pleading guilty to 17 offences over a seven month period.

Pilvinis was caught after an extensive investigation by Surrey Police's Cross Border Crime Team.

He was part of an organised crime gang which broke into residential addresses at night and stole car keys while the owners and their families were still asleep. Pilvinis targeted homes with expensive cars such as BMWs, Audis and Range Rover Sports left out on driveways.

Between December 2008 and June 2009 he struck at properties in Surrey, Sussex, Thames Valley, Hampshire, Kent, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, stealing an estimated £538,000 worth of cars.

He struck in Copthorne twice in January and February 2009.

In the first incident, he broke into a home hoping to steal the keys to an Audi Sport or a BMW 4x4 parked on the driveway, but was disturbed and fled.

In the second incident, he broke into a home and stole the keys to an Audi and a black BMW, both of which were stolen.

Lap-tops, cameras and Ipods were also taken.

The investigation into the crimes, Operation Mercer, was run by Surrey Police's Cross Border Investigation Team who took the lead for the South East region due to the scale of the offending.

Officers believe the stolen vehicles were often left parked on residential streets in East London for a few days afterwards to establish whether they were fitted with any tracking devices.

If they were not recovered by the authorities they would be collected, have their identities altered, and were then re-sold on the internet or exported to Europe.

Pilvinis was caught after a lengthy investigation which linked him to a string of offences.

Police were able to use Automatic Number Plate Readers (ANPR) to track his movements in and out of the county, and evidence was also obtained from mobile phones used by Pilvinis and his associates.

In July 2009, a warrant was executed at his address in Barking and items seized included a number of laptops and documentation for vehicles.

He was interviewed by Surrey detectives over a two-day period but refused to answer any questions.

Analysts were later able to produce detailed maps and charts of his criminal activity to demonstrate the scale of his offending.

Pilvinis pleaded guilty to sixteen counts of burglary and one charge of going equipped to steal. Two other men suspected of being involved in the conspiracy are already serving prison sentences, having been charged by other forces for attempted burglary and handling stolen vehicles.

The Cross Border Investigation Team was set up by Surrey Police as part of a long-term strategy to combat criminals tempted into the county by its reputation for wealth and easy access to major transport links.

The team work closely with colleagues from neighbouring forces to share intelligence and target criminals who offend over a wide geographical area in a bid to try and evade detection.

Sentencing Pilvinis to seven years, Judge Critchlow praised officers at Surrey Police for their "skilful investigation" resulting in his arrest and successful prosecution.

He said: "This was serious organised crime for high value rewards. The offences were premeditated and involved professional planning and operation while the victims were home asleep."

Acting Detective Inspector Dan Voller of Surrey Police's Cross Border Investigation Team, said: "Pilvinis and his associates travelled extensively in order to target homes in different counties, but by coordinating our efforts with colleagues at neighbouring forces we were able to expose his network of crimes.

"I would like to thank my team for the months of hard work they have put in to build this case resulting in a prolific offender being put behind bars."

There is now an on-going financial investigation into this series of offences with a view of removing any benefit made from crime.

Surrey Police is reminding car owners to keep their car keys hidden from view and put vehicles in a garage overnight so they are out of sight from the road. Owners are also advised to take their car keys away with them if they travel, or leave them with a trusted neighbour or friend.