AN unofficial debt collector has been jailed after he forced a Yodel delivery driver to hand over his van and the parcels inside.

Harry Kerwick was acting as hired muscle for his friend Donna Cross who claimed she was owed money by the van driver’s girlfriend.

Cross had already gone to her home near Okehampton in an attempt to extract cash and recruited Kerwick for the alternative plan when that failed.

The van, worth £27,000 was later found abandoned with some of the parcels missing.

Kerwick had a long criminal record and was already being investigated by police in North Devon for a series of violent attacks on his partner, including one in which he held a lit cigarette to her eye and bit her thigh so hard it left a teeth shaped bruise.

He jumped bail and police issued an appeal to try to find him. He was eventually caught after a police chase in Kent which ended when he drove the wrong way on the A229 dual carriageway near Maidstone and crashed into an oncoming car.

Kerwick, aged 36, previously of Edgemoor Farm, Ashreigney, near Winkleigh, but now of no fixed address, admitted three counts of battery, theft of the van, and dangerous driving, driving while disqualified and without insurance in Kent.

He was jailed for three years and nine months and banned from driving for two years after his release by Judge James Adkin at Exeter Crown Court.

He also imposed a seven year restraining order banning any contact with his former partner.

Cross, aged 41, of Park Close, Holsworthy, admitted theft and criminal damage and was jailed for 18 months, suspended for two years, with 30 days of rehabilitation activities.

The judge told them: “You, Cross, brought in Kerwick as muscle and the driver was inveigled into giving up the van, which was carrying Yodel parcels. When the van was recovered, some of the parcels had been removed and emptied.

“This caused cost and inconvenience to the courier as well as reputational damage.”

Mr Joss Ticehurst, prosecuting, said Kerwick committed a series of domestic assaults on his former partner, who suffered from cerebral palsy, in the summer of 2022 which included putting a thumb in her eye, throwing a phone at her face, spitting at her and holding a cigarette to her eye before biting her thigh.

The theft of the van happened six days after Cross tried to extract cash which she claimed was owed to her from a woman by barging into her home and trying to break down the door when she locked herself in a bathroom.

Cross and Kerwick confronted the woman’s boyfriend and pressured him into handing over the van, which they drove off. The cargo of parcels was searched and some valuable items stolen.

Mr Ticehurst said both defendants failed to answer bail and Kerwick was arrested in Kent in the early hours of October 12, 2023 after a pursuit which included him driving a stolen Vauxhall Corso at twice the speed limit, slowing down so a passenger could throw an iron bar at the police, and crashing while going the wrong way on a dual carriageway.

Mr Lee Bremridge, for Kerwick, said these offences happened at a chaotic time in his life but he has taken advantage of his time in custody to do courses in building better relationships and anger management.

He is a roofer who has run his own business in the past and is hoping to move back to his home area of Kent on his release where he has the offer of a well-paid job as a contractor.

Mr Simon Burns, for Cross, said she has overcome a crack cocaine habit and is keen to work with probation and stay clean because she has resumed contact with her 17-year-old daughter, who is in care.