As the New Year gets under way, here are four Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire criminals who have been convicted this month, including an organised crime group member.

1. Amal Perera, 37

The Comet: Arsonist Amal Perera has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.Arsonist Amal Perera has been jailed for four-and-a-half years. (Image: Hertfordshire Constabulary)

An arsonist, who set fire to a takeaway restaurant and a car in Letchworth, was jailed for four-and-a-half years on January 9.

Homeless Amal Perera, 37, caused tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage to the USA Fried Chicken shop in Station Road and a Ford S-Max.

He now faces deportation back to Sri Lanka, St Albans Crown Court was told.

Perera, who became an alcoholic after his marriage broke down, stole a reflective jacket from JD Wetherspoon in the town on the night of October 10, 2022.

In the early hours of the following morning, he was seen on CCTV wearing the hi-vis jacket in Station Road, where he placed cardboard against the silver S-Max and set it alight. The car, which belonged to a nurse, was a write-off.

He next set fire to objects outside the ground floor of the USA Fried Chicken shop, causing £145,000 damage. Six people who were living upstairs had to be rehoused.

2. Lee Mitchell, 45

The Comet: Essex man Lee Mitchell was involved in supplying drugs across Hertfordshire.Essex man Lee Mitchell was involved in supplying drugs across Hertfordshire. (Image: Herts Police)

An organised crime group member will face years in jail after being involved in supplying drugs across Hertfordshire.

Essex man Lee Mitchell was part of a group that supplied drugs across Hertfordshire, Thames Valley, Essex and London. As part of a long-running investigation, 16 members of the group have been jailed for a total of 166 years.

The 45-year-old was given a six-year-and-six-month jail term by St Albans Crown Court on January 11, having been found unanimously guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs (cocaine).

Mitchell, of Little Canfield, had been arrested in February 2021 following investigation by Herts Police’s Operation Relentless team. Evidence showed that he had purchased 750g of cocaine from an organised drug network.

He was arrested after a search warrant was carried out at his address.

3. Nicholas Houtman​, 30

The Comet: Nicholas Houtman has been jailed for 11 years.Nicholas Houtman has been jailed for 11 years. (Image: Bedfordshire Police)

A major drug dealer has been jailed for 11 years after detectives discovered he had given himself his pet dog's name as an alias on an encrypted phone network used by criminals.

The dog's name, Capone, matched Nicholas Houtman’s Encrochat device handle, with Bedfordshire Police detectives able to prove Houtman was a large-scale buyer and supplier of class A drugs.

Officers uncovered Houtman, 30, sending messages about getting multiple kilos of "banging" cocaine delivered from across the country at prices ranging from £35,000 to £40,000 per kilo.

He often made up to £500 to £1,000 profit by brokering deals, Bedfordshire Police said.

Analysts found the most damning evidence against Houtman was the fact his Encro device password was stored in notes as "HOUTMANHOUTMAN".

They were also able to trace the movements of the Encro device, which matched those of Houtman’s conventional phone.

Houtman has now been jailed for 11 years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine.

4. Jason Turner, 40

The Comet: Jason Turner was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment.Jason Turner was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment. (Image: Sussex Police)

A violent and “prolific” burglar who broke into a Watford High Street café has been jailed for three years.

Jason Turner, of The Crestway, Brighton, was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment at Brighton Crown Court on January 5 after an 11-day trial.

He had committed a string of offences, mostly in Brighton, but which also included taking almost £200 in cash from Watford’s Ocean Bells Café in a burglary on January 4.

After the break-in, police arrived and were able to locate Turner in an underpass in George Street where he was arrested. He also had a knife at the time.

"Turner is a prolific offender with a repeated desire to follow a path of criminality,” said Sussex Police Detective Constable James Botting.