Five fraudsters have escaped jail after a fake handbag-selling empire was uncovered operating from Leytonstone lock-ups.

The conmen were handed a total 700 hours community service and 70 months in suspended prison sentences at Basildon Crown Court on June 30 after some 1,200 counterfeit items were found in raids.

Laura O'Keefe, 36, of Corringham, Kimberley Chalk, 41, of Grays, Toni Noonan, 45, of Grays, Jacklyn Grimes, 47, of South Ockendon and Mohammed Haydari, 37, of Barking, were all convicted over the plot.

The sentences followed an investigation lasting almost three years, carried out by Waltham Forest and Thurrock Council’s trading standards teams, as well as Met and Essex Police officers.

In 2013, officers received intelligence alleging O’Keefe was selling counterfeit goods via a Facebook page called “Lau Laus”.

The investigators purchased what was supposedly as Mulberry bag from the page, which tests confirmed as fake.

In April 2014, officers executed a warrant at O’Keefe’s home address and identified Noonan as her supplier.

Complaints had already been received that Noonan was selling counterfeit goods via her Facebook page, “Beez Neez” while using her home as a retail shop.

A similar warrant was executed at Noonan’s home address and a mobile phone, paperwork and 56 items, including fake Mulberry and Hermes products, were discovered.

Officers had received complaints about a third individual, Chalk, selling counterfeit goods through her Facebook page “Crystalmad Jewellery”.

In July 2014, a warrant was executed and mobile phones, computers, paperwork were seized, along with 49 handbags and purses which were all confirmed as counterfeit.

In October 2014, officers targeted the home address of Grimes, the former home address of Haydrari in Walthamstow and two storage units he used in Leytonstone.

At the lock-ups, officers seized more than 1,200 counterfeit handbags, purses, watches and accessories.

In addition, they also found 5,900 unbranded handbags and 7,500 banded badges and zips ready to convert them to lookalike products.

Passing sentence on the gang, Judge Ian Graham said: "This was a significant and long-running enterprise and it is clear that large quantities of income and profit were generated."

He described Haydari as being “at the top of the supply chain” and “instrumental in the importation of these goods”.

When he addressed all of the defendants he said: "It is clear that you knew what you were doing was illegal.”