A haulage boss and one of his drivers have been jailed for a total of 11 years and ordered to pay £439,540 in compensation after they were caught stealing £1m worth of high-value goods from shipping containers.

Preston crown court was told Graham Ascroft, a 41-year-old haulage contractor, and one of his self-employed drivers Paul Taylor, 36, had developed a successful system for breaking into shipping containers full of luxury goods destined for export.

Loss adjuster Chris Hart, a general manager at Miller Sheppard Marine, who attended the hearing said: "If a compensation order is granted, insurers that have paid out on claims should expect some reimbursement."

He added the prospect would delight insurers since securing such payments from convicted thieves is a comparative rarity.

Lancashire police launched an investigation into Ascroft and Taylor after insurers became suspicious of multiple losses they were suffering from high-value cargoes.

The court was told that insurers and shipping companies thought the thefts were occurring while the containers were in transit overseas.

However, when police compared the various shipping losses they discovered a connection with a haulage company operated by Ascroft.

Police said Ascroft and Taylor had found a way of opening the containers without breaking any security seals and leaving the impression that the load had been secure from the supplier to their customers' premises.

Lancashire police have since notified major container manufacturers of this security breach.

A police raid on Ascroft's premises near Preston recovered more than £400,000 of stolen goods including a HGV tractor unit and a trailer with 178 mountain bikes which was subject to a £50,000 claim on Zurich insurance. A similar raid on Taylor's premises yielded £100,000 in bootleg spirits.

The court heard that Ascroft and Taylor had managed to steal more than £1m worth of goods and equipment destined for overseas customers during a 30-month period.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice Slinger, imposed one of the largest confiscation orders to date against the defendants at £812,170.

He also ordered them to pay £439,540 in compensation to their victims, including their insurance companies.

Ascroft was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and Taylor three and a half years for his lesser role.