Piracy crimewave is sweeping the nation and breaking the law has become the norm

A cricket club in a middle-class village in the north of England on a freezing Saturday in January would not immediately strike you as a crime scene.

But the clue is in the car park which – despite the start of the season being months away – is packed. Why? Because the owner is one of the estimated hundreds of thousands across the country who has obtained an illegally modified Fire Stick, and that means they can show the local EFL football team’s away match that afternoon on the big screen.

Word has spread and the bar is doing a roaring trade. If you ask those necking pints over a lucrative few hours, chances are they will tell you that this is a victimless crime.

They would not be alone. Fire Sticks are everywhere. At golf clubs up and down the UK, for example, there are WhatsApp groups where members can place their orders.

For many who would never dream of carrying out a robbery, breaking the law has become the norm. Sources, who did not wish to be named for obvious reasons, have lifted the lid on a crimewave that is sweeping the nation.

Five men, including 36-year-old Mark Gould (pictured as investigators search his South London home in May 2018), were jailed for up to 11 years each for distributing illegal streams

Bodycam footage also shows around 30 linked set-top boxes used for the illegal operation

Bodycam footage also shows around 30 linked set-top boxes used for the illegal operation

One supplier tells Mail Sport that for £50 he can provide a stick that will be guaranteed for a whole season. That £50 not only gets you access to all Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon matches, it also gets you every EFL match and National League fixture. 

Business is so good that he cheekily discloses that he has employed a customer service representative, who answers calls from users experiencing issues.

There are a number of options for each sports channel, so if one is experiencing difficulty or is buffering, users simply switch to another. But it is not only football. Some packages, including the £50-a-year stick, deliver everything you could imagine.

Pay-per-view boxing also features along with Sky’s various movie channels. Incredibly, films that have only been released at the cinema days earlier are also available, along with the news channels of every local affiliate in the United States.

While the sticks cost the punter £50, the supplier gets his hands on them for around £10, allowing him to pick up a huge profit for very little work.

Indeed, the business can be so lucrative that Mail Sport was told of another seller in the South East who is a full-time waste disposal operative. In the last year, he has had four Caribbean holidays and an extension on his house. Nobody thinks the local council bonus scheme is paying for his new-found lavish lifestyle.

Payment is usually by bank transfer and well away from the prying eyes of the taxman. In some cases, suppliers hand over the sticks ready to use, while in others customers buy their own and are supplied with a user name and password for their chosen illegal streaming app.

The North East is viewed as a supply hotbed and those involved have no shortage of customers willing to part with the equivalent of less than a month’s subscription to Sky Sports for a full campaign featuring every game and more.

Some of the packages, including the £50-a-year stick, deliver everything you could imagine

Some of the packages, including the £50-a-year stick, deliver everything you could imagine

The Premier League are pouring resources into a crack team to hunt down those responsible

The Premier League are pouring resources into a crack team to hunt down those responsible

Cost of watching football legally

£460 Annual cost of having Sky, including their Sports channels

£359.88 The standard cost to add 12 months of BT Sport to this deal

£95 Annual cost of an Amazon Prime subscription

£914.88 Total annual cost

PS If you want your sport on Sky in Ultra HD it costs £520 a year, bringing the total up to £974.88

Some may not shed a tear for the Premier League who – as Mail Sport has detailed – are pouring resources into a crack team of high-tech operatives to hunt down those responsible.

Some may feel that the ever-increasing cost of subscribing to the various broadcasters leaves them with little option than to seek out a stick.

But it is hard not to feel sympathy for the likes of BBC Radio 5 Live and talkSPORT, who shell out for exclusive commentaries on matches not meant to be televised for a pittance.

Aside from the fact that this is theft, there are also grave concerns over some of the shady characters involved.

In the Premier League’s latest prosecution, a search of the laptop of one of those involved, Christopher Felvus, uncovered indecent images of children. Another hacked into customers’ accounts in an attempt to ensure they took the blame should police ever swoop.

‘This prosecution is another concrete example of the clear links between piracy and wider criminality, a warning we repeatedly make,’ said Premier League lawyer Kevin Plumb.

Doug Love, the trading standards officer key in the raid, agrees. ‘It’s very tempting to see it as a victimless crime if you’re a consumer watching a dodgy stream, but it’s not. If it was unchecked, the broadcaster would fail and that would be the end of sport as we know it,’ he says. ‘It sounds dramatic but it’s not.

‘I don’t think it’s fanciful to say that society would be incredibly harmed if this crime was not challenged. Some sports are absolutely dependent on broadcast deals and revenue for exposure, and that in turn increases participation.’

Mr Love is not wrong. The financial issues of those away from the riches of the Premier League are well-documented. Indeed, the outfit those punters were watching for free at the local cricket club would prefer it if they logged on to their own website and paid them for the privilege instead.

The Premier League believe they are winning the war. It would appear there are many more battles to be fought.

How cheats have got away with it

Punters can buy themselves a legitimate Amazon Fire Stick for about £35.

They can then pay an illegal streamer to remotely modify the software on it so that it will give viewers access to live games that are not available for broadcast in the UK. 

Another option is to buy a stick that has already been modified and is ready to plug in to a TV. 

Other pirates charge punters for a login and password to an illegal app that instantly has every live game at their fingertips. 

The transaction is often faceless, with the customer transferring money into a bank account and dealing with the seller online or via a messaging service such as WhatsApp.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk