By Richard Warburton, Birmingham Post
Official police figures show that 200 HGVs were taken in the first quarter of this year compared with 117 during the same period in 2003.
The theft of lorries and their loads is estimated to cost the nation £500 million a year and has prompted calls from the haulage industry for more police and Government action.
The Midlands has become Britain’s lorry crime hotspot with 357 vehicles stolen during 2003 and predictions that this year’s figure will be more than double that.
The Black Country has the highest rates of thefts, with 93 during the first three months of this year and 147 last year.
The Freight Transport Association said the region was the prime target for lorry thieves because of its central location.
An FTA spokeswoman said: “With so many distribution centres there and the major motorways running through it, thousands of lorry pass through and stop there every day which attracts thieves who monitor what lorries are carrying.
“The issue surrounds a lack of secure parking which has been in decline in recent years and these huge increases, which look likely to double this year, need to be clamped down on quickly and it’s going to take a joint effort on behalf of the industry and the police.”
According to the Home Office, eight out of every 1,000 HGVs on the road are stolen every year and only one in every 1,000 is recovered. More than one in four of the victims will lose business as a result and more than half of all lorries stolen were taken from operators’ own premises.
A league table of lorry thefts from TruckPol (previously the Police National Stolen Lorry Load Desk) show the West Midlands is the most unsafe place for truckers to leave their vehicles.
Figures for the first three months of 2004 show 11 per cent of lorry thefts occurred in the West Midlands, nine per cent in the Metropolitan Police area and five per cent in North and South Yorkshire.
The number of thefts in the West Midlands increased month-on-month this year with 60 in January, 67 in February and 73 in March.
Chris Kelly, chairman of the Keltruck Scania dealership in Smethwick, claimed a squeeze on police funding had contributed to the problem.
He said as the West Midlands Police budget had fallen, police chiefs had pumped money into areas of crime with a higher public concern.
“The rise in lorry thefts has spiralled out of control and we can’t be surprised we are in this situation when the police has had its budget cut,” he said.
“The reduction in money goes against everything the Government said about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and action needs to change quickly.”
Two years ago West Midlands Police set up Operation Coppergold to clampdown on ” lifestyle” criminals involved in the theft of lorries, trailers and their loads, warehouse thefts and burglaries where a lorry would be needed to move the stolen property.
It worked in collaboration with police officers from Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia to tackle this major cross-border issue.
Information on these crimes was forwarded to TruckPol, run by Essex Police, where it is collated so national trends and patterns of offending can be identified.
Detective Sergeant Mark Hooper, head of TruckPol, said lorry crime was a relatively low priority because problems like burglary and drugs were a greater concern to the public.
“The problem is that for every truck stolen, ten motorcycles and 45 cars and vans are stolen,” he said.
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