With increasing numbers of news stories appearing in both the specialist and mainstream press regarding the theft of classic vehicles you might assume Britain’s police force is taking seriously this particular issue. Controversially, however, a recent report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) seems to suggest the police have “almost given up” on car crime.
A press release subsequently issued by MyCarCheck.com explained more, citing media coverage of the report: “The BBC described ‘a devastating report for the police’, quoting the Inspector who led the review, Roger Baker, as saying: ‘What’s happened is a number of crimes are on the verge of being decriminalized … it’s a mindset thing that’s crept in to policing to say ‘We’ve almost given up’.”
Roger Powell, Divisional Head at CDL Vehicle Information Services, which owns MyCarCheck.com, commented: “We were astonished to read the comments from HMIC about the police supposedly having given up on car crime. This is an issue we deal with daily and the picture painted is simply not one we recognise.”
Nor is it one that’s recognised by PC Simon Barrett, the Crime Prevention Design Advisor in the Crime Reduction Team of West Midlands Police, who is currently working with both the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) and individual owners’ clubs in an effort to raise awareness of classic vehicle theft.
The fight against car thieves continues to be an uphill battle, however, with classics being stolen in worryingly large numbers – some to be stripped for parts, some to be exported for sale abroad and others simply being given new identities thanks to the relative ease with which VIN plates and chassis numbers can be changed on older vehicles.
As we reported in July last year, thieves also appear to be targeting specific makes and models, with classic Minis and Land Rovers being particularly prone to theft. In one nine-month period in the Midlands alone, more than 70 classic Minis were stolen, while on the Land Rover front there was a nationwide spate of thefts of pre-1986 models. Other vehicles making it into the Top Five List of most stolen classics at the time were MkI and MkII Ford Escorts, MkI and MkII Volkswagen Golf GTIs and, that perennial favourite, the VW Camper.
According to MyCarCheck.com’s Roger Powell, however, the police are still devoting resources to the problem, although the issue is unlikely to ever go away: “Vehicle crime is not something you solve, it’s an ongoing battle. It takes a professional thief 16 seconds to get into a car without breaking anything and the profit incentives are high.”
That’s why PC Simon Barrett of West Midlands Police is now encouraging classic car owners to become vigilant to help reduce the chances of theft in the first place. In recent months he has been giving talks at classic car club meets in and around the Midlands in order to raise awareness and to suggest ways in which classics can be protected. He was also at the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show, chatting with owners and helping them to make the most effective decisions when it comes to vehicle security. So what are the first steps that anybody should take to safeguard their classic vehicle?
“Forensic marking can be a real benefit” explained PC Barrett, “with the services offered by companies like Selectamark enabling owners to invisibly mark their cars. Whether or not the owner has chosen to add a sticker explaining that their car is protected by Selectamark, we’re still able to identify the rightful owner of any vehicle using this system, which is invaluable if a stolen car is found.”
Reducing the risks of theft in the first place is obviously desirable, however, as PC Barrett explains: “There’s a good choice of steering locks and pedal locks on the market these days, with the latter often providing greater protection thanks to them being less accessible and more difficult to attack.
“During storage, owners should also consider disabling their car. But it’s the storage facility itself that’s so often overlooked, with standard garage door locks generally being of poor quality. It’s worth investing in a superior lock, exterior lighting, an alarm and so on if it’s feasible. Even simply having an area of pea gravel in front of your garage can alert you to the fact that somebody is trying to steal your car.”
Increasing numbers of classic vehicle owners, meanwhile, are turning to tracking-type devices to enable their cars to be traced once stolen, the best-known brand being Tracker. Stuart Chapman, who heads up the company’s Police Relationship Team, told us: “Classic cars are an easy target for thieves, as they are missing the security features we take for granted on modern vehicles.”
But what if you’re fussy about the original appearance of your classic and don’t want to have a modern tracking device on show? To satisfy these needs, Tracker now offers its Battery Powered Retrieve, which features its own power source (with up to five years’ battery life on standby), needs no wiring into the vehicle and can be remotely activated once the theft has been recorded.
The fight against the classic car thief continues.
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