Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 16 of Session 2005-06, dated 13 December 2005


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"The Home Office has worked together with motor manufacturers, insurers and the police to reduce vehicle crime and seems to be on course to meet its five year target of a 30% reduction in the number of thefts of and from vehicles since 1999. But congratulations should be tempered with the reflection that there were still over two million such thefts in 2003-04 alone.

"About a fifth of all car crime happens in car parks so it is very disappointing that only a small proportion of public bodies across the country have managed to establish secure car parks. Hospitals and railway stations are particularly remiss. It is also unacceptable that many local authorities are flouting the law by not establishing registries of salvage operators. If they fail to take action in this important area, then they should be named and shamed.

"Vehicle security has undoubtedly improved but too often the industry has to be pressured into adopting new measures. The Home Office must work closely with car manufacturers to ensure that technological advances in security are translated into practical new measures to foil car thieves. And, as vehicle security improves, the Home Office should take more seriously other forms of vehicle crime - such as vandalism and carjackings - that are largely ignored in relation to the existing target."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 16th Report of this Session, which examined the Home Office's progress in reducing vehicle crime.

The Home Office has reduced thefts of and from vehicles over the last five years working with representatives from the motor industry, police, and elsewhere, and looks set to meet its target of a 30% reduction since 1999. The overall number of thefts of and from vehicles remained in excess of 2 million in 2003-04, however, and there were a further 1.4 million cases of vehicles being vandalised. Such crimes can endanger life, as well as cause distress and inconvenience to motorists and owners.

Technological advances in improving the security of new vehicles have gone some way to reducing opportunities for theft but some top selling models still remain attractive. Less well protected older vehicles are also more attractive to car thieves. The Department has developed guidance for car owners on basic measures to reduce the likelihood of theft of or from the vehicle, together with a Car Theft Index, showing vulnerability to car crime on a make and model basis.

Around 20% of car crime is estimated to take place in car parks. The take up of accreditation to the Association of Chief Police Officers' Safer Car Parking scheme has been slower than anticipated by the Department, with fewer than 7% of car parks in England and Wales joining the scheme by March 2004. Closed circuit television cameras, improved lighting and fencing can also reduce car park crime.

Some success has also been achieved through other measures such as DNA testing and the Automatic Number Plate Recognition System. Legislation has tightened access to number plates in England and Wales and similar legislation is planned in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Registration of motor salvage operators has made it easier for the police to inspect premises without a warrant and to check vehicle purchase and disposal records. The effectiveness of this measure has, however, been weakened by the failure of some 26% of local authorities to set up registers in their areas.

One way of inhibiting sales of stolen vehicles by criminals is to stop them stealing and using the identities of another similar vehicle.

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