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Van thieves hitting small firms hard

Tool thefts from vans have rocketed, according to new figures.

Kent Police and the Association of British Insurers have updated their advice to sole traders and small business owners following a rise in offences.

Data from Freedom of Information requests to all 43 forces also revealed vans are being stolen at a rate of 30 a day.

Figures released by What Car? Vans revealed the number of break-ins to vans has now topped 117,000 incidents and more than 43,000 vans have been stolen over the last four years.

Unsurprisingly, London was top with 14,263 vehicle thefts and 44,742 break-ins. The research found a national increase of 8.21 per cent for 2017-18 and an indication of a further increase in 2019 based on the 8,200 vans stolen in the first six months of last year.

It calculated that thefts from the vehicles had cost £61.9m.

Other research has supported the findings. A survey last year by the insurance firm Simply Business found one in three (37 per cent) tradespeople have had their tools stolen, costing an average of £3,000 in lost earnings (£870) as well as the cost of replacing the tools (£2,135).

Figures held by the Association of British Insurers shared with Police Oracle revealed in 2018 there were 2,881 claims related to theft from commercial vehicles and fleet business vehicles.

Office for National Statistics figures revealed earlier this month show a shift away from property crime: burglary is down but vehicle offences and police-recorded thefts are up 4 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

Kent Police issued a warning this month to van owners to take measures to protect their vehicles following a wave of thefts in Dover, Canterbury, Whitstable, Thanet and Shepway.

What’s driving the crime?

The research from Which? found most vehicles did not have a separate alarm fitted to the rear of the vehicle and most tools are not marked. There is an easy route for disposal through a secondary market for cheap tools online, in cash converter stores and car boot sales.

The most common method is known as ‘peel and steal’ where thieves pressure a side door to lift it off of its runner to gain entry into the van. Other thieves use cutters to lift panels in the side or roof of a vehicle to gain easy entry.

Keyless entry and the use of skeleton keys are enabling the theft of the vehicles.

Owners have already voiced their anger: a plumber got more than 40,000 signatories to an online petition to get tougher laws and a Van and Tool Theft Awareness Group has been created on social media which is heavily critical of police inaction.

But forces are stretched due to funding cuts and often find it difficult to link recovered items to a specific offence.

So the insurance industry and forces are urging van owners to take crime prevention measures.

A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers said: “Vans can be a prime target for thieves as expensive equipment is often stored in them. In addition to parking your van in well-lit or secure areas, other steps include fitting extra locks on equipment stored in the van, fitting an immobiliser and limiting advertising on your van so it is not obvious to thieves what is stored in there. Your insurer can also advise on the best security devices to use.”

Tool owners are also urged to register their equipment with websites so that if taken, their serial numbers can help with recovery.

One that is supported by the police is the ToolWatch App which has become the first to receive the BSI’s Secure Digital Applications Kitemark and has been accredited by Secured by Design (SBD), the national police crime prevention initiative, for meeting its Police Preferred Specification.

Secured By Design Development Officer Lyn Poole, who is on secondment to SBD from the Metropolitan Police, said: “Tool theft is a problem and we welcome any product that will help police forces return recovered stolen tools to their rightful owners. We understand tool theft is costly for victims in terms of replacement and loss of earnings. We hope the ToolWatch App is used widely by tradespeople and others as well as police forces to combat tool theft.”

Kent Police said: “Van owners in east Kent are being urged to take measures to protect their vehicles following reports of thefts in the district. Kent Police has received a number of reports of vehicle crime in Dover, Canterbury, Thanet and Shepway.”

It advised owners: “Kent Police are urging people to be vigilant and for van owners to consider the following measures: locking your van in a garage or secure location, fitting an alarm to your vehicle, parking in a well-lit area, installing CCTV or parking in areas which are covered by CCTV and ensuring you know what is in the vehicle, recording any serial numbers and photographing contents.”

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