Combatting vehicle theft and the sale of illegal salvaged parts won’t be achieved by just one agency but this needs to be fought by all of those involved – a sentiment issued by Chief Superintendent Chris Todd, the person heading up ‘Operation Monalee’ which is designed to crack down on car theft and ‘chop shops’.
If you recall, it was announced last month by West Midland Police (WMP) that there was a correlation between an increase in car theft and the Salvage Code of Practice (CoP), with criminals purchasing insurance write-offs from salvage auctions and then stealing corresponding vehicles for parts to sell on for profit. The article can be found here www.atfpro.co.uk. ATF Professional approached WMP to find out more about why they felt now was the time to address the problem and speak to those involved in tackling the issue head on.
It was when analysing performance, WMP noticed a significant increase in vehicle theft, sometimes including violence to secure the owners key. There was an increase of nearly 100% since 2015 in the West Midland region alone. Also over the same time period, there was a 10% hike in burglary where peoples homes were broken into to take vehicle owners keys.
One of the reasons for such an increase it is thought by Chief Supt Todd and WMP is that criminals are exploiting the salvage market and taking advantage of the CoP providing the opportunity to not only make illegal gains but also launder cash and place unsafe cars on the road putting the public at risk. With such findings, it is suspected by WMP that there’s a correlation between the types of cars being stolen and those available as repairable write-offs; it is our firm belief, supported by police intelligence, that this increase is being driven by the criminal demand for car parts. While the ABI recognises that some vehicle crime is carried out for the spare parts, it does not accept that there is any clear link between this and the Salvage Code. There are a number of factors behind vehicle thefts, and they will work with West Midlands Police, and other stakeholders, to see how these can be best addressed.
Because of such evidence, WMP have approached various agencies involved to address this problem and to see what measures can be taken to prevent not only the rise in car jacking and theft but the sale of illegal parts. This has involved government departments, the ABI and salvage market places including eBay. From initial discussions, Chief Supt Chris Todd has seen a commitment and understanding of these obstacles from those involved and although they know that this problem is so significant – a problem which will not disappear overnight, actions are taking place to help curb and prevent such illegal activity.
Information is being passed between agencies which indicates how well they are working together to help break ‘chop shops’ and criminal activity. Legitimate salvage companies are asking to prove accreditation when selling through eBay making it easier to identify potential illegals.
Rich Cloke, an advisor from the Environment Agency’s Enforcement and Waste Crime team said:
“Through our work with eBay, a pop-up message now appears for all business sellers who list a used vehicle part, advising them to display their permit number or details of the site where they source the parts they are selling. This provides reassurance to purchasers that they are buying from a legitimate operator. We are directly contacting eBay traders who are not displaying their environmental credentials, providing guidance and warning them about undertaking non-permitted breaking activities. We will pass the details of non-compliant operators to eBay who will likely suspend their trading account and where appropriate, consider our own enforcement action”.
We contacted eBay and they provided us with the following comment:
“eBay’s contribution to supporting the Environment Agency compliance efforts on the sale of vehicle parts sourced from illegal End of life Vehicle (ELV) breakers has significantly increased the level of compliance from business sellers on eBay UK website. This successful cooperation leads the industry and sets an example of effective collaboration between the private sector and the Agency, rarely seen both offline and online”
Although the ABI do not agree with WMP’s initial findings concerning the CoP, discussions have taken place between the two organisations. The ABI provided us with the following: Rob Clark, Niche Motor Underwriting Manager at Ageas said, “As an industry, we share the concerns of the police that criminals are abusing the system to make money. The fact that the rate of vehicle theft is increasing is concerning, let alone any increase of unsafe vehicles on the road. We are working alongside the police to help find a solution to this issue. I attended a workshop last month where the current evidence was considered and ways forward are now being worked on”.
Since the launch of the operation Chief Supt Todd said there has been an increase in people reporting suspicious activities regarding ‘chop shops’ growing from what was a monthly phone call to it currently being daily. This is giving his officers plenty of encouragement to chase those committing such crimes which enables them to open enquiries into organised crime and other criminal activity. Also, by highlighting the campaign it is hoped to deter others from entering such unlawful behaviour.
As it becomes more apparent that to tackle the problem of illegitimate sales of vehicle parts and the activities they support, there needs to be a cross party approach to work together. Chief Supt Chris Todd said that legitimate dismantlers also have a role to play, especially as they are affected directly. He stressed that although awareness is being spearheaded by West Midlands Police Force, the campaign is nationwide. He has asked dismantlers to contact CrimeStoppers on 0800 500111 if they suspect any illegal activity. He also stressed that by contacting CrimeStoppers that they do so anonymously, something which he said has been done to protect the caller, but to be assured that every report is taken seriously and investigated. Chief Supt Todd said that although it may seem that there may be little action from the police or EA when suspicious activity is reported, there could be several factors including that the report when investigated could be part of a larger investigation. A list of how to spot potential illegal activity can be found by clicking here www.west-midlands.police.uk
As the problems in vehicle theft and illegal sales of parts intensifies, it is encouraging to know that this issue is being tackled. As an industry it is important that lawful dismantlers highlight their legitimacy to their customers. Making sure that their relevant certification is assigned to their eBay accounts and highlighted on websites. Perhaps even a mail shot to those on mail lists explaining to how to buy parts correctly and how not doing so can fuel criminal behaviour. As Chief Supt Todd explained, everyone has a role to play and changes have to be made at many levels but having a collective aim to defeating the problem will be the only way to put an end to it.
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