On 15/01/2019, the Vehicle Theft Taskforce (VTT) met. Car thefts in the West Midlands had almost tripled since 2015. A week later the West Midlands Police (WMP) crime commissioner (CC) posted that he was ‘spearheading’ a countrywide campaign aimed at tackling the security weaknesses that exist in many keyless cars.
However the ‘weakness’ was unknown; WMP had no statistics about ‘security compromise’ thefts. As for the spearhead, this ‘attack’ fell short, did not get off the ground – 15/01/2019 was the only meeting (in person, or otherwise) of the VTT; it never met again, did not further its goals:
- improve vehicle security standards,
- introduce tough new procedures for the salvage industry and
- to restrict the sale of tools, both mechanical and electronic, which can be used to steal vehicles.
Vehicle theft increased. It does not appear the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) took up the mantle; they do not know of the VTT or notes of the meeting despite their attendance. A request of the NPCC for information about the VTT was met with a 20/12/2023 reply:
‘ … I have confirmed with ACC Sims (Current NPCC Vehicle Crime Lead) that they have no knowledge of the group and can find no records of the taskforce from their predecessor either.
For information, similar work is led by ACC Sims through the National Vehicle Crime Working Group. These meetings are not minuted.’
‘Similar work’ may be undertaken but it appears the VTT was considered so inconsequential the NPCC did not trouble to make notes at the gathering. In turn, it does not appear the NPCC followed up on the action identified by the VTT (below)*. Is it any wonder vehicle crime has increased?
*02/01/2024, a request was made of the NPCC for related information ‘Vehicle Crime Working Group Meetings‘, a response is awaited.
Title of meeting 1st Vehicle Theft Taskforce
Date 15 January 2019
Time 0930 -1130
Venue Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, Room P. 352
Chair Rt Hon Nick Hurd MP — Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service
- DAC Graham McNulty, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for vehicle crime
- DCI Chris Todd, West Midlands Police
- Jamie Scott, Office of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner
- James Bottomley, Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC)
- Mike Hawes, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Limited
- Greg Sanchez, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Limited
- Tony Campbell, Motorcycle Industry Association Limited
- Sue Robinson, Retail Motor Industry Federation Limited
- Ian Elliott, Combined Industries Theft Solutions
- Laurenz Gerger, Association of British Insurers
- Richard Billyeald, Thatcham Research
- Head of International Vehicle Standards Division, Department for Transport
- Freight, Operator Licensing and Roadworthiness, Department for Transport
- Mark Bangs, Office for National Statistics
- Home Office Analysis and Insight
- Home Office Science Engineering and Technology
- Crime Strategy Unit, Home Office
- Crime Strategy Unit, Home Office
- Crime Strategy Unit, Home Office
- Directorate, Home Office (note-taker)
The Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, the Rt Hon Nick Hurd MP opened the meeting
- Noted the recent rises in vehicle theft.
- Reflected on the benefits that working together in partnership.
- outlined that the aims of the meeting were to:
- establish a shared understanding of the problem; hear about work already underway;
- agree the terms of reference, which make clear that the Taskforce will exist for a time limited period with the aim of delivering real, effective, preventative action; and
- agree the draft action plan, which was developed by the Home Office in consultation with members of the Group.
Overview of the threat
[redacted] Home Office Analysis and Insight, presented an update of the Vehicle Crime problem profile, drawing on data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales and Police Recorded Crime
- There have been steady increases in theft of a vehicle offences since March 2015 according to Police Recorded Crime. The Crime Survey for England and Wales had also shown some increases in recent years, albeit not large enough to be significantly significant. For example, quarterly crime statistics published on 18 October showed that, according to Police Recorded Crime, in the year to June 2018 compared to the year to June 2017, there was a 7 per cent rise in the overall number of vehicle offences, with theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle offences rising by 11 per cent.
- PNC data shows that:
- The increases in vehicle theft since 2015 had largely been driven by the theft of powered two-wheeled vehicles, however the last year of data showed that the theft of this type of vehicle had fallen while the theft of cars/vans continued to rise. The Metropolitan Police typically has the highest number of stolen vehicles by volume, however West Midlands Police had the largest increase in stolen vehicles between September 2017 and September 2018, up 25 per cent.
- By volume, Ford Transit vans had been the top stolen vehicle in each of the last four years, with the theft of 2010-2013 models more likely to be stolen than more recent models. However, Mercedes Sprinter vans had the highest theft rate according to 2017 data, 22.5 thefts for every 1,000 Sprinter vans on the road, with more recent models more likely to be targeted.
- Recovery rates in recent years had typically been around 50 per cent, which was lower than rates experienced during the mid-1990s when the volume of vehicle theft was considerably higher. The suggestion was that this reflected the changing nature of the crime, with a growing number of vehicles being targeted by organised crime groups for parts and/or sale in overseas markets.
- While more traditional methods for stealing vehicles were still being used, including stealing owners’ keys by burglary or robbery, the compromise of electronic security systems and the abuse of vehicle finance processes had been identified as methods for committing vehicle theft. The Metropolitan Police was the first police force to bring electronic compromise to the Home Office’s attention, however anecdotal evidence suggested that electronic compromise had spread beyond London.
- Better information about the methods used to commit vehicle theft, including how often those methods are used in practice, is key to understanding the threat. In order to further develop the evidence base, it would be helpful if Taskforce members could share information they had about methods used by criminals.
During discussion attendees heard:
- Attendees agreed that better information about the methods used to commit vehicle theft was key to understanding the threat and therefore whether additional preventative measures may be required
- A snapshot about the scale and nature of electronic comprise across the UK at the start of 2016 ‘Operation Electronic’ suggested that one in four incidents of car/van theft involved the owner having all of the vehicle’s keys in their possession at the time of the theft, and provided an assessment of how likely some form of electronic compromise was involved in these cases.
- Attendees heard that a 12-question script designed to capture better information about methods of vehicle theft had been developed for police call centres, however use of that script had to be balanced with the need to capture information about other forms of crime, many of which were complex in nature, and to maintain overall police response times. Targeted operational action by the Metropolitan Police through Operational Venice was likely to be a significant driver for the recent fall in thefts of powered two-wheeled vehicles.
- The Group agreed that organised crime groups were likely behind some of the rise as evidenced by the low recovery rate, vehicles being moved out of the country and vehicle parts moved on. This may reflect perceptions that this is a low-risk and high-reward crime.
West Midlands case study
DCS Chris Todd, West Midlands Police, presented a case study on how West Midlands Police have tackled vehicle theft.
- Operation Alley raid on a ‘chop shop’ illustrated the way vehicle theft can generate profits whereby stolen vehicles are used to rebuild ‘written off’ vehicles with a legitimate identity and the leftover parts are sold on websites.
During discussion attendees heard:
- There were concerns about criminals exploiting the vehicle salvage process. This included the threat of written-off vehicles, sometimes just the frame, being reintroduced to the road and hosting parts stolen from similar vehicles. Those vehicles may not necessarily be stolen and therefore carry a legitimate (non-stolen) Vehicle Identity Number which would not raise suspicion when the vehicle’s identity was checked, unless a detailed check of any overt or covert identity markings used on the stolen parts suggested that they belonged to another (stolen) vehicle.
- The withdrawal of the Vehicle Identity Certificate (VIC) may have had an impact; it was withdrawn because it was deemed ineffective and was costly to business and consumers, with just 40 stolen vehicles identified in around one million checks. However, in retrospect, it may have had a deterrent effect.
- The availability of stolen parts and devices that may be used to commit vehicle theft was an issue, indeed there was a thriving online market for such items. Some online market platforms were keen to help, for example taking down adverts when the evidence suggested that the items for sale were stolen or being used to facilitate crime, however that response was not universal across the various online market platforms. The Group noted that there was a range of broader challenges related to internet-enabled crime, and that there may be wider work under way which would be relevant for tackling vehicle crime.
- West Midlands Police had found relay attack devices on suspects that had been built at home, including one that had been constructed using a satellite receiver. This suggested that the technological know-how needed to commit that form of vehicle theft may not be particularly high.
- More traditional forms of vehicle theft were still taking place across the West Midlands; the percentage of burglaries involving the theft of a car key had risen, and there had been a recent spike in car jackings. Intelligence suggested the involvement of serious and organised gangs exploiting vulnerable young people to commit these crimes, offering the young people involved relatively little financial reward for each vehicle stolen.
- There may be a correlation between where cars are being serviced, valeted or parked by third parties and vehicle theft.
New Vehicle Security Assessment
Richard Billyeald, Thatcham Research, presented an update on their New Vehicle Security Assessment.
- Thatcham Research subjects each new model of passenger car and light commercial vehicle to New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA). The NVSA involves a series of attack tests to establish if, and how quickly, security features (mechanical and electronic) can be compromised, and the extent to which the vehicle has identification marking. The NVSA forms part of the data (about vehicle safety and security) that feeds into insurance group ratings.
- Thatcham is planning to recalibrate the scoring within the NVSA to give greater prominence to a vehicle’s ability to resist an attack on its electronic security. Revised econsumer ratings’ (based on the recalibrated NVSA scoring) on Thatcham’s website and What Car will be launched within the month.
During discussion attendees heard:
- Manufacturers were keen to test devices that the police or insurers had recovered from offenders, to establish how effective they were in practice and where, if any, the vulnerabilities in security may lay so that they could design any such vulnerabilities out.
- MCIA secured (the new motorcycle industry standard announced in June 2018) had encouraged the development and take up of anti-theft deterrents for motorcycles. The initial set of MCIA Secured ratings were due to be published in the Spring.
- Attendees noted that smart phones applications were being developed that would enable the phone to be used as car key. While this raised concerns about the potential for criminals to target the theft of mobile phones, it was not clear whether the encryption associated with the applications would make them more or less secure that (sic) existing form of key.
- Attendees agreed with the need for a coordinated and overarching approach for messaging on vehicle safety and security, including the need to review existing public advice about how owners can secure their vehicles and, where required, produce updated advice that addresses new or emerging threats. Thatcham Research would work with the Retail Motor Industry Federation to lead that work.
Terms of Reference and Action Plan
[redacted] Home Office, opened the discussion on the proposed Terms of Reference and Action Plan for the Vehicle Theft Taskforce, which were circulated in advance of the meeting. The draft Action Plan outlined four proposed task and finish groups around the themes of:
- developing the evidence base
- target hardening vehicles
- whether criminals were exploiting the salvage process
- the availability and use of devices that may be used to commit vehicle theft.
- Attendees agreed the proposed Terms of Reference and the themes set out in the proposed Action Plan.
- Task and finish group leads would be asked to prioritise those issues that would make the most difference and identify those issues where progress could be made relatively quickly. A final version of the action plan would then be circulated to attendees.
The way forward
[redacted] Home Office, explained that attendees would be brought together again in six months’ time, but that the Home Office would be working with each task and finish group lead in the meantime.
- Home Office to contact task and finish group leads to agree prioritised issues and to circulate an updated action plan.
- Home Office to arrange next meeting of the Taskforce.
- Attendees to contact [redacted] in the first instance if they had additional information that would help to develop the evidence base.
08/08/2023 – FoIA request of Kent police ‘Theft Methodologies‘ linked to KM report of 622 car thefts in 2022. The information ‘cannot be retrieved through automated means’ i.e. the mean by which a vehicle is taken is not in a data field that enables retrieval and review.
18/08/2023 – FoIA request of Lancashire police ‘Vehicle Thefts, Recoveries and No-Crime‘ – a request for theft methodologies. The information you have requested is not easily retrievable via a
simple search of our systems and therefore it is not possible to complete this request
25/08/2023 – FoIA request of Nottinghamshire police ‘Vehicle Thefts, Recoveries and No-Crime‘ – a request for theft methodologies. This information is not recorded in an easily retrievable format and often not recorded consistently. Vehicle ‘robbery’ – 18 instances in 2022, 7 in 2023. Burglary for vehicles – 248 in 2022, 145 in 2023 (as at date of request)
29/09/2023 – FoIA request of WMP ‘Vehicle Theft – Security Compromise‘.