Cracking down on ‘big business’ of crime gangs shipping stolen cars from port
Millions of pounds worth of stolen cars and parts are being prevented from leaving the country by a crime-fighting partnership at the Port of Felixstowe.
A specialist officer has been in post since the end of November in an effort to disrupt organised crime and recover stolen vehicles.
Discoveries have included an estimated £183,000 of stolen vehicles, £95,000 of vehicles linked to finance theft and fraud, and two containers each carrying more than £250,000 of stripped parts.
The police officer - whose identity is withheld to protect his cover - is among a network of officers seconded from local forces to major ports across the country with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS).
Supported by private sector funding, the full-time ports field intelligence officer took on the role with 17 years' experience in local policing and Special Branch security, as well as a previous background in engineering.
The national NaVCIS unit is hosted by Hampshire police to protect the UK from vehicle finance offences and associated organised crime.
The officer operating at Felixstowe said: "In my role, I try to identify stolen vehicles, plant and agricultural machinery, and to work closely with finance companies dealing with the issue of vehicles being bought on credit with fraudulent information and shipped out of the UK.
"We also face a big problem, nationally, of vehicles being stolen and broken down for parts. In pockets of the country, we're seeing high value vehicles stripped down for parts in a few hours and then shipped out of the country. I recently identified a container with parts from 22 different vehicles, amounting to an approximate loss of vehicles worth in excess of £250,000.
"If I find a complete stolen car in a container, I can return it to the insurance company, but if I find vehicle parts, they may get returned to the insurance company and possibly end up being sold on for scrap."
Last year saw a national estimated 2% increase in vehicle offences, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, largely due to a 9% increase in the category of 'theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle'.
The AA said thieves were changing tactics from 'smash and grab' to 'bounce and roll' - or bouncing radio signals off keys to unlock the car and roll away.
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Criminal gangs, it said, were using sophisticated devices to override security, alongside simple key theft, number plate theft, catalytic converter theft and stealing a car's identity by 'cloning'.
He works closely with a number of agencies, including the port police, Border Force, National Crime Agency, US Customs and freight forwarders, said stolen vehicles and parts can end up anywhere in the world.
"Unfortunately, cars are a form of cash for criminals," he added.
"This is a way for organised crime groups to launder money. It's quite an intricate process and we have to try to be one step ahead. You'd have to be naïve to believe criminals deal in one type of criminality. They do whatever they can to gain whatever they can. It's big business.
"It's not always as simple as a false number plate. Criminals will go to great lengths to change the identity of a vehicle.
"Anybody can be a victim. We've dealt with everything from Ford Fiestas to Range Rovers.
"Because insurance companies are liable to pay out, it's sometimes seen as a victimless crime, but it causes a great deal of stress and grief, especially if someone's home is burgled to get the car keys, or the car contains personal items.
"It has a knock-on impact for everyone because insurance premiums go up.
"I've spoken to victims who have been in tears due to the upset it causes them and their families.
"We're always going to be up against it, but we do what we can. Fortunately, the police and crime commissioner (PCC) pushed to have someone in place to assist with the fight. NaVCIS also assists the Norfolk and Suffolk roads policing unit to gain intelligence and inform the bigger picture, nationally."
PCC Tim Passmore said the role presented an opportunity to work with the private sector.
"Theft of high value motor vehicles is done by organised crime groups and Felixstowe is a major outlet for this activity," he added. "Having a specialist to gather intelligence and bring these criminals to justice is crucial and we've had some stellar results.
"It's an invaluable post to the police and public."
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