Car criminals will find it increasingly difficult to steal, clone, strip and traffic vehicles post-Brexit

Whilst it is only seven months before driving on the continent for many of us both here in the UK and for those visiting from the EU will see changes to their Passport validity, Driving Licences, International Driving Permits (IDP) and European Green Cards (EIC), no one seems unduly worried yet except rather pleasingly the criminal fraternity who are likely to find it much tougher to carry on dealing in the stealing, cloning, stripping and trafficking of stolen motor vehicles.

Fake documentation

Information suggests that one of the car gangs main worries seems to be around preparing and providing the

new ‘fake’ or forged documentation that will be required in order for the gangs and their runners to operate their

inter country trafficking operations. Victims of vehicle fraud lost £340 million to the gangs last year.

There’s actually much more than that they need worry about as current police operations targeting activity

around drugs, burglary, robbery and violence has established car crime is inextricably linked to everything

criminal from the theft of a hub cap to murder. Quite literally 95 per cent of all crime on land has a car,

motorcycle, van or HGV involved somewhere if only to transport the criminals to and from the crime scene.

Increased surveillance

Come the new year many of these car criminals including the fraudsters, fixers, fakers and forgers who work

alongside them will find themselves under increased surveillance, with more frequent checks at borders and

authorities who no doubt with such an increased remit will ask on a hunch even more intrusive questions.

The border police no doubt will be aware of the amateurs and chancers strategically used by the gangs, all who

are expendable, to test new security procedures and identify changes to shipping invoices, carnets and other


Monitoring changes

Ironically both the authorities and the criminals at ports both here and in Europe have already been monitoring changes to vehicle inspections and movements at ports in and out of the EU, forcing some illegal criminal enterprises to change their previously successful business arrangements and start exploring untried exits and routes to new and dubious destinations past Eastern Europe like Ghana, Gabon, Jamaica and other new conduits particularly in war zones where understandably vehicles have a short shelf life of just seven to 14 days.

Busy garage slaughters that now operate throughout Europe and deal in both complete stolen vehicles and their spare parts, which are stripped expertly in a matter of hours still chance their luck by using home delivery shipping containers to export to order around the globe.

Increased examinations

At the moment authorities appear to have increased their examinations and container opening and any opportunists who as a matter of routine attempt to hide their stolen cars and motorcycles under false declarations of ‘Household goods’ or ‘Used tyres’ can expect more X ray examinations which will identify what really is ‘contained inside.

In the past only 1 in 400 shipping containers would normally on average be searched, whereas today ‘information received’ from the public and social media has seen this number drop to 1 in 80 especially if vehicles of any type are mentioned on the export documents.

Foreign imports

Other examples of the pressure on the criminals are the foreign registered cars being driven by them over here in the UK. Many of these are not reported stolen in their own country until they have arrived here.

These foreign imports are being used and abused by chancers permanently domiciled here in the UK who use these vehicles to keep under the radar without tax, insurance and enjoy the fact that no one knows who they are or where they live. Insurance fraud is still a major factor in vehicle theft in Western Europe.

Frantic activity has been seen in many UK based chop shops recently. These are responsible for quite a lot of last year’s 60,000 stolen and unrecovered cars that were rapidly stripped down, often in hours and quickly sold as desirable sometimes rare but nevertheless valuable items on the world market.

Uncertain future

The discovery of these slaughter premises is understood to be part of the thieves’ uncertainty about their future especially as police activity and interest in vehicle crime in general appears to have gone up a notch during the past year. Indeed several constabularies have thrown their all into finding and dealing with them, but all have to accede that the more they look the more they find. Sentences however to those found guilty have been impressive even to the prosecution.

With identification often limited to the VIN or engine number the police mantra remains ‘identify your own items and we may not be able to prove theft or arrest those responsible’. These vehicles are often written off by their insurance companies but more importantly are the unidentified parts have to be left with the thieves who stole them.


Locust thefts

Frenetic activity has been noticed in many areas of the UK by the new wave of ‘locust’ type thefts that see valuable parts stripped from selected vehicles, whilst they are in situ.

The dilemma here of course exists for the police as the vehicles are not reported stolen and the stolen items taken are not identifiable.

Young thieves some still at school have been arrested stealing these cars but more often it’s the parts they can easily take like grills, wing mirrors, wipers, exhausts etc and badges for pocket money. Top of the range cars when stolen are valued at between £1.5 to £2K post theft value and that can equate in value to one single part taken. The youngsters get £20 to £50 depending on the item but £50 to £100 for airbags, navigation systems, headlights, gear sticks, steering wheels and catalytic converters or simply drugs and weapons are exchanged for their own use or to sell on.

Many youngsters do not realise at this point how close they are to their peers who have already been groomed by adults to operate in the drugs world.

County lines

In this respect the Many County Lines operations around the country have seen the two crimes connected making available an increased amount of information on those who steal motorcycles. This has already started to limit those involved in petty vehicle thefts.

Today’s social media clearly plays an important part in feeding information on identities, premises, vehicles and incidents ‘online’ where details and suspicions can be posted in the comfort of an informant’s home. Successes are not often reported on such threads but those who do contribute particularly with scam entries should know they are noted by the police and have contributed to solving many vehicle crimes.

Tracking companies, certainly those with an established provenance are posting 94 per cent recovery rates and are now favourably using their own private security companies to recover vehicles when police can’t attend continuing the trend in police and commercial partnerships are indeed helping to free up valuable police time.

Greater scrutiny

As the year moves forward it is expected that the changes to immigration and visitor rules will no doubt create more scrutiny for the visiting gangs who have ironically both intensified and shortened their visits to the UK and who are now here and gone in just 24 hours. They are believed to be making use of the time they have left before the transmission period with the EU takes effect.

The gangs new routes for trafficking their stolen goods will need to be in place soon and the current corona virus will clearly further hamper their activity’s  That said it looks as if this most unwelcome flu will affect everyone’s lives, for some time.

Notwithstanding politics and issues around the European arrest warrants etc there is a positive outlook that even after January 2021 the police throughout Europe will find a way to work together particularly on the subject of vehicle crime.

Gang-related thefts

EU borders may still be open but supported by the recent increase in gang related thefts in Western Europe, the current Blitzkrieg from the Eastern European gangs to our shores is expected to diminish. That said it is known that alliances between the EU gangs and our own in the UK are many and work effectively so it is important that these are discovered quickly.

Most officers agree that the majority of offences committed today are inextricably linked to a motor vehicle of some kind whether it’s the theft of a hub cap to a murder; negating the thought that autocrime is simply ‘A victimless crime’.

So we need to spare a brief thought for the impending hardships of the criminals and wish them bad luck whilst contemplating that post transition we might be dealing more with our own home bred car thieves with which we already have a proven success record.

By Dr Ken German, Vehicle Crime Consultant

Dr Ken German