Majority of police forces see fall in thefts between 2010 and 2014, figures show
Warwickshire Police sees 80% drop; neighbouring West Midlands Police 38% increase
The total number of reported thefts of vehicle number plates in England and Wales fell between 2010 and 2014, although a small number of forces bucked that trend and reported significant rises, new data seen by the RAC shows.
Twenty six of the 34 police forces that responded to a Freedom of Information request by the RAC recorded a fall in number plate thefts between 2010 and 2014, although results differ wildly between areas. Warwickshire Police is leading the way with an 80% reduction in thefts, from 404 reported in 2010 to just 82 in 2014. Cheshire Police (55% reduction) and Surrey Police (50%) recorded the second and third biggest reductions respectively.
However, the data also shows there remains a handful of forces that might be losing the battle against number plate theft. West Midlands Police saw a 38% rise in thefts, recording 4,543 instances in 2014 – which is 70% more occurrences than the next busiest force. Derbyshire Police meanwhile recorded a 34% increase (470 instances, up from 351), and North Yorkshire Police an 18% increase (104 instances, up from 88).
Number plates are stolen for a variety of reasons, and their theft can be an indicator of other criminal activities. Criminals will fix stolen plates to another car of the same make and model to make it appear genuine, and then effectively drive with impunity – ignoring speed cameras, parking and congestion charges, and leaving fuel forecourts without paying.
Overall, the highest number of reported thefts in 2014 were predictably in busy urban force areas – with West Midlands Police followed by Greater Manchester Police (2,629, a fall of 9.5% on 2010), Merseyside Police (1,322, a fall of 8.8%) and Thames Valley Police (1,291, a 46% reduction).
The RAC also asked police forces for details on car identity cloning – where fake number plates are made up and then fixed to stolen vehicles – but data was much less widely available: of the 34 forces, only six held figures meaning it is much harder to understand the true extent of this problem.
RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said: “When it comes to number plate theft, this data paints a largely positive picture with some big reductions in crimes recorded across many police forces. The DVLA took action on the issue in 2003, requiring identity confirmation and proof of entitlement from the motorist getting plates made and it appears this has borne fruit.
“There are however some notable exceptions, with West Midlands Police in particular highlighting a worrying rise in the number of recorded thefts between 2010 and 2014, – while neighbouring force Warwickshire Police recorded the largest fall in thefts.
“Number plate theft is unlikely to happen in isolation, and goes hand-in-hand with other types of crime such as motor vehicle theft and burglary. So instances of number plates being stolen is probably symptomatic of a wider issue that police forces are no doubt well aware of.
“To reduce the chances of becoming a victim, motorists can take steps such as purchasing tamper-resistant number plates or screws, and parking their vehicle in as secure and well-lit location as possible. Sadly though, if a motorist is unlucky enough to get caught out, the onus will be on them to prove their innocence.
“The RAC is concerned that much less information appears to be being collected by forces on car identity cloning – where one vehicle’s identity, including number plate details, are transposed to another, likely stolen vehicle. There is very little an innocent motorist can do to stop this activity. We would like to see a commitment from forces to rigorously collect data on car cloning, so that we can all understand the scale of the problem.”
A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesman said: "The levels of vehicle crime, including theft from motor vehicles, have fallen by nearly three quarters since 1997.
“NaVCIS, UK police forces, the Home Office and vehicle component manufacturers have been working in partnership for some considerable time to prevent and detect such offences. Those efforts have clearly paid dividends and we will endeavour to build upon these successes.”
Full results from RAC’s Freedom of Information request
|2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||% change 2010 to 2014|
|West Midlands Police||3,300||2,836||2,855||4,443||4,543||+37.7%|
|North Yorkshire Police||88||118||104||95||104||+18.2%|
|South Yorkshire Police||920||1,068||1,090||892||1,037||+12.7%|
|Avon and Somerset||669||779||730||709||698||+4.3%|
|Greater Manchester Police||2,906||2,932||2,288||3,002||2,629||-9.5%|
|West Mercia Police||468||559||390||396||410||-12.4%|
|Devon & Cornwall Police||329||374||350||287||252||-23.4%|
|Police Service of Northern Ireland||473||419||364||330||323||-31.7%|
|North Wales Police||52||49||53||109||29||-44.2%|
|Thames Valley Police||2,370||2,195||1,844||1,573||1,291||-45.5%|
FOI data was either not provided, or could not be used for a regional comparison, by the following forces:
- Cleveland Police
- Dorset Police
- Gloucestershire Constabulary
- Gwent Police
- Hampshire Constabulary
- Humberside Police
- Lincolnshire Police
- Metropolitan Police
- Police Scotland
- South Wales Police
Data received from City of London Police has been excluded due to very low occurrences of number plate theft (4 in 2010; 7 in 2014).
Notes to Editors
For all media enquiries, please contact the RAC press office team on +44 (0)1454 664 123. The line is manned by an on-call press officer outside office hours.
Our press team can:
- Answer all RAC-related media enquiries
- Provide comment on all topical UK motoring stories
- Provide motoring research and data to inform debate
- Give motoring advice for broadcast or publication
- Arrange interviews with RAC spokespeople - ISDN radio studio facilities available
You can also follow the RAC press office on Twitter: twitter.com/RAC_Press
About the RAC
With more than eight million members, the RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists. Whether it's roadside assistance, insurance, buying a used car, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information – the RAC offers a solution for all motoring needs. The RAC is committed to making motoring easier, safer, more affordable and more enjoyable for drivers and road users.
The RAC is the motorist’s champion and campaigns to support the interests of its members and UK motorists at a national level, including advancing levels of road safety, supporting the needs of young drivers and voicing concerns about the increasing cost of motoring. The RAC’s annual Report on Motoring – first published in 1989 – provides a clear insight into the concerns and issues facing today’s motorists.
For the very latest news on UK fuel prices, check RAC Fuel Watch or follow #racfuelwatch on Twitter. This is a comprehensive guide to the latest UK unleaded petrol and diesel prices – both at the wholesale level and at the pump. RAC Fuel Watch analyses how prices changed through the previous month and compares the most recent prices with those from three, six and 12 months before.
- RAC patrols fix four out of five vehicles at the roadside and on average within 30 minutes
- RAC vans carry more than 500 parts and tools to get members’ vehicles going again
- 92% of members would recommend RAC Rescue to their friends and family