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Criminals, your numbers are up: number plate thefts down

Press Release   •   May 09, 2016 00:01 BST

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%
Derbyshire Constabulary 351 523 514 392 470 +33.9%
North Yorkshire Police 88 118 104 95 104 +18.2%
South Yorkshire Police 920 1,068 1,090 892 1,037 +12.7%
Norfolk Constabulary 79 106 112 100 85 +7.6%
Cumbria Constabulary 46 74 43 60 49 +6.5%
Avon and Somerset 669 779 730 709 698 +4.3%
Dyfed-Powys Police 34 26 29 27 33 -2.9%
Kent Police 792 772 681 714 751 -5.2%
Bedfordshire Constabulary 696 699 682 641 649 -6.8%
Merseyside Police 1,449 1,358 1,291 1,316 1,322 -8.8%
Leicestershire Police 739 866 847 769 673 -8.9%
Essex Police 1,118 1,087 1,196 1,355 1,015 -9.2%
Greater Manchester Police 2,906 2,932 2,288 3,002 2,629 -9.5%
Northumbria Police 362 319 301 328 324 -10.5%
Staffordshire Police 450 477 489 377 399 -11.3%
West Mercia Police 468 559 390 396 410 -12.4%
Northamptonshire Police 319 314 395 421 279 -12.5%
Durham Constabulary 89 106 116 115 73 -18.0%
Nottinghamshire Police 506 548 562 488 414 -18.2%
Devon & Cornwall Police 329 374 350 287 252 -23.4%
Lancashire Constabulary 496 472 605 441 362 -27.0%
Cambridgeshire Constabulary 458 542 432 385 319 -30.3%
Police Service of Northern Ireland 473 419 364 330 323 -31.7%
Suffolk Constabulary 207 143 169 204 137 -33.8%
Hertfordshire Constabulary 1,057 945 916 842 684 -35.3%
Wiltshire Police 256 218 259 181 162 -36.7%
Sussex Police 700 559 598 503 434 -38.0%
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%
Surrey Police 779 698 625 545 387 -50.3%
Cheshire Constabulary 705 453 351 369 318 -54.9%
Warwickshire Police 404 443 386 298 82 -79.7%
TOTAL 23,667 23,077 21,667 22,707 20,717 -12.5%

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).

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