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100th chop shop crushed as WMP campaign targets car crooks

West Midlands Police has shut down 100 vehicle ‘chop shops’ in the region as part of a campaign targeting car thieves.

The force launched an operation in spring last year targeting crooks − including violent carjackers and car key burglars − but also the back-street handlers storing and stripping down stolen vehicles.

Members of the public were asked to play their part as an awareness raising push urged people to Shop a Chop Shop by providing information on suspect premises.

WMP

It resulted in a surge in tip-offs from people pointing to garages and industrial units they believed could be providing a market for car thieves, stripping down parts and selling them online or using them to repair salvage vehicles bought at auction.

On Monday (16 Dec) West Midlands Police executed a warrant on land off Brighton Road, Sparkbrook, following community intelligence it was being used to store stolen cars.

And suspicions were confirmed when a West Midlands Police drone identified a high-value Seat Leon Cupra at the site had been reported stolen in Cumbria.

Officers found a total of five stolen cars − one Toyota Yaris FR already stripped down and others waiting to be dismantled − plus several ‘ghost’ number plates used by crooks to disguise stolen cars. They were seized along with a recovery truck.

WMP

It was the 100th chop shop uncovered by the force during the campaign − which works out at an average of around six every month!

Chief Superintendent Chris Todd has led the campaign and is lobbying government, the insurance industry, auction houses and online sales sites to collectively help police combat vehicle crime.

He said: “This is a significant milestone and a fantastic achievement. These chop shops have been identified through a combination of community intelligence, inquisitive neighbourhood policing and good detective work.

“Chop shops provide an outlet for car thieves, accepting them and dismantling them sometimes in a matter of hours. The parts are often used to fix repairable write-offs sold by insurers through salvage auctions or the parts are sold online to unwitting buyers.

“Every time we close a chop shop it makes it harder for thieves to sell on stolen cars and therefore makes it more risky and less appealing.

“I’d urge members of the public to keep getting in touch if they suspect a premises is being used to handle stolen vehicles − the information they provide is vital and we really appreciate their support."

As part of the campaign West Midlands Police is calling for tougher standards around the re-sale of damaged vehicles amid concerns the practice is fuelling a rise in vehicle theft.

Investigations run by the force suggest criminal gangs are snapping up damaged cars rated insurance write-offs from salvage auctions − and then stealing cars to order for the parts they need to fix them and sell for a hefty profit.

Around five times more vehicles − mainly luxury marques like Audi, BMW and Range Rover or other high-spec cars − are sold at auction as repairable write-offs compared to write-offs to be scrapped for spare parts.

And it’s suspected the imbalance is leading crooks to steal cars for matching spares rather than buy expensive factory-made parts from manufacturers.

WMP

West Midlands Police has already scored a notable success after salvage management specialists SYNETIQ − a leading seller of write-off vehicles − announced its decision to stop taking cash payments and instead insist on bank transfers to create an audit trail.

Chief Supt Todd − who sits on a Home Office working group set-up to tackle vehicle crime − has also secured agreement with a major online sales site that sellers of vehicle parts must have the relevant breakers licence.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson added: "We are coming down hard on the organised criminals who are running chop shops and exploiting loopholes in current legislation. 

"Our dedicated officers work tirelessly to tackle vehicle crime and I will continue to lobby government to make the changes in the law that would make our officers’ lives more easy and incredibly difficult for the criminals. 

"As part of my national campaign with West Midlands Police we have been working to make a number of common sense changes to the law which would further help disrupt organised vehicle criminals. 

"Any vehicle which is written off should immediately have its MOT cancelled and require a full safety inspection before it is readmitted to our roads. Vehicles crudely put back together in chop shops are a hazard to every road user. 

“I have also been calling for tighter regulation around the availability of tools which are being used by thieves to steal vehicles, ensuring that they can only be purchased by those with a legitimate need to own them, such as mechanics and auto-locksmiths."

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