Police say organised crime gangs in Leeds and Bradford are behind a dramatic rise in the number of vans being stolen in West Yorkshire.
Between September last year and March this year 368 vans were reported stolen across the county. The number of thefts per month nearly doubled from 34 in September to 65 in March.
It centres around a small organised crime group. There are distinct groups in Leeds and Bradford that are driving this.Det Chief Insp Steve Thomas
There was a similar rise in Leeds, where 121 vans were stolen over the same seven-month period.
Police say there is a particular problem with Ford Transit vans made since 2010. Such models have been the targets in more than seven out of ten thefts.
Officers, who believe most of the stolen vehicles are then broken up for parts, are writing to all known Transit van owners to warn them about the issue.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Thomas, who is in charge of an investigation into the crime spate codenamed Operation Hewton, said: “It centres around a small organised crime group. There are distinct groups in Leeds and Bradford that are driving this.”
He said thieves were managing to take the vehicles without breaking into them.
“They are either cloning keys or using skeleton keys – a locksmith’s type key – to get in, while using jamming equipment to block the signal for the immobiliser and alarm system and are getting away without leaving any broken glass or taking the owner’s key.”
Six men have been arrested in Leeds, Bradford and Calderdale in connection with the investigation and are currently on bail.
Det Chief Insp Thomas said Ford was aware of the problem and was taking steps to protect future models, but owners could take simple steps in the meantime.
He said: “Leave the vehicle at work whenever possible, or leave it in a well-lit area.
“Owners can also purchase additional security systems. A good old fashioned steering wheel lock will prevent many of these offences.
“Always ensure your vehicle is locked at all times and whenever possible do not leave tools in the back whilst not in use.
“I am also appealing directly to van owners to work with us. So if you are stopped by a marked police vehicle or officers during a policing operation please be aware that it is for a good reason as we try to bring the thieves to justice.”
He added: “We have a responsibility to make the public aware of this.”