Only two per cent of car theft cases reach court

London has seen the biggest drop in suspects being charged with vehicle theft and joyriding of any part of England and Wales in recent years, new figures reveal, writes Tommy Lumby.

The RAC says that across the country thefts are increasing but fewer suspects are being identified, describing it as “the worst possible combination”.

Home Office data for 2018 shows 625 out of 31,144 thefts of a motor vehicle resulted in someone being charged or summonsed to court by the Met – just two per cent of cases.

This represents a huge drop on 2015’s figures for the force, when a suspect faced prosecution in 1,276 out of 18,103 – or seven per cent of cases.

The figures include the lesser offence of an ‘unauthorised taking’, where a criminal takes a vehicle without the owner’s permission but without intending to keep it – true in many cases of joyriding.

In the same period, the proportion of cases where the investigation was closed without a suspect being identified rose from 82 per cent to 85 per cent.

Across England and Wales, around 112,000 crimes under the category of ‘theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle’ were recorded by police forces in 2018. Of these, about 4,220 resulted in a charge or summons – or around four per cent.

This is less than half the rate in 2015 across all forces, when around 73,100 crimes of this nature were logged in total.

Commenting on the national figures, RAC Insurance spokesman Simon Williams said: “Not only are more vehicles being stolen, fewer suspects are being identified and charged which has to be the worst possible combination.

“Those who have had their cars stolen will no doubt be angered and frustrated by the fact very few of those responsible for these crimes are ever brought to justice.

“As well as the personal stress caused, every theft also contributes to making the cost of car insurance more expensive for everyone who drives.”

He added: “The fact we have fewer police officers now than 10 years ago appears to be affecting how many criminals are tracked down.

“Regardless of this, these crimes are almost certainly being committed by sophisticated gangs, meaning that catching just a few could bring the number of thefts down considerably.”

Simon Kempton, operational lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “It is frustrating to see so many investigations being dropped, but there are now almost 22,000 fewer officers than there were in 2010.

Our members are trying to meet growing demand with dwindling numbers and we simply cannot do everything we once could, or that the public expect us to do, therefore forces are having to prioritise and be realistic about what they can and can’t investigate until the Government starts to take the service seriously.”