A study by the society, a voluntary organisation in the Church of England, says car thieves learn how to break into vehicles by watching others, often working in organised gangs with their own codes and hierarchies - some even had titles like 'manager' and 'assistant manager'.
The report, Putting The Brakes on Car Crime, is a detailed study of car crime in Mid Glamorgan, south Wales. It says there is no simple solution to the problem, such as punitive measures, and recommends more joint agency initiatives. These include motor projects, where young people can work with and drive cars in an organised setting.
Calling for more crime prevention schemes, the report says three out of ten drivers still do not lock their vehicles and 70 per cent of all cars have no security device fitted.
Car crime accounted for 28 per cent of all recorded crime in the United Kingdom in the 12 months ending in March 1992. In England and Wales, car crime accounted for almost one third of the increase in crime in 1991 and 15 per cent of the increase in 1992.
The report includes detailed interviews with 16 boys and one girl aged between 12 and 17; more than half admitted stealing more than 50 cars and two, aged 12 and 17, claimed 500 vehicles each. All but one had driven at more than 100mph; two said they had reached speeds of 145mph. Some took cars for money or had sold vehicles and parts; and all stole the contents.
All said they had watched for some time before attempting a car theft themselves. Most went out in groups of between 2 and 20 every night, in which there was 'co-operation and teamwork'. Eleven of those interviewed said they had at some point shown someone else how to get into cars and start them.
One told the interviewers: 'Sometimes we have our own job to do when we're getting into a car. I'm better at getting in through the door, so once I've done the door, I just let the others carry on and once they've started it, then I drive.'
Another said: 'I'm the assistant manager. The manager's the best at stealing cars - he can do a car quickest. But when he's inside I'm the manager. He's the best driver as well. Nigel Mansell, that's what we call him.' Another described how his group had look-outs and another car standing by for swift escapes. Most said they would only take cars on their own for a specific purpose - such as absconding from care. When with others, they would compete on the time it took to get into cars.
Describing chases, one said: 'The buzz when you are in a stolen car and you've got the police chasing you gives you such a rush of adrenalin that you know you want to do it again . . .'
Another admitted inciting the police: 'Sometimes we stop the car and flash them so that they can catch up with us.' Some felt they were better drivers than the police because they were never caught: 'I don't think the police are very good drivers, they just don't take as many risks as we do.'
All those interviewed said they preferred fast cars with big engines. 'It's not worth pinching an 1100 because if you got chased by the law, they they'd just catch you right away. You've got to have something to drop them.' Asked if an accident ever put him off, one said: 'No, you've got to die some day, so you may as well die young.'
Most said they would take any make of car, apart from Ladas or Skodas. Vauxhalls, old Ford Cortinas and Capris were said to be the easiest to steal.
A separate study of 300 car thefts in Mid Glamorgan showed that Vauhall Astras (20.7 per cent), Cavaliers (18.9 per cent) and Ford Escorts (11.6 per cent) were the most popular vehicles stolen.
Putting the Brakes on Car Crime, from the Children's Society, Edward Rudolf House, Margery Street, London WCIX OJL; pounds 6.89.
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