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'Inadequate response' to surge in car crimes

Motorists are more than twice as likely to become victims of car crime than they were 13 years ago when the Conservatives came to power, Labour's home affairs spokesman, Tony Blair, said yesterday.

He said that every year, one in five drivers either had their cars stolen or broken into. The Government's response was 'wholly inadequate', lacking any sort of national prevention strategy.

Between 1979 and 1992, the number of cars stolen every year had increased by 85 per cent, while thefts from vehicles had risen by 234 per cent, and according to Mr Blair the total number of offences increased by 156 per cent.

In 1990, the value of the stolen vehicles came to pounds 1.4bn, with a further pounds 193m worth of claims resulting from break-ins.

Figures obtained by Labour show that the residents of Northumbria suffer the highest levels of car crime, with Dyfed-Powys, in south Wales, the safest place to own a vehicle.

More than 75 per cent of the offences are committed by people under the age of 21, and 38 per cent are committed by juveniles under the age of 17.

Mr Blair said there was a link between the recession and high crime levels - a link that has already been highlighted by some senior police officers.

'I don't think it requires a PhD to realise that in the boom years of 1986-88 crime, and particularly car crime, began to tail off, while the last three years has seen a dramatic rise.' This, however, was not to offer an excuse for offenders.

Faced by this wave of offending, the Government had 'totally failed to develop a comprehensive youth crime prevention strategy', Mr Blair said.

Security measures making it harder to break into vehicles were necessary, but should not be subsidised by the state, he said. However, the key was to develop local programmes bringing together a range of agencies, such as social workers and police officers to prevent offending.

Where programmes of this kind had been established, they had 'led to significant reductions in offending by participating young people', Mr Blair said.

The Home Office had spent less than pounds 350,000 this year on such projects - 'paltry sums on any definition given the scale of the problem', Mr Blair said. He declined to say how much more a Labour government would spend.

In response, the Home Office said its Car Crime Prevention Year which has a budget of pounds 5m for advertising and promotions, had produced 'tangible results'. The first three months of the year showed a 7 per cent reduction in car thefts.