Young steal to order in inner-city crime wave

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A black market network in which young criminals steal to order and shops are used to fence illegal goods is developing in our cities, unpublished research has found.

Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, examines a study which suggest that car thieves and burglars are changing their habits to thwart the police.

"What would I want with a job? I can get as much cash as I want, when I want. I can turn pounds 250 round in 10 minutes. Beat that. What do I want to work all week for?"

"Corner shops and off-licences, like that one on the road ... they'll say `have you got a snatch out?' [stolen car radio]. They all want one of them.

"You can go anywhere really. Any house round here and people will buy stuff from you, no questions asked."

These are some of the views of a group of 45 young male criminals who specialise in stealing to order and black market sales. The crooks, mostly aged from 15 to 22, were interviewed as part of an on-going research study in the north west of England particularly in the Greater Manchester area and Lancashire. Mainly unemployed and uneducated, they had fallen into crime often after being expelled from school.

The law-breakers, who were involved in a range of crimes including, burglary, mugging, drugs dealing, car theft, and shop lifting, have identified an informal market to sell the goods.

This includes residents, usually in urban housing estates, ordering goods to be stolen and off-licences and corner shops selling items "under the counter". Car boot sales and advertisements in free newspapers were also popular. Some offenders said that all types of people will buy stolen goods. While talking to the researcher, one stopped and pointed: "Two of `em, over the road, they're the most straightest people ... but if you go to them and say `look I've got this, do you wanna buy it?' then they'll buy it." The going rate for a stolen car radio was pounds 40 to pounds 70.

One car thief added: "You would call it a network. Mostly contacts we've got, they own garages. They get the car in, say an Astra, with a front end smash.

"To sell that if it's worth it, we'll go out and nick and Astra."

Paul Broadbent, director the Crime Foundation research organisation and a senior law lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, who carried the research, also noted the development of what he called "crime surfers" who shifted between different offences in order to confuse the police.

Mr Broadbent said the introduction of zero tolerance style policing had caused some criminals to alter the times and areas they operated in an attempt to become less predictable and harder to catch. There was also some evidence that they were willing to use more force to carry out the crimes.

"The end result of zero tolerance could be more unpredictable and more violent crimes," he said.

One youth commented: "There's a lot of talk about this zero tolerance, about how they're going to come down hard on us ... we're one step ahead, that's me, one week houses, then cars, a couple of rollovers just to get me by. Never the same stuff."

Most the people questioned did not consider the victims and often said it was only hurting the insurance company.

"Many of them were stealing to order," said Mr Broadbent. "One said he is walking around with a shopping list in his head."

He believes the police should consider broadening their strategy and concentrate on disrupting the networks and outlets for black-market sales rather than just concentrating on targeting prolific offenders.