More than half of stolen cars are never returned

Fewer than half of all vehicles stolen in the UK are recovered by police, a new investigation has revealed.

Motoring magazine Auto Express sent a series of Freedom of Information requests to UK police forces, asking for data on the number of vehicles stolen as well as how many were recovered over the past 10 years.

Officers recorded a total of 522,214 stolen vehicles between 2009 and 2018, but only marked 236,636 as recovered -- a recovery rate of just 45.31%.

Some forces seem to do much better at recovering stolen vehicles, Auto Express found. For example, Merseyside Police recorded 35,624 stolen vehicles from 2009 to 2018 and marked 26,816 as recovered, giving a recovery rate of 75.27%.

Chief Inspector Diane Pownall of Merseyside Police told the magazine that her force uses "uniformed officers, covert tactics, CCTV and forensic tools" together with "all available technology" to help improve the chances of recovery.

At the other end of the scale, West Midlands Police logged 73,644 stolen cars over the same period and only 8,643 as recovered, giving an 11.73% recovery rate.

The data doesn't provide the full picture, however: many police forces admitted that their records are known to contain inaccuracies.

West Midlands Police said: "In the past 10 years, a total of 12% of recovered vehicles have been recorded with a full address by West Midlands Police; however, as this is not a mandatory field on the systems used, the number of recovered vehicles is likely to be much higher."

Between September and December 2018 there were 949 vehicles stolen in car key burglaries in the West Midlands, 40% of which have been recovered, the force added.

A full analysis is also difficult because 20 of the 45 police forces contacted weren't able to provide data on the number of stolen vehicles they had recovered. And some forces provided information for cars, while others gave data that also included stolen motorbikes, vans, lorries and, in one instance, a stolen and subsequently recovered aeroplane.

However, coupled with the fact that vehicle thefts are increasing, the figures paint an "alarming picture", RAC spokesman Simon Williams said.

He added: "The fact that data appears to be collected and analysed inconsistently in some cases is also a worry -- this data is surely the only way to understand the scale of the problem. While it is well-documented that police forces are under severe resource pressures, it is ironic that clearer data would support their case for additional government spending."

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