‘Liquid gold’ olive oil and expensive meats targeted by organised crime gangs in raids on lorries

23 April 2024, 09:01 | Updated: 23 April 2024, 13:41

HGVs awaiting post-Brexit food checks could become easy targets for organised crime groups, LBC has been told.
HGVs awaiting post-Brexit food checks could become easy targets for organised crime groups, LBC has been told. Picture: NAVCIS

By Emma Corr

Olive oil and rare cuts of meat are the latest high-value items being targets by organised crime gangs, LBC has been told.

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Figures shared with LBC have revealed £68 million worth of goods was stolen from lorries in the UK last year by criminal gangs - but it’s estimated the true cost could be ten times higher. 

According to the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, 15 lorries a day are being attacked on UK roads, with almost 10,500 lorries being targeted over the past two years.

Criminals are targeting ‘high-value foods’ with olive oil being described as ‘liquid gold’ and valuable cuts of meat being able sold quickly online. 

The price of olive oil has soared in recent months. In Spain, the world's biggest olive oil producer, prices jumped 62.9% in January compared with the previous year.

Lorries waiting for post-Brexit food inspections will be 'honeypot' for criminal gangs

In December 2023, a trailer full of cheeses with an estimated value of £50,000 was stolen from Strensham services on the M5.

And around Christmas last year, £5.5 million worth of illegal meat was intercepted in the UK by the Dover Port Health Authority and other policing authorities – double what was seized in 2022 with a lorry-load of lamb or beef now having a value of more than £250,000.

From April 30, lorries rolling off ferries at Dover and the Eurotunnel at Folkestone carrying foods from Europe will be subject to physical checks under new post-Brexit rules. 

Animal products such as meat, cheese, eggs, and plants will now need to be inspected.

But these checks won’t be carried out in Dover as lorries cross the UK border - but deep in Kent as drivers make a 22-mile journey inland to a government-controlled lorry-holding facility at Sevington. 

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Curtain slashing is happening 'more than ever'.
Curtain slashing is happening 'more than ever'. Picture: National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NAVCIS)

Members of the haulage industry have warned that expected ‘significant delays’ in the inspection process could mean more drivers having to park up in Kent increasing the opportunity for crime.

Ashton Cull, Public Affairs Manager at the Road Haulage Association said: "If new checks lead to vehicles parked up in unsecure areas then it’s only going to make them a honeypot for organised criminals to come and attack.

"Freight crime is organised crime - they know what’s moving, when it’s moving and where it’s most at risk and they have clear methods. 

"Some drivers now avoid certain services and truck stops because the security is bad, so if we see lorries gathering in a place – services or roadsides - where potentially security is poor, they are at increased risk of crime.

"We’ve been calling for the infrastructure to be in place ahead of time to make sure these checks can be done quickly and efficiently - you’ve got to think of the security for the loads."

The Chief Executive of the Cold Chain Consortium Phil Pluck said inflation driving up costs means stolen food is easy for criminals to sell on, which could make lorries waiting inspection vulnerable. 

"Food is a key target. A container of frozen prawns has a value of about a quarter of a million pounds. 

"You can imagine if someone said there was £250,000 in the back of that trailer someone would take a chance and try and get it.

"Also moving checks 22-miles inland gives opportunity to put a driver and cargo in danger or for that driver and cargo to go elsewhere before reaching the inspection point."

Criminals targeting lorries transporting food is already rife, LBC has been told.
Criminals targeting lorries transporting food is already rife, LBC has been told. Picture: NAVCIS

One haulier told LBC criminals targeting lorries transporting food is already rife.

Rhys Hackling, who runs freight firm Direct Logistics in Bicester, said: "Criminals are approaching lorries every night - it’s prolific and it’s very targeted.

"10, 12, 15 lorries will be done in one place in one night - they could be parked on the side of the road, in services or even in secure parking.

"If you’re carrying food as soon as they are knife cuts on the curtain the goods are immediately refused. 

"You’ve then lost £700 or so for the job you’re doing and the income for the driver and then you have to return the food back to the manufacturer."

Similar concerns were raised by lorry drivers after LBC visited a truck stop in Ashford in Kent - just a minute drive from the Inland Border Facility at Sevington.

Drivers told us having their curtains slashed by criminals is happening ‘more than ever’.

Majciej, a driver from Poland said: "I’ve never had curtains slashed in Europe - just in the UK. 

"Most of the time it’s happening at truck stops, not on the road - at services and they say cameras weren’t working. 

"It makes me angry and a little bit scared - somebody is walking around my truck looking for something."

One driver named Steve added: "It’s always been bad but it just seems to be getting worse. Couple of weeks ago, curtains slashed at Toddington Services. 

"They look for consumable goods - easy stuff to get rid of online. It’s not cheap to repair the curtains - time is money."

A government spokesperson said: "The Sevington site has the capacity to deal with more than 4,000 lorries per day and has been operating successfully since it opened. There should be no need for any vehicles directed to Sevington for checks to stop by the roadside."