'I had £8,000 worth of tools stolen from my van and police did nothing - I'm urging them to crack down on thieves'

15 May 2024, 07:56 | Updated: 15 May 2024, 08:10

Tool theft has risen considerably and tradesmen are calling for action
Tool theft has risen considerably and tradesmen are calling for action. Picture: Social media

By Kit Heren

For Shoaib Awan, the moment when he had £8,000 worth of tools stolen from his van was "mentally devastating".

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The gas engineer from east London had finished a job in Lewisham in 2021 when he saw that his van had been broken into.

Equipment like his £2,000 gas analyser, £1,700 thermal imaging camera, and all his power tools, drills and grinders had been taken.

He said he told police, but that no investigation was launched. He wasn't insured, so had to cover all of the costs himself.

Then about a year ago on a job in Chingford, someone tried to break into his van again.

Read more: 'You can't work for a week': Over 100 tool thefts a day, as police say it's a 'huge problem' in the industry

Read more: Bike crook jailed for masterminding £100,000 cycle theft operation which 'handed angle grinders' to gang members

Mr Awan said he thought they must have been disturbed and ran off - but using a screwdriver, they had managed to bend open the side door of his van, which was also expensive to replace.

Mr Awan said he wasn't the worst affected, and he knew people whose vans had been broken into six times. He himself has now got insurance and has put in expensive security measures on his van.

He said he thought it was an "epidemic" of tool thefts, which began to get worse in recent years.

Figures from two-thirds of police forces across the UK show that an incident of tool theft was reported on average every 12 minutes last year.

That's 44,514 incidents, an increase of 5% from 2022. The tools reported stolen were worth £98 million. Some 55% of the incidents were thefts from a vehicle.

London accounts for over half of the thefts, and the second-highest per capita, after Cleveland in the north-east.

And the true figure could be even higher, as Mr Awan noted. "What about the people who won’t report it?" he asked. "A lot of people are scared of these people."

What's causing the rise in tool thefts? Industry commentators say it appears to be a combination of high potential resale value, the relative ease of breaking into vans, and the fact that most tools don't have tracking devices.

Mr Awan said he felt that thieves felt empowered by police not responding to cases such as his.

Some car boot sales are halting or putting restrictions on selling power tools
Some car boot sales are halting or putting restrictions on selling power tools. Picture: Social media

He urged people not to buy tools from car boot sales as they are an easy place for thieves to sell on their ill-gotten gains.

Social media accounts such as Stolen Tools UK, which has over 90,000 followers, document instances of alleged tool theft and what they claim are stolen goods being trafficked at car boot sales.

One gas engineer filmed an interaction with someone he claims is selling stolen goods at an open-air market in Leicester. In the video, he asks where the seller picked up such a large collection. The seller says he himself bought them at the car boot sale, a claim the engineer treats with scepticism.

Mr Awan said he has persuaded several large boot sales to stop people selling power tools without receipts, but others have not followed suit.

One car boot sale where, according to tradesmen, stolen power tools are often sold, is on the car park of Haringey Borough FC, a non-league club in north London.

But while condemning theft and acknowledging the concerns, a spokesperson for the club - who say they don't run the car boot sale itself - said they had "not been made aware of any stolen items ever having been sold from the market."

Mr Awan also launched a petition last October to ban power tools from being sold at car boot sales and markets, with a £10,000 fine attached, which has gained over 40,000 signatures.

The government said in response that it has no plans to bring in such a ban, but is consulting on legislation that would require tradespeople's power tools to be marked and registered before they can be sold, as is the case with other kinds of equipment.

Mr Awan said that many tradespeople were planning to drive their vans into central London to protest on June 3, in the hope of raising awareness of their plight.

It may not be the most glamorous of crimes - but tool theft causes misery for the victims and seems likely to have a knock-on effect on everyone who needs to hire tradespeople.

"People are not aware of the things that are going on," Mr Awan said. "They’re not seeing the bigger picture, they’re not there regularly every day."

And even though it was three years ago, Mr Awan said he still bears the scars from losing so much valuable equipment.

"Financially we’re affected, mentally we’re affected," he said. "If I can’t see my van, I don’t want to do the job."

The Met police said in response: "We recognise the impact that the theft of power tools can have on victims, especially those who rely on them for means of employment.

"Any allegation of crime reported to the police will be assessed to see if there are any viable lines of enquiry including forensic opportunities that can be progressed. We also have a dedicated team with oversight and investigation of forensic hits, for example, fingerprint, DNA, and CCTV images.

"Vans are often targeted by thieves for the tools stored inside. We advise not leaving tools or valuables of any kind inside vehicles overnight. Items that are clearly marked are less desirable and more difficult to sell on."