Police swooped on breakers’ yards suspected of running illegal ‘chop shops’, where stolen cars are broken up for parts.

Officers believe cars may have been stolen during burglaries, or simply towed away by criminals, before being brought to the garages and taken apart – with the parts then sold on the internet or abroad.

Police also raided two Bradford car washes suspected of trading in illegal fuel.

The businesses raided yesterday were two breakers’ yards and a car wash in Spencer Road, Lidget Green, and another business in Essex Street, in the city centre. They followed two raids which were carried out last week at Bowland Street, Manningham, and Norcroft Street, in the city centre.

As part of the crackdown, called Operation Squadman, Environment Agency and Customs and Excise officers were also looking for evidence of pollution or illegal fuel.

The Environment Agency is now making arrangements to have two of the salvage yards, both in Spencer Road, shut down on health and safety grounds.

Customs and Excise staff are seeking to have both car washes closed down after finding illegal fuel.

Sgt Andy Healds, of Bradford city centre Neighbourhood Policing Team, said police were sifting through hundreds of car parts to see if they were stolen. He said the crackdown on suspected ‘chop shops’ was important because they were often linked to other crimes, such as fuel thefts or Hanoi burglaries, in which thieves steal car keys from homes.

He said: “People are breaking into houses for the car keys and stealing the vehicles that way.

“Also we have had an increase in the amount of vehicles that have just been stolen from the street. As we are aware, new vehicles can’t be stolen without the keys so what’s been happening is people have been arriving with low-loaders and towing the vehicles away, taking them to garages where they are breaking them down.

“Some of the parts are sold via internet auction sites and others are shipped out of the country.”

Sgt Healds said some yards were run as legitimate businesses to hide illegal activity. He said: “There’s also associated things that go with it. Quite often, fuel which has been stolen from make-offs at local petrol stations is going to them to be stored.

“Local taxi drivers or other people are then filling their vehicles up there, so increased activity raises suspicions.”

At the premises raided yesterday and last week, police found 25 suspect cars, tin cans believed to contain stolen fuel, a fuel tanker carrying 2,000 litres of the unregulated fuel kerosene and ten cannabis plants. Six engines were also recovered, two of which have been identified as stolen.

Five men – two aged 31, one aged 35, and two aged 36 – have been arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods. A 32-year-old man was detained because of an immigration issue and two people were fined £530 for having vehicles containing kerosene.

Two people had their vehicles seized because they could not pay similar fines.

e-mail: claire.armstrong@telegraphandargus.co.uk