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Police set up special squad in hunt for 4x4 car-raid gangs
Pub landlord Michael Roper with his wife Kath outside their pub, the Dog and Gun in Leeming, Oxenhope
Police have mounted a special operation to catch criminal gangs who are stripping valuable parts from luxury vehicles like Range Rovers.
Numerous vehicles have been attacked in the Bradford area over the past month – with costly LED headlights the main target.
In one incident, a knife was brandished by gang members when a witness tried to intervene.
The quickfire thefts can be completed in as little as 30 seconds, according to some victims and calls have been made for Land Rover, which manufactures Range Rovers, to take action.
One theory is that the powerful headlights are being stolen to be used in cannabis production. The spate of thefts has resulted in West Yorkshire Police setting up an Operation Emporia squad to catch the gangs.
Michael Roper, licensee of the Dog and Gun in Oxenhope, had the lights and front grille stolen from his Range Rover Sport, which was parked in the pub’s car park.
He said part of the incident, which happened at 3.20am on April 16 and involved at least three men using a small white van, was caught on CCTV.
Mr Roper said: “You have now got to think twice where you leave these cars. You work hard to afford nice motorcars.”
He added: “It is rife. But it is such an easy crime – it is so fast. It took them about ten minutes maximum. They put a crowbar in between the front wing and the headlights. They wrecked the wing. There was no noise. They know how to disable the alarm on the cars.”
Mr Roper, 53, claimed the theft caused between £7,000 and £8,000 of damage to his vehicle, adding: “It basically needed a new front end.”
He said: “I didn’t see it happen. I got a text at 6.30am from the butcher who had just gone past and saw that the lights had gone.”
The headlights are said to cost about £1,000 each. Mr Roper also said he knew of at least 40 other vehicles that had been targeted in similar thefts since.
“I have heard the lights are being shipped abroad, then sold on eBay to come back over here,” said Mr Roper.
He also said a garage in Bingley where he took his car to be repaired had had at least ten other vehicles in following similar thefts, while one of his neighbours and a supplier had also been targeted.
Mr Roper said he had now fitted his own security measures to his vehicle to prevent similar thefts in future.
Peter Earwaker, of Bingley Car Bodyshop, criticised Land Rover.
He said: “The manufacturers have got to take the brunt of the blame.
“It is far too easy – it can take 30 to 60 seconds to steal a full set of headlights and grille from a Range Rover.”
He added: “We have had quite a few in. There has definitely been an increase.”
On April 30, during a theft from a Range Rover in a car park in Bradford city centre, a witness who tried to intervene was threatened with a knife.
The woman owner of the vehicle told the Telegraph & Argus of her fear at driving her £60,000 car and also insisted Land Rover had to do something. She said: “I am frightened of driving it into Bradford.”
She added: “I am frustrated because I feel like Land Rover should be recalling vehicles. It is so easy to get the grille and the lights out – that is a design fault.”
He said they targeted a vehicle at the Waterfront in Shipley on April 28 at about 3.30pm, and within two minutes had stripped its front end.
Two hours later they stripped front-end parts from a Range Rover at Gallagher Leisure Park in Thornbury. That was carried out within 60 seconds, said the man, who added that two other Range Rovers were targeted on the weekend of April 26 and 27 at the leisure park.
On April 12, a hired Range Rover Sport had parts stripped from it while it was parked up outside an Indian restaurant in Bradford, waiting to be used by a bride and groom.
Police said that between April 22 and May 9, they had received nine reports of thefts from Range Rovers. They also said they had made eight arrests in that time in relation to the same crime.
Chief Inspector Suzanne Akeroyd said: “Our investigations into this type of crime suggest that the main motivation of thieves is the trade in expensive stolen car parts to be fitted to other cars as replacements.
“West Yorkshire Police is taking this issue very seriously and recently launched Operation Emporia specifically to target the theft of 4x4 vehicle parts.
“That work has already had some significant success with a number of people arrested and stolen parts recovered.
“Officers are also working closely with manufacturers and using a range of tactics to target the thieves and those who deal in stolen car parts.”
A spokesman for Land Rover said it was investigating the problem.