The road to crime

The road to crime

Manager - Infrastructure, Security & Business Affairs | Road Haulage Association

Security is key to the success or failure of any organisation and it’s not just the responsibility of the boardroom.

Security threats are continuously evolving – who would have thought 20 years ago that cybercrime would have been one of the greatest threats today – and so simple for the criminal to carry out from the comfort of their own home anywhere in the world?

The true scale of freight crime is difficult to fully ascertain. The harsh reality is it costs businesses millions of pounds every year, yet as an industry we remain inexplicably reluctant to tackle some of the pertinent issues head on which only conspires to increase the risk posed by cargo crime.

In 2002 John Abbott, the then Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, said that organised crime was behind most incidents of lorry load theft. "Organised crime is big business and well organised; it is also market driven, flexible and resilient. It ranges across jurisdictions, both nationally and internationally, and uses all the latest technology. It has a financial strategy through fear and the corruption of key people inside organisations. It has marketing, distribution and communications strategies."

The industry can make the criminal’s life more difficult, but it needs to be as well organised as crime already is. Not everything to do with tackling crime has to cost money. Information is also hugely valuable. Everybody has a part to play in reducing cargo crime. Remember, trucks are stolen whatever their load might be. Even a tiny share of this can spell disaster for an operator and negatively impact on profit, client good will and securing future contracts. Therefore, it is essential for operators to take security seriously and not treat it as an afterthought. Vehicle thefts and theft from goods vehicles are sadly a regular occurrence and the cost of commercial vehicle crime is now more costly than ever.

The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) reported 2,709 cargo thefts in 2018 – a significant increase from 1,596 the year before. The hotspots aren’t surprising: Greater London, the East Midlands, West Yorkshire and Kent. Warwickshire, Manchester, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire are not far behind. The M1 tends to be the criminals’ road of choice. Much of this crime appears to be highly organised especially in the London area – others are far more opportunistic. For lorry drivers, there is a sinister violent undercurrent. Alone in a cab on an overnight stop, the feeling of vulnerability is a clear factor.

The RHA has always argued there is a lack of safe, secure parking in the UK. This was corroborated by the DfT’s National Survey of Lorry Parking, published in 2018, which shows a shortfall of 3,658 lorry spaces on or near the Strategic Road Network (SRN). We believe this figure to be much higher – by as much as three times. Truth is, most criminals would be deterred from these thefts if it wasn’t so easy to get access to truck parks.

The litany of 2019 crime makes sober reading:

• A 46-year-old driver dragged from his cab and assaulted by a group of men at Newport Pagnell. He suffered a broken leg and the goods from his curtainsider were stolen.

• A brick thrown through the window of a truck at junction 18 on the M60 in the north west of England and a similar attack near Hull.

• A spate of threats of physical violence ending in robbery of goods.

In the modern workplace, we all have a right to work safely, including lorry drivers – that’s what the health and safety legislation is all about and what we’ve come to expect. The truth is, the authorities must do more to tackle this crisis. Let’s hope the recent addition of paragraph 107 to the National Planning Policy Framework 2018 will be effective: “Planning policies and decisions should recognise the importance of providing adequate overnight lorry parking facilities, taking into account any local shortages, to reduce the risk of parking in locations that lack proper facilities or could cause a nuisance. Proposals for new or expanded distribution centres should make provision for sufficient lorry parking to cater for their anticipated use.”

Legislation often is the only answer to improving security and safety. However, governments would only implement such measures if it is felt necessary due to public safety or it is in their best interests, as was the case with the legislative requirement to provide electronic immobilisation on all new vehicles back in the last century. 

It is difficult to foresee any imminent security cases that would lead to government intervention. Perhaps it could be argued that if commercial vehicles are being used to smuggle people across borders, or it was established beyond any doubt that the proceeds of truck crime were funding far more serious crime such as terrorism. Alas, it is unlikely such steps would be taken any time soon.

So, just how do we move forward? How do we reduce supply chain losses and commercial vehicle crime? There is no single movement that is likely to initiate an immediate improvement in vehicle security or reduction in cargo crime. There are certainly examples of good practice across the country and working together in partnership with NaVCIS, has started to bear fruit in the last couple of years. Operation Barric, run by the East Midlands Freight Crime Taskforce, is one such example. 

Another example is Operation Cargo which was recently launched by North Yorkshire Police to tackle rising cargo thefts, again teaming up with NaVCIS as well as bordering forces including West Yorkshire, in a bid to tackle crime in what is currently the top region for cargo thefts in the UK.  

Police certainly need to be more active in pursuing these criminals and bringing them to justice. The sense that you ‘can’t get away with it’ is an important deterrent. The authorities must tackle the yawning gap in adequate safe, secure truck parking. This will require investment as the market has failed to do so. European drivers are often baffled by the poor facilities available for them to park safely, eat a meal, utilise proper toilet facilities and rest when they come to the UK. This is – or should be – a national disgrace. Only with a collaborative approach will we truly make any significant strides.


It would be unfair and indeed inaccurate to say that we have not made progress in the fight against cargo criminals but equally it is important that we face up to the fact that whilst the industry has not stood still, nor have the criminals – they can be ingenious, sophisticated and bold – and that is a heady cocktail to counteract.

Will we ever win the fight against commercial vehicle crime? The answer has to be no, not completely, but what we do have is more awareness and a much stronger army of people and organisations fighting together with technology to contain and hopefully reduce the problem. These are not issues that individuals or the RHA can solve alone.

For more information, email: Chrys Rampley at: