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'Tool thieves are crippling our businesses': Campaign calls for tougher sentences amid rise in thefts

Thousands of people from across the country have signed a petition calling on the government to take action to tackle van and tool thefts.

The campaign was started by carpenter Lee Watts, from West Bromwich, who said this kind of crime could be "crippling" for tradesmen who rely on their tools to make a living.

  • Watch the full report by Charlotte Cross at the bottom of the page

Lee launched the campaign after being targeted twice in recent years - once having tools stolen from his van, and secondly having an on-site safe ripped open and emptied.

He’s one of hundreds to be targeted every year across the West Midlands - with the problem extending nationwide.

The scale of the problem is reflected in the response to his online petition, with more than 16,000 signatures already.

Last year, figures from West Midlands Police revealed:

  • There had been an average of 225 thefts a month just from Ford Transit vans
  • That's almost triple the 79 a month reported in 2014.
  • In total, in just three and a half years, there had been over 6,500 such thefts.
Last year, police recorded 225 thefts a month between January and August, just from Ford Transit vans

"To lose those tools in one hit, you can't replace what you've built up over those years,” he said.

“So obviously it has an impact on your work, you can't go out and do the work that you normally do. Nine time out of ten there's also damage to the vehicle as well, so you've also got to get the van repaired.”

I know that it's affected tradesmen to the extent that they've had to come out of the trade.

They've had to stop working because they either wasn't covered on the insurance or they couldn't get the tools replaced and they've come out of the trade.

– Lee Watts

Even when insurance pays out the full amount to cover repairs and replacement tools, he said the delay between making the claim and receiving the payout can put tradesmen out of business.

This van was prised open to steal what was inside.

Electrician and plumber Paul Bass was working at a retail park in Oldbury on January 17 when his van was broken into.

He’s employed by a maintenance firm, but most of the tools taken were his own - and now, he says, he’s only able to perform limited duties.

“I’ve not been able to obtain the electricians rates for my work, I've not been able to do call-outs over the weekend cos I haven't got the relevant test equipment,” he said.

“They stole my plumbing tools as well so I've not been able to do any plumbing or general maintenance works.”

Carpenter Lee Watts is now campaigning for tougher sentences. Credit: ITV News

Lee told ITV Central he wants tougher sentences for those convicted of tool theft to act as a deterrent, and wants MPs to debate the petition in Parliament.

The campaign echoes a similar online petition launched in 2016 demanding changes to the law.

He is also working with Mark Silvester, from West Midlands Police’s Crime Prevention Unit, to raise awareness.

His tips to tradesmen and van drivers include:

  • Lock at all times, even if unattended just for a few moments
  • Invest in extra security features such as second locks
  • Remove tools from the van overnight
  • Secure tool storage within the van, properly fitted
  • Use forensic marking solutions on the tools
  • Video report by Charlotte Cross: