MP proposes new legislation to tackle tool theft

MP proposes new legislation to tackle tool theft

Greg Smith, MP is taking up a cause for his constituents with a proposal for new legislation to tackle tool theft. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to the Conservative Member for Buckingham about his initiative.

With their vans parked up for much of the day builders are acutely vulnerable to opportunistic thieves. That’s an all-too familiar tale for tradespeople, of course, and a lament that Greg Smith, MP was hearing from his constituents on a regular basis. The Conservative politician is now championing the fight against the thieves with the introduction of a new legislation, a ten-minute rule bill to parliament.

“We had a spate of vans being broken into in the town of Buckingham,” recalls Greg, “and these were predominately in the day while tradespeople were actually on a job. Beyond the usual arguments of more bobbies on the beat and CCTV, the challenge for legislators is to ask ourselves what practical measures can be put in place to prevent this from happening?”

However illicit their trade might be criminals operate on familiar principles of supply and demand. Whilst there is a market for second-hand tools – and the means to dispose of them – there will be those who will be willing to overcome whatever security might be in place to protect them. There are many well documented ways that builders can make it harder for the light-fingered fraternity to relieve them of what is effectively their livelihoods. Strong locks, loud alarms, removing tools from vehicles at night and recording serial numbers should all be prerequisites, but what builders can’t control is what has become a huge online marketplace for stolen equipment.

“The way we’ve approached the idea is to think about how we cut off the means to sell on stolen goods online and monetise the crime,” continues the Bucks MP. “Clearly it’s not the case that all stolen tools are sold on the internet, but a lot are, and closing down that route could potentially make these offences less profitable for the perpetrator.”

The legislation that Greg has introduced to the House of Commons as a Private Members Bill would compel online marketplaces and auction sites to include the serial number as part of the description of any tool that’s for sale on its sites. “The authorities could then search against stolen items, and identify illegal sales,” he explains “It would then, of course, be beholden on builders to make sure that they have recorded the serial numbers of any tools they own, and for these to be recorded by the police when the crime is reported – and subsequently stored on a database – but it would have the effect of introducing a degree of traceability into the system. There could even be procedures in place where these online platforms are being continuously searched for stolen items for sale.”

Because there is often an assumption that it will be a waste of time, it is a fact that the likes of van break-ins are an under-reported form of crime, but here again Greg believes his plan could encourage more people to come forward. “Tradespeople have told me that they’ve had tools nicked but haven’t reported it because they know they’ll never see them again, and the police won’t do anything, but if we can empower law enforcement to be able to search against the serial number and uncover the proceeds of these crimes, we can remove the excuse from the authorities that they don’t have the resources to do anything about it. Indeed, they’ll be able to act upon it without having to leave their desk. A builder themselves could even search these sites to see if any of the tools they’ve lost turn up on them.”

When presented to parliament, Greg’s Ten Minute Rule Bill was ultimately unsuccessful in entering the statute book as law, but he believes that it could still form the basis of a much wider recognition of the issue, whilst encouraging further debate, and it’s a problem on which he is determined to continue to campaign. “I’m not trying to pretend that this proposal is going to solve the problem, because it isn’t, but it is a practical way of removing some of the incentive for committing these crimes in the first place. I think there is a perception that commercial crime, such as stealing from tradespeople or businesses, is less injurious to the victim than, say, a home burglary,” concludes Greg. “In reality, however, these thieves are depriving an individual of the means to make a living. We all recognise the authorities have to balance competing priorities – and resources – but there should be more of an acknowledgement of their seriousness.”

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