< Tim Pollard | 24.04.2017

Stop, thieves!

Stop, thieves!

The theft of tools from vans is a growing problem for the sector. Installers need to ask questions if they are offered kit from unknown sources. There aren’t many things that really get me going and turn me into a pop-eyed, raging, spume-speckled maniac, but we do all have our flashpoints. Some may be easily understood, some less so.

It does occur to me that generally the world is a lot more angry, and no more so than on the road. I’ll bet every one of you has seen an incident in the past couple of weeks that has resulted in screaming faces and shaking fists, as it happens on almost every journey these days.

The situation is even worse in the heady world of social media, where insults can be made with little fear of retribution or consequences. Holding a contrary view is deemed a declaration of war and an excuse to hurl all manner of personal insults at the perpetrator.

The thing that really makes my blood boil is van theft: that is, breaking into parked vans to steal valuable, and sometimes irreplaceable, tools.

Of course, all theft is despicable and leaves the victims with an awful feeing of violation. Sometimes things are taken that might have a relatively low intrinsic value but come with a huge emotional value. Thieves who are caught often suggest that theirs is a victimless crime, since the stolen items will be replaced by insurance companies. But what happens when those items cannot be replaced?

The difference with van theft is that the income of the victims depends on the stolen goods and the vehicle from which they are stolen. A plumber or heating engineer without tools is incapable of carrying out the jobs that generate the income for them and their families. Without a van to carry the tools and the products to be fitted, the professional is stranded.

We all know that even when goods are insured there can sometimes be a significant time lapse before a settlement is made. Even when funds are available, finding replacement tools is not always a straightforward job. Tool collections are often assembled over working lives, from apprentice through to industry expert. Tools can be more than just utensils – they can carry the memories of blood, sweat and tears spent on a lifetime of jobs.

Now it may be that the power of social media is highlighting the van theft issue. But there does seem to be a growing spate of occurrences in some areas, including a string of cases in Leeds and Bradford recently. It has got to the stage that the thieves are actually ‘peeling’ panels off vans to force entry. So it is difficult to see how cases can be prevented, other than by emptying vans every night, which is not a practical proposition for many.

Of course, any theft is worth carrying out only if there is a ready market for the stolen goods. We have to ask, who is buying these tools, and where are they being sold?

Perhaps a part-solution may be security-marking expensive tools, but only for those who care to check before they buy. The fitting of extra security on vehicles, tool vaults and digital cameras will help in some way, but those most determined will probably not be put off.

The message needs to be spread far and wide that if you are offered cheap, used tools then ask for some background, because you may be supporting a criminal act which causes real suffering to those at the source.

If we can manage to spread this message, it might just keep my blood pressure within reasonable tolerance levels.

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