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Car removal plan beats torchings
17 September 2002 0944 BST

Car crime seems to have been an ever-increasing problem in the Bristol area over the past few years.
In 1999/2000 Avon Fire Brigade attended 2,300 deliberate car fires
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Bristol City Council Abandoned vehicle reporting scheme

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While computer technology and the digital world have advanced apace, car manufacturers seem to have done little to increase the security of vehicles.

The sound of breaking glass as yet another car window is smashed can often be a familiar accompaniment to an evening in front of the TV for many in parts of Bristol.

Many vehicles are stolen on any given night in the city creating a problem both for the police and for fire brigade staff who often have to attend burned-out vehicles after thieves have set fire to them, thereby diverting resources from other - perhaps more pressing - fires.

At least that is how it may seem. And yet, in 2001 Avon Fire Brigade embarked upon its Car Clear scheme to remove abandoned vehicles from Bristol's streets as soon as possible.

They say the move has proved highly successful and is being looked at by other forces around Britain.

Car fires

Station officer Tony Sim said: "Four years ago you would probably be driving around Knowle West and see dozens of abandoned vehicles.

"Car fires here literally doubled in 97, a figure which was reflected nationally, partly as a result of the collapse in the second-hand car market.

In the year 1999-2000, 50 per cent of the incidents we attended were burned-out car fires - that was 2,300 fires.

"We discovered that half of those were stolen vehicles and half were abandoned so we thought, if we get rid of the abandoned vehicles they can't be torched.

"Together with the police and the local authority, we introduced a trial scheme - car clear - in South Bristol for nine months.

Burning rubber

"In that period while other areas of the city saw an increase of 25 per cent in car fires, we reduced them by 3.5 per cent.

"It's now a scheme that other areas of the country are very interested in."

But that may be scant consolation for any motorist who has had his vehicle stolen or for anyone who lives in a area where the screech of late-night burning rubber is an all-too familiar sound.

Sue Gill is a production controller who lives in Whitchurch. She and her husband Steve have become used to gangs of youths who run riot in the area, stealing cars and, on occasion, setting light to them.

She became so exasperated with the problem that she organised a petition which she sent to the police and the city council.

Stolen cars

"Since initiating this petition, our rear fence now is subject to an insurance claim for repair of damage caused by a motor vehicle being driven into it - probably a stolen vehicle driven recklessly, if we go by the skid
marks in the grass," she said.

"Our local councillor, Colin Smith, has been in touch with the Council.

"Miraculously, some funding seemingly has been
found to limit access to the open area.

"Cars should then find it difficult to gain access, but it will leave us with the problem of large numbers of youths - sometimes this can approach 40, boys and girls - and motor
bike/scooter access.

"We have had some torchings and abandonment of stolen cars in the area but, admittedly, the evidence has usually been removed by early the following morning."

"Car fires doubled in 97, partly as a result of the collapse in the second-hand car market."

Fire station officer, Tony Sim.
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