Blue badge thefts 'double in a year'
Thefts of blue parking badges used by disabled drivers have more than doubled in a year in England, figures suggest.
The latest Department for Transport data shows a 167% increase, from 656 thefts in 2012/13 to 1,756 in 2013/14.
Blue badges entitle drivers to free parking in pay and display bays and allow them to park in disabled zones.
The Local Government Association, which estimates a badge could be worth at least £6,000 a year in saved parking fees, said the rise was "alarming".
Thieves steal the badges to sell them on the black market or use them to get free parking, said the association, which represents councils.
At least 2.5 million disabled people hold blue badges, which are issued by local authorities, in the UK.
In London, holders are exempt from the congestion charge, saving them around £2,500 a year.
'Robbing disabled people'
Earlier this month Haji Ahmed, 90, who has limited mobility, had his blue badge stolen from his son's car.
His son Waleed Butt, from Chigwell, Essex, had taken Mr Ahmed out for a meal and parked his car legally in a disabled bay.
His car window was smashed and the badge stolen while they were away. He was also given a £100 parking ticket.
Mr Butt said: "It's just unfair that disabled people are being targeted in this way - it's disgusting."
Other examples from the past year highlighted by the association include:
- A Watford man who admitted using his grandmother's blue badge to park illegally for four months after her death. He was prosecuted through Operation Clamp - a joint initiative by Watford Borough Council and Hertfordshire Police
- Five drivers who received a combined bill of nearly £2,000 in fines and costs following prosecution for fraudulent use of blue badges by Sutton Council. Three badges belonged to relatives, another driver had used a lost badge and another had belonged to a deceased relative
Andy Cole of disability charity Leonard Cheshire Disability said blue badges were "a lifeline for millions of disabled people to ensure that they can maintain their independence".
He added: "It is shocking that some people steal or feel that it is acceptable to misuse the badges, and we welcome the increased focus on identifying and prosecuting those involved."
Peter Fleming, Local Government Association deputy chairman, said the "callous" thieves were "robbing disabled people" of independence.
"It is staggering how low some people are stooping simply to con a few hours of free parking," he said.
Misuse of a blue badge has a maximum fine on conviction of £1,000.
Local councils in England and Wales successfully prosecuted 565 people last year.
People who are registered blind, have a disability that limits their mobility and drivers with a severe disability in both arms are among those eligible for a blue badge.
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