Trade workers to hold mass rally in London amid tool theft epidemic

Tools being sold at a car boot sale and Roy Melville, founder of Notting Hill Handyman (Supplied )
Tools being sold at a car boot sale and Roy Melville, founder of Notting Hill Handyman (Supplied )

Tradesmen and women demanding an end to a tool theft epidemic will descend on Westminster in their vans for a mass rally on Monday.

Workers are calling for stricter enforcement of existing laws and a crackdown on the resale of stolen items at car boot sales and markets.

Some 44,514 tool thefts, valued at nearly £100million, were reported to police last year - one every 12 minutes. This is up five per cent on 2022, according to insurers Direct Line.

Organised by Trades United, the demonstration - a two-hour “go slow” convoy of plumbers, electricians, builders and carpenters around Parliament Square - starts at midday on June 3 and is expected to attract 300 vehicles.

Protesters want £10,000 fines imposed on car boot event owners if they permit the resale of stolen tools, believing the measure will significantly reduce vehicle break-ins.

Gas engineer Shoaib Awan, 41, from Romford, lost power tools, angle grinders, chargers and a thermal imaging camera when criminals cut a hole into the door of his van parked near a callout in Lewisham, south east London.

Mr Awan told the Standard: “I was just changing a customer’s tap in the middle of the day. It should have been an £80 job but when I came out I’d had £8,000 in tools pinched.

“The theft put me out of action, unable to work for a week. The van, which cost me £24,000, had to be repaired.

“It’s very difficult because without our tools, we can’t feed our families.

“You work so hard all year round and then have to put it to buying more of what you already owned.

“I know people who’ve had vans broken into six times and left the industry.”

Police conduct dawn raid in London (Metropolitan police)
Police conduct dawn raid in London (Metropolitan police)

Police should confiscate items at car boot sales and markets if the seller cannot prove ownership, Mr Awan added.

He said: “There’s videos of people selling tools at markets for a fraction of the real price. It’s shocking to see. Half the time, they don’t even know what they are selling.

“I can’t understand how they get away with it? If I turned up at an airport with £20,000 in cash, the authorities would rightly demand to know where it came from. Why is it not the same for handling stolen goods?”

Roy Melville, founder of Notting Hill Handyman, which works with residential and commercial clients like Planet Organic and Fortitude Bakehouse, estimates about 300 drivers will turn up for the rally.

He said: “Theft is a huge problem and it is getting worse every year. People have just had enough and tools are getting more expensive to replace.

“At a time when we are supposed to be encouraging self-employment in this country, you simply don’t need the aggravation.

“I don’t think the police and government are doing as much as they could.

“A thief can be in and out of a van in under 60 seconds.”

Mr Melville added: “This is not a victimless crime. Anyone buying stolen tools at car boot sales isn’t getting a bargain. Look at the heartache we tradespeople go through.”

Trades United claims members are usually fobbed off by police and crime reference numbers issued without a thorough investigation. They are worried not only about the financial loss but the huge mental health impact on those affected.

A study of 1,000 UK van drivers by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles uncovered London was the tool theft hotspot, with 55 per cent of tradespeople reporting crimes in 2021, followed by the West Midlands, North East, North West and East Anglia.

VWCV suggests parking in a well-lit area or car park with CCTV where possible, blocking doors with another vehicle or an object.

It’s also worth looking at factory fit and aftermarket security upgrades, including more secure locks, anti-theft alarm systems and vehicle trackers, the company said.

The most effective solution is removing all valuables from a van overnight.