If your car’s number plates are stolen, don’t just assume it was kids messing around – it wasn’t. You should report the theft to the police immediately and make sure you get a crime/incident number for the offence.
Your number plates will almost certainly have been stolen by criminals who are planning to use them while committing offences. These offences may well be traced back to you, leaving you to prove your innocence, even though you were the victim of the original offence.
The problem in the UK is that a photograph of a number plate is all the evidence the police or other authorities need to issue fines and fixed penalty notices for offences such as speeding, parking violations and non-payment of the London Congestion Charge.
If your registration plates are stolen, this is what I would suggest doing to help you protect yourself from any offences committed by the thieves:
- Report the theft to the police immediately and get an incident/crime number.
- Make a note of your movements and keep any credit card receipts issued in the period between the plates being stolen and the theft being reported. You may be able to use these to prove your whereabouts although this still won’t prove your car wasn’t used.
- Consider purchasing a cheap private registration number (available for under £100) and transferring your car onto it. This is the only reliable way for a car owner to avoid any liability for offences committed using their stolen number plates.
The UK’s legal system automatically assigns blame on the registered keeper of a vehicle registration for anything that happens using that registration plate.
You really do have to prove your innocence and there are stories of people spending months or even years trying to get an escalating series of speeding or parking fines overturned, thanks to their plates having been stolen previously.
Worse still, ever-rising fuel prices are encouraging criminals to use stolen plates to steal fuel from petrol stations – they fix stolen plates to a car, then fill up and drive off without paying. The first thing you will know about it is when the police use CCTV footage from the garage to ‘identify’ you and accuse you of the theft.
This form of fuel theft is known as bilking – or ‘doing a runner’. If it happens to you and the police come knocking at your door, I would suggest that you do the following:
- Give the police the crime/incident number you got when you originally reported the number plate theft.
- Ask to see the CCTV footage from the garage. The car used by the thieves may not match your car and the camera may have caught a clear shot of the person fuelling.
- If this approach fails, you may need to prove that you and your car where elsewhere at the time of the crime, however unfair and difficult this might be.
Have you or someone you know been a victim of number plate theft? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.