Vehicle thefts have risen by almost half in just four years, according to new statistics released this week.

Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that reports of vehicle theft in England and Wales rose from 75,308 in the year ending March 2014 to almost 112,000 four years later.

Around three-quarters of that growth came in the past two years, with thefts rising by just nine percent between 2014 and 2016.

Since then, the number of thefts reported has rocketed by more than 30,000 - an increase of more than 36 percent.

Thief breaking into car with screwdriver

The figures also showed an increase in the number of “aggravated vehicle taking” incidents, although the rise was far less prominent.

With around 5,800 incidents reported in the year to March 2018, the number rose by just over 10 percent.

And as a proportion of all vehicle thefts, aggravated vehicle taking has fallen noticeably. In 2013/14, the offence accounted for seven percent of all thefts. Four years later, that was down to five percent.

Car thief looking inside car

RAC Insurance director Mark Godfrey said the statistics were indicative of the reduction in police officer numbers.

“These figures show a very alarming 49 percent increase in vehicle thefts in just four years,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of a vehicle being stolen every five minutes or 300 thefts a day.

Car thief pulling car door handle

“They also paint a very depressing picture of a society where it is all too easy for gangs of thieves to break in and steal vehicles, and where there are fewer police officers to catch them and bring them to justice. From 2013 to 2018 we lost 5,975 police officers, but looking further back to 2006 the story is even worse with 21,958 fewer officers, which represents a 15 percent reduction.

“Every vehicle stolen and not returned safely to its owner represents a cost that is borne by every motorist who lawfully pays their insurance. If the number of thefts could be reduced, then insurance premiums would undoubtedly be lower. Aside from this it is impossible to underestimate the impact on individuals and business who suffer from this type of crime.”

Car thief breaking glass with crowbar

Responding to the ONS figures, which also reported an increase in violent crime, Chief Constable Bill Skelly, the NPCC’s lead for crime recording and statistics, said the police needed more investment, as well as new ways to become more efficient.

“Rising crime, increased terrorist activity and fewer police officers have put serious strain on the policing we offer to the public,” he said. “We are determining the additional capabilities and investment we need to drive down violence and catch more criminals, and we will make the case at the next government spending review. Equally important is driving up productivity and cutting any remaining inefficiencies.”

British police vehicle speeding down motorway