Holding a torch for the victims of car crime

Sam Skelton

Don’t let this happen to your pride and joy. (Image © Alex Smith)

I’ve not written much for AROnline recently, I’m afraid. It’s something I enjoy doing but, because of other commitments, I’ve not been able to find the time to sit down and write a half-decent article. Anyway, now I’m back I’m going to write about something really meaningful and deep: the destruction of your pride and joy.

One night last week, I was woken up at about half one in the morning by what sounded like an expensive firework exploding. As I was trying to go back to sleep, I heard another. Incensed at the idea that some chav’s jollies were keeping me from sleep, I hopped out of bed and stormed to the window. About a hundred yards away, to my left, was what seemed like a huge bonfire. Donning the glasses I wear to prevent me being some form of human mole, I saw that what it actually was was a bonfire based upon a Ford Transit camper.

The other two tyres, for it was tyres exploding which had awakened me from my slumber, followed in the footsteps of their comrades with the accompaniment of a spitting and hissing dashboard. Within minutes, the Fire Service were on the scene and, despite the Transit’s reluctance to calm down, the blaze had been fully extinguished within a quarter of an hour.

There are still scorch marks on the concrete between the Council-owned garages next to which the Transit was set ablaze and, captivating though a big fire undoubtedly is, there are still scorch marks burned indelibly upon my brain. For the first time, I had a clear insight into the sense of loss that is felt by enthusiasts whose prides and joys are forcibly removed and destroyed. Recently, my mate Chris Mansfield’s very late Mk1 Montego base – a rare model and the latest known MK1 to boot – was borrowed without his permission and then turned up cooked to a crisp about a week later.

Another friend’s Triumph Acclaim, though not burned out, was found upside down thirty miles from his house. There have also been near misses – cars that low-lifes have tried to steal but been unable to fathom the security on. Don’t, by the way, imagine that these are one-off events – I haven’t mentioned Alex Smith’s torched Monty DLX yet – pictured at the top of this article.

I’ve always been able to sympathise with the sense of loss felt when something like this happens – like any other burglary, it hurts. Likewise, I’ve also felt that it should be your right to break the culprit into as many pieces as your car/front window/garage was in when you found it – that a slap on the wrist isn’t a good enough punishment for the low-lifes who enjoy removing the privileges that people have worked hard for, sometimes all their working lives.

However, what hadn’t quite sunk in before was the extent of the sentimental loss. As I watched the flames curl further around that camper van, I couldn’t help but consider the owners – they had probably been planning to take it to Cornwall or Whitby for a week in August and had now been deprived of the holiday they would have enjoyed.

The possessions kept in there were now lost forever for maybe ten minutes of jollies by a gang of four with a single shared brain cell. Seeing the flames curl round the wheelarches of this once proud house on wheels, as parts of the fibreglass camper conversion simply fell off, helped me to appreciate the pit in the stomach feelings of people affected in this way – where once nestled love for their pride and joy and where, for no other reason than a childish desire to smash, crash or burn, there is a gaping void left to be filled.

I hope to God it doesn’t happen to me. Having seen both that act of arson and its results, I know I would be heartbroken to hear of the car of another friend of mine going up in flames. My own motor? I’d go to pieces…


  1. Good article, Sam.

    It’s such a shame we live in the world we do. These things will always happen until the Government issue a White Paper on the rest of us tax-paying, law-abiding citizens being allowed to own 50 calibre sniper’s rifles!

  2. I also totally agree with you, Sam… The punishment given to the culprits (if they ever catch them?) is insignificant. I keep my car garaged and would never buy a house without one no matter how good the area is. These days, of course, most new houses don’t have garages which doesn’t help.

  3. Terrible to hear stories like this… It’s tempting to say that much greater punishment for the culprits would help but, as Hilton Davis suggests above, the greater problem is that the Police don’t usually devote much attention to catching them in the first place. That is certainly my experience of being a car crime victim anyway.

  4. I really feel for the man who lost this Montego. Just last month there was a story in one of the Classic Car magazines about a man who was threatened by two men on his property. Later on in the evening he found that the garage in which his MG Maestro Turbo and an even rarer Mazda MX-5 (I am assuming it was a BBR Turbo version) were kept, had been torched. No amount of insurance payout is going to compensate owners for the amount of time and dedication they have put into preserving these cars.

    Sorry for being so blunt, but it is time a few of our elected politicians got off their fat arses and stop pandering to stupid EU laws that seem to protect criminals yet, at the same time, add salt in the wounds of the victims.

    Hilton Davis – a further problem is that many post-1990-built houses were not actually designed to be big enough to take a family-sized car beyond a Fiesta. Family cars have gradually got bigger over the past two decades, but most housebuilders have quietly been making garages smaller. Most of these garages are ultimately not designed to accept a car, more to serve as an extension housing additional white goods.

  5. I had the car broken into, an iPod and Sat Nav stolen – luckily the Pug had an immobiliser, so they couldn’t drive it away.

    I agree with David 3500 – one thing I noticed is that, apart form garages/ driveways, spaces in car parks seem to be tiny now in comparison to the cars that park in them (especially when you end up parked between an SUV and an MPV).

    My prettier half shouts at me because I end up doing laps of the car park trying to find a nice “easy” parking space (the 406 isn’t even that big a car compared to what’s on sale nowadays!)

    Anyway, as for the original article, I always think of this when I see videos of “joy”riders in the news or on YouTube. The Mazda/Kia/Escort/Metro that they’re destroying was once someone’s pride and joy, their wheels for independence, now suffering an undignified end because some drugged-up chavs want a quick thrill.

  6. Amen to Wilko’s comment. Back in 2003 my much-modified 1974 Austin Maxi was broken into one night whilst parked outside my then Mother-in-Law’s house. They tried to make off with the complete car but, having managed to rip the steering column off its mounts whilst trying to break the steering lock, they instead proceeded to remove the stereo (with 12 disc changer) in a manner intended to cause as much damage as possible.

    A witness spotted her known to have criminal tendancies neighbours tinkering in their garage at approx 3am but, in spite of that, the Police were about as helpful as an outbreak of cholera, preferring the “here’s a crime no for your Insurers and that’s the limit of what we’re doing” approach. No doubt the Police were too busy undergoing diversity training to do their jobs.

    I’m pretty sure that, had I gone to visit these people with a baseball bat and found my stereo in their possession, the Police would have been in there like a tramp on chips to arrest me.

    Incidentally, the car was never the same even after I fixed it up and replaced the audio (cost lower than my excess so no point claiming there). Due to the mangled electrics caused by the vandalism, it developed a short circuit which would flatten the battery every two days unless the car was used.

    The moral of the story? Well, unless you are Princess Anne and you have lost some letters, don’t expect the Police to do anything in the way of preventing or solving crime.

  7. My £18,000 van, which I use for my business, was one week old when “some poor not loved when he was a child” so and so broke into it.

    I’ve worked non-stop for 27 years and paid huge amounts in taxes and so I am really glad all that effort along with an average 60 hr week, ‘Phoenix’ businesses owing me £1000s in unpaid bills, tax inspections and a constant lack of support from various Governments regardless of their colour has gone to good use. (I forgot to mention the thieving bankers).

    After a break in you have to get the Police who take away your van so CSI! can finger print it to discover that the little twit was wearing woolly mittens. the Police charge £120 for that little privilege.That takes about two days and then it’s a trip to the garage for new locks/glass/paint etc. – it all costs a fortune both financially and in lost business time.

    Claim on your insurance I hear you cry (I cry every time that fat opera singer appears on the telly) but, with van insurance costing a fortune – £1800 with all the contents insurance etc. – and a £300 excess, it all becomes a bit of an expensive chore! Oh, and yes, it does have an alarm, extra locks and I never leave any stock, tools or a sat nav in it over night and I live in a good post code area.

    I don’t blame the average Bobby on the beat, it’s their bosses who make the decisions and act upon the laws set out by what ever Government is in power. I can’t blame all those nasty parents who didn’t give enough love to their children and so they grow up being naughty little car thieves.

    I blame society, I include myself, for not being vocal enough to the other crooks in society, the politicians, and telling them to get their finger out and make car crime a capital offence by bringing back hanging. I know it’s a little harsh but it’s quick and clean and lot cheaper than sending them tree-hugging to release all those pent-up nasty childhood memories or putting them on the naughty step and tutting very loudly!

    Sadly, either way, there currently isn’t a fat lot you can do about it Sam but you have my total sympathy … Simon, if you do catch them, I have some rusty old meat hooks in the back of the shed you can borrow!

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