POLICE believe a sophisticated gang could be behind an ongoing rash of tool thefts linked to van break-ins.
The thieves are reportedly using multiple vehicles, lookouts and fake number plates to avoid increased police patrols and helicopter searches.
Meanwhile, the livelihood of victims is suffering, as many used the stolen tools in their trade.
Pcso Lee Bremner, of the Hungerford and Lambourn Valley neighbourhood police team, addressed a meeting of Hungerford Town Council on the resulting operation on Monday.
She revealed there have been 18 recent incidents around the town involving theft of tools from vans or vehicle interference and said: “We’ve heavily increased patrols and hopefully the thieves have noticed our presence.
“As soon as it’s dark we’re driving in and out of every road.
“But they know what they’re doing – they’ve got someone looking out and there’s whistling noises going on.
“In one incident they knew they had been disturbed – yet later on they still targetted two more vehicles.
“They just carried on, even knowing they’d been detected.”
The meeting also heard of number plates, possibly stolen and being used by the gang, having been found in the town.
One Hungerford resident has posted a photograph on social media of abandoned number plates and commented: “Just found these dumped by the Triangle Field with double-sided sticky tape on.”
Deputy mayor Helen Simpson said there was grave concern in the town and asked whether the gang could even be deliberately distracting police while vehicles were plundered elsewhere.
Pcso Bremner replied: “We’ve looked at that and I don’t think so. But they are using two vehicles.
“We caught one vehicle on CCTV and next time they were using a different one.
“They’re just so good at what they do.
“We can be en route to a call and they’re already gone.”
The neighbourhood team has travelled to Wiltshire to share intelligence with officers there, believing the gang may be operating across county borders.
Pcso Bremner revealed that, in Wiltshire, an officer caught the thieves in the act but they still managed to evade capture, despite a helicopter search.
She added: “Usually thieves target roads where they can get quickly in and out, but these have targetted quite a few cul-de-sacs, which is really surprising.”
District councillor Paul Hewer (Con, Hungerford) revealed that his son was among the victims.
He told the meeting: “In many cases it means victims can’t work – the tools are their livelihood.
“We’ve got all this information and no one has been apprehended.”
Pcso Bremner said that, even where a registration had been captured on film, it had turned out to have been stolen and so led nowhere.
She said: “We could be dealing with a massive, organised group.”
Anyone with information should contact the neighbourhood team via the 101 number.
Alternatively, call the independent Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.