Gangs use sledgehammers and vacuum cleaners to steal cash from parking meters

Gangs use sledgehammers and vacuum cleaners to steal cash from parking metersOrganised crime gangs armed with sledgehammers and vacuum cleaners are stealing tens of thousands of pounds from parking meters, a local authority has warned.

Kensington and Chelsea Council in west London said £120,000 has been sucked out of its machines in the past 12 months.

Criminals are smashing the meters open or drilling holes in them before inserting vacuum cleaner hoses, the council reported.

Criminals are drilling holes into the machines so they can insert vacuum cleaner hoses (Kensington and Chelsea Council/PA)
Criminals are drilling holes into the machines so they can insert vacuum cleaner hoses (Kensington and Chelsea Council/PA)

They are also driving vehicles into the machines in a bid to access the coins.

The council is considering ending cash payments to thwart criminals by reducing the amount of money in the meters.

It is urging motorists to pay for parking through its app or phone system.

The council is calling on drivers to switch to app and phone payments when they park (Kensington and Chelsea Council/PA)
The council is calling on drivers to switch to app and phone payments when they park (Kensington and Chelsea Council/PA)

More than 70 parking machines are currently in use across the borough.

Kensington and Chelsea Council's lead member for streets, planning and transport, Will Pascall said: "We have gangs stalking the streets and smashing their way into machines to suck the cash out.

"We also now know from local police that this is funding further criminality in London, from drugs and trafficking to possibly violent crime.

"It is a trend we need to stop and motorists going cashless is one way we can help tackle this."

Jonny Combe, UK chief executive of parking payment firm PayByPhone, which is used by the council, said: "Moving away from coins and relying on a mobile parking payment service is a great way for any council to reduce this type of theft and vandalism.

"Cashless parking also delivers convenience to drivers, as they can start a parking session in a matter of seconds and use their phones to extend the parking from anywhere – even from their smart watch.

"They don't have to worry about cutting appointments short to rush back to feed a meter."

An AA poll of 17,000 drivers indicated that 70% are less likely to use a car park where only phone payments are accepted.

The organisation's president Edmund King said: "It is a sad state of affairs when parking meters are being ambushed by criminals armed with sledgehammers and vacuum cleaners.

"Whilst there is merit in cashless systems and they are becoming more commonplace, we do still find that some older drivers prefer to pay in cash or with contactless cards."

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