Vehicle Vandalism and Load Theft

Picture: Repairs to the trailer curtain following damage at Basildon. Taken by Nicholas Smith.

Almost since the granting of the operators licence, NINE56 Ltd has operated a policy of paying for parking when loaded. At first parking would be paid only when necessary but on container transport we had a very bad week, with three attempted break ins in four days.

As a tramper of six years experience, I have a good knowledge of places I can expect to park for free without loss of load or damage. In that one week I was parked at a location in Milton Keynes I had been using for years without incident, but woke to find the seal had been cut from the container. I also ran out of hours the next day on the A1 and was forced to park in a layby. I picked a well lit layby, not particularly shielded from the road and with it being a major trunk road, expected to have no problems. Again the bolt seal was cut overnight.

Finally on the Thursday of the week in question I was woken by a knock on the door while parked outside the Freightliner terminal in Leeds. I cautiously pulled back the curtain to find one man in Hi Vis stood back from the vehicle, so I cracked a window to talk to him, conscious of tales of truckers attacked at night in the cab to allow the theft of the vehicle. This chap seemed genuine though as he explained to me that he had caught some youths breaking into his container in front of me and chased them down the road with a 2 x 4 bit of wood!

I got dressed and hopped out to check mine and found that for the third time in a week, I’d had my bolt seal cut off.

Now in each of these cases I was fortunate that I had fitted a container lock prior to parking up. These in-expensive devices are case hardened to prevent load theft and mine now bears the scars of one determined but unsuccessful attempt to bruise it with an angle grinder. The machine, which is usually sufficient to cut through cast iron, barely left a mark. For less than £40, the lock saved me over £700 in insurance excesses in just four days. That is value.

I knew my luck wouldn’t hold forever though and decided that I should in future pay for parking in more secure locations. Now no location is 100% secure but I felt that paying for a truck stop or Motorway Service Area, (MSA) would at least give me the defence of ‘I tried’ if I ever had to make that phone call to the insurance company.

These past few months have completely changed my thinking again.

On 06/02/2018 I paid £28.00 to park at Moto Cherwell Valley. This is one of the properly secure sites apparently as Moto justify the higher costs of parking here and at Donington Park by saying they provide security at night. I was only carrying paving slabs, so nothing particularly nick-able but I still decided that I would, ‘park secure’. I woke to a 30 cm, scimitar shaped cut in the nearside curtain, cursed my luck and didn’t waste my breath complaining to Moto. I later found out that a fellow truck driver on the same service area had received a massive cut to his curtain, floor to ceiling on the near side and at least a meter wide. Several cases of his valuable load had been stolen and loaded into a van, then driven away.

All this while two security guards apparently patrolled.

I was lucky again for exactly two months until Tuesday 06/04/2018. It was my first week pulling a nearly new trailer, hired specifically to satisfy the requirements of a new contract. I paid again for parking, and again it was £28.00, this time at Welcome Break Chorley services on the M6. This time it wasn’t the trailer that was targeted but the tractor unit. While I slept, someone accessed the catwalk between my unit and trailer, disconnected my EBS suzie, or EBS cable as non-trucker folk will understand it, and walked away with it. This suzie or cable is vital to the correct braking performance of the trailer in emergency situations and not expecting anyone to be so despicable as to interfere with the braking systems of a lorry I didn’t even think of checking the suzies when a warning light appeared on my dashboard. No ABS or EBS warning was shown, just an orange light on the AEBS (Automatic Emergency Braking System).

I was convinced I had found my first French electrical gremlin, called up the Renault dealer and told them to fix it at its inspection that weekend. Only three days later did need to fold the wind deflector and access the catwalk, to connect my tail lift. Then I spotted the problem, cursed myself for not noticing before and marveled at the depths to which some people will sink.

This was all on the morning I found the other crime committed against my vehicle at a Welcome Break that week. On Thursday night I was at Newport Pagnell Northbound on the M1 and arrived quite early, but not early enough to be assured of a space at the Red Lion Truck Stop at Northampton. I judged I would be better served stopping at Pagnell for the night.

A mistake!

Friday morning dawned and I prepared to run to Coventry with 11 pallets of American fridge freezers. This is a highly nick-able load, which was why I was so determined to find a suitable and more secure parking location. It was also why I parked right in front of the entrance to the truck park, so that vehicles entering and exiting throughout the night should deter thieves. On my walk around check though I found three small, 20cm-ish cuts in the off side curtain. One in the back of the trailer, one about three quarters of the way down its length and another just past the halfway mark. Again, nothing was stolen, it was just mindless criminal damage to a brand new, otherwise mint condition trailer. I reported it to Welcome Break and was asked by one of the managers, “what did I expect them to do about it?” My response was at £2700 a night coming in via that truck park, they  could spend a grand a week on a security guard.

I repaired these cuts myself over the weekend, just as I patched the cut in my own trailer in February.

I’m good friends with the two gents who own Sekk Logistics out of Norfolk and one of the two, Emlyn, prides himself on not paying for parking unless his boss tells him to. I decided that this might be worth a try and set myself the challenge of going a full week without paying for MSA or Truckstop parking. First night, Monday 09/04/2018, and I’ve delivered from Burton-on-Trent to Greenwich and collected out of Basildon. My options for parking were limited, even if I had paid. The truck stop on the industrial estate I had collected from was full, and I had been advised against parking on that estate by staff at the loading point. Apparently the travelers had a camp nearby and load theft was a common occurrence. I decided instead to go to another location, about ten miles up the road where I have been parking for three years without incident, the load was concrete sculpture garden ornaments, so heavy and not particularly stealable.

I woke in the morning to a small ‘half-moon’ at the very rear of the off side curtain with a near by, 2 meter jagged cut which was obviously done in spite, as nothing was taken, but a hole big enough for me to climb through was gashed into the side of the trailer.

Here is an idea of the cost of this:

I lost 1.5 hours trying to find someone to fix the problem before I left but couldn’t, so I went off to the delivery point with a large hole in the side of the curtain, which increased drag and fuel consumption by an unknown but substantial amount.

Once I had delivered the load, the trailer hire company had found and dispatched a man to fix the problem. I really wasn’t confident doing such a large hole myself. It took him almost two hours to repair the damage, including two meters of curtain material and enough diesel to run his generator for all that time. I also have to pay for a call out charge.

Finally, the chap’s IT systems were playing up so I lost another 30 minutes waiting to complete the paperwork. All told I would put the cost of this mindless vandalism at somewhere in the region of £300 + VAT. Not including the loss of a back load which left us scrambling to find a job for the vehicle at short notice.  You can add in another £50 per hour, (4 in total) lost to waiting or repair time and you get a nice round £500.00 cost, and its not worth going through the insurance because nothing was stolen and claiming would just bump up premiums.

It is getting beyond a joke now. Motorway Service Areas are supposed to be a place of rest for truckers who are legally required to stop at regular intervals for either 45 minutes or at least 9 hours depending on when they started and what they have done. Truckstops are a bit more secure, but there are several of those I wouldn’t trust with a high value load. Then you add in the other issues with truck stops. Most of them are mud baths where you need hip-waders to get from the truck to the toilets, the food is mediocre and the showers are frankly minging.

I stopped at Junction 26 Truckstop on the M25 a couple of weeks ago for a shower and some breakfast.  I paid £2.50 for a shower, which was filthy and only ran for five seconds at a time. Try washing your back when you have to carefully turn round, hit the button, then shuffle back around 180 degrees on slippery tiles to get water on your rearward surfaces. Its not easy I tell you. Then breakfast was put into the mix, and one sausage, two bacon, one egg, tomatoes, hash browns, black pudding and black coffee came to over a tenner. Overpriced and poor quality facilities are the norm.

You have the same mud bath problems here as you do at most of the other truckstops. You have fridges running all night as there is no fridges off after 9 policy. Its £28 a night to expose your suspension to potholes the size of the Sea of Tranquility and the lighting around the site is shocking, so miscreants could sneak past the one man security patrol, and have their wicked way with the curtains quite easily.

The MSAs don’t care about trucks. Its obvious. We take up more space and only have a max of two drivers. Why would they want us when they could fit a coach of 52 people and a 7 seater Zafira in the same space? So its up to the coach passengers and car drivers to remind the MSAs that without us, they are out of business. You cant do 9,000 cups of Starbucks a day if we don’t deliver the milk!

I have a duty of care to people visiting my site. I have a duty of care to their health and safety and a duty of care to their property. How to the MSAs think that they can absolve themselves of that same duty of care by putting up one sign at the entrance saying parking is at the drivers own risk. They do of course plaster the site with signs saying that we have to pay or face legal action.

But what can we do? If all the British hauliers boycotted Welcome Break, the fleet of foreign trucks plying our roads would just fill in the gaps. Welcome Break wouldn’t notice, or care. Legal action is a possibility but how do small, hard pressed hauliers go up against the corporate might of Welcome Break, or RoadChef, or Moto?

That’s even more difficult when we are constantly paying out to fix the results of their failures to ensure our safety and security. If I assigned a value to the repairs I have carried out it on the curtains it would be about £50 a cut. That puts curtain damage alone at £700, plus £50 to replace the stolen suzie. Now throw in three £28 fees for parking and we are up to £834.00 in costs directly attributed to crime in the past two months. That is a week of diesel costs, lost to crime.

It is highly important to point out here to clients and their customers that despite all this damage and stress, NINE56 has never had product stolen from its vehicle. To date our only loss is one pallet of canned beverages which collapsed under its own weight while in transit, resulting in the loss of 12 cans from a pallet of 900.

All of this is why NINE56 Ltd is supporting TruckingTV.co.uk in their campaign for better service areas and truck stop facilities in the UK. You can visit their site to see videos of shocking levels of crime against hauliers carried out at motorway service areas.

Additionally, you can find more stories at trucknetuk.com where truck drivers talk about their experiences. A quick search will tell you I am far from the only one. Finally, please sign the petition I have started at the Houses of Parliament, here, asking Parliament to make it a legal requirement that MSA operators provide security to visiting hauliers.