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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Anti-theft number plates launched
Number plate
Criminals find many uses for stolen number plates
New "thief-proof" car number plates are being launched by the government.

They are designed to deter thieves who steal plates and use them to pass their car off as someone else's - a growing trend known as car-cloning.

The plates, which break into pieces and become unusable when prised off a car, will be launched by roads minister Stephen Ladyman.

They will cost about 20 - double the normal price - and be available from the autumn but will not be compulsory.

Criminals can resell "cloned" cars, or use them to avoid paying for petrol, fines and London's Congestion Charge.

'Unsuspecting victims'

The Department for Transport said strict standards had been set for the plates, such as ensuring it takes at least three minutes to prise them from a car.

Mr Ladyman said the new plates would help to reduce the number of innocent drivers receiving fines.

"They will also help to reduce vehicle cloning where stolen vehicles are sold on to unsuspecting motorists, and tackle the problem of petrol station 'drive-offs'."

Number plate theft has tripled in the last few years - police records suggest there are more than 33,000 cases a year.

BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds said the growing use of speed cameras and police plate-reading cameras was probably the cause of the rise in car-cloning.

Police have welcomed the move, describing number plate theft as a "growing problem".

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