In the second of our special reports, Gwent's chief constable and a senior magistrate say the courts should get tougher on car criminals

A SENIOR Newport magistrate believes all car thieves - including first time offenders - should be sent to prison.

Paul Wilkinson, who sits at the youth and adult courts in South East Gwent, makes the call as the Argus Car Safe campaign urges an increase in sentences for vehicle crime.

Mr Wilkinson said: "My personal opinion as a citizen of Newport and a magistrate is that every convicted car thief should have a custodial sentence.

"This is because the most expensive thing a person buys is normally a car after a house.

"By giving custodial sentences to every car thief, it would hopefully deter other car criminals.

"When they take a car, they don't care if it belongs to a doctor on call. "Car thieves are not insured and if the vehicle is damaged it's left to the owner to pick up the bill.

"I feel very strongly about this. You should be able to leave your car outside your house or in your garage and expect to find it in the morning. "I have been a magistrate for 27 years and I have noticed a dramatic increase in car crime during that time.

"I don't use the term joy ride in court as there is nothing joyous about it." Mr Wilkinson said most of the car crime in Newport was committed by young people aged between 14 and 25.

He said adults could be sentenced to up to six months in custody for vehicle theft at a magistrates' court but generally received a community punishment order between 40 to 80 hours.

At the youth court, offenders can be sentenced up to a two-year detention training order for stealing a car.

Aggravated vehicle-taking offences, which involve property being damaged or someone getting hurt, have a maximum sentence of two years at crown court.

Mr Wilkinson said a thief who stole from a vehicle could generally expect a financial penalty.

He added: "I believe the majority of thefts from cars should be dealt with by way of a community sentence or custodial punishment.

"If we were able to give deterrent sentences for theft of cars and theft from cars we would be able to stamp it out."