CAR thieves beware!

Today the Argus begins a major campaign to strike back at the individuals who cause distress and misery every day by stealing or breaking into our cars.

Vehicle crime in our area has reached epidemic proportions and it is time to fight back against the offenders.

Across Gwent last year - April 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003 - vehicle thefts increased 16.7 per cent, from 2,610 to 3,046 - that's an increase of 436 cars.

Thefts from vehicles rose 19.4 per cent, from 4,420 to 5,286. That means nearly 23 car crimes were committed every day.

The Argus' Car Safe campaign has five main aims:

* to raise public awareness of how widespead the problem is and give advice on protecting property;

* to make car park owners more accountable for vehicle crimes on their premises;

* to expose car crime hotspots and find the safest places to park in Gwent;

* to reduce the car crime statistics;

* to call for stiffer sentences for repeat offenders.

We will be printing readers' personal experiences of car crime and taking a look at what the police are doing to tackle the issue

We will also be exposing the culprits once they are convicted of their crime.

Gwent Police launches it's own force-wide campaign - Operation Maple - on August 1 and we will be closely monitoring its success.

Deputy Chief Constable Bryan Davies said: "We think the role for the Argus in raising public awareness and providing crime prevention advice and support is tremendous."

We all need to work together to beat these thieves.

Car manufacturers need to make their vehicles more difficult to break into.

The public needs to secure cars and make sure there is nothing on display to tempt the opportunist.

The police need to catch the offenders. And the courts need to hand out sentences which are a sufficient deterrent to career car criminals.