A nationwide police crackdown on illegal number plates has highlighted the growing use of unlawful registration plates being used by motorists attempting to evade congestion zone and speeding enforcement cameras.
Police forces across Britain participated in Operation Larch, a week-long campaign at the end of last month which targeted vehicles with illegal plates.
An Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) spokesman said the primary aims of the campaign were to discover the extent of the problem and to allow them to identify any links between the use of false registration plates and wider criminality.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras were widely used during the campaign, with officers also catching offenders on digital camera.
Checks were carried out on all stopped vehicles and their drivers to establish links to any other crimes.
All motorists stopped during the operation were also subject to a PNC (Police National Computer) enquiry.
ACPO said the campaign also provided them with the evidence they need to justify harsher penalties for drivers who use illegal number plates.
Currently a driver risks a fine of up to £1,000 if caught using a false plate. However, while ACPO confirmed it will be pressing for tougher penalties, a spokesman said no decision had yet been taken on what the new penalties will be.
“Criminals make use of vehicles to commit crimes and in some cases will tamper with number plates in order to try and avoid detection by roadside cameras,” said Frank Whiteley, ACPO head of automatic number plate recognition and chief constable of Hertfordshire Constabulary.
ACPO said data from the crackdown is still being assessed and, at present, it could not confirm how many vehicles were found to be displaying false or altered number plates.
Illegal number plates range from changes to the layout of plates or use of non-standard fonts, through the use of tape, screws, and other objects to obscure plates, to sophisticated measures such as the use of stolen or false number plates to clone vehicles.