THIEVES are netting hundreds of pounds by climbing underneath vans and stealing the spare wheels.

Police have now asked van owners to ensure their spare wheels were securely locked or removed. There have been 12 thefts and an attempted theft in Oxford in 10 days.

The spare wheels, which often have unused tyres fitted, are worth around £200.

Six vehicles were targeted in Oxford alone overnight on Wednesday.

Det Sgt Suzette Allcorn, of Oxford’s auto crime unit, said: “To steal these wheels someone has to get underneath and either cut a cable or metal bracket to make it fall to the ground.

“If someone were to pass by then it would be noticable and quite strange to see someone’s body poking out from underneath the van.”

There have been other reports of spare wheel thefts elsewhere in the county in the past fortnight and police are keeping an open mind as to whether they are linked.

Det Sgt Allcorn added: “We don’t know why it has just suddenly started here and now.

“When the first few were reported stolen we thought maybe someone was trying to get four wheels for their van “But clearly someone is doing this for financial gain.

“The spare wheel and tyre on a van is a complete replacement and costs a lot of money.”

The crime spree began from Mercedes vans parked in Jasmine Close, Blackbird Leys, and at the Premier Inn, in Garsington Road, on Monday, October 26.

A Ford Transit van in Templar Road, Cutteslowe, and a Mazda van in Wynbush Road, Rose Hill, were targeted two days later.

The following night spare wheels were stolen from Peugeot and Volkswagen vans from Absolute Computer, on Osney Mead industrial estate.

Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, six vehicles had wheels taken in Honeysuckle Grove and Saxifrage Square, Blackbird Leys.

Spare wheels were also stolen from Ford Transit vans parked at Premier Inn in Garsington Road again, Pether Road in Wood Farm, and Barns Road and Kelburne Road, Cowley.

Thieves tried and failed to steal a spare wheel from a Mercedes Sprinter van in Westbury Crescent, Cowley, on Wednesday.

Three spare wheels were also stolen from Sprinter vans at Mudie-Bond Mercedes dealership on the A40 at Cassington at the weekend.

A spokesman for the dealership said: “We have had wheels stolen from three vans and two customers have contacted us.

“The wheel trim itself is around £100 and the tyres are premium unused and often Continental or Michelin and worth £100 as well.”

Spare wheels are not the first car part to be taken during a spate of thefts.

Six catalytic converters were stolen from cars in the county in a three-month period last summer.

And between December 2007 and February last year petrol was drained from 13 cars in Oxford after thieves made holes in the petrol tanks.

Anyone with information should call police on 0845 8505505 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.