25/01/2012 01:24 GMT

Ministry Of Defence Theft Of Equipment Soaring

Thefts of military equipment are soaring and the Ministry of Defence is doing too little to stop the problem happening or seize expensive kit back, MPs said.

Helicopter rotor blades worth £50,000, £45,000 night vision goggles and an inflatable boat were among recent thefts - which totalled more than £1.9 million last year.

But only £19,000 worth was recovered and there were just 11 prosecutions, seven cautions and five dismissals, the Commons defence committee complained.

A two-and-a-half times increase in the number of annual thefts to 433 and a fivefold rise in the value of items stolen was put down in part by top brass to better reporting.

Even since the new procedures were put in place, however, the number has risen by 28% and the value by 66% - something the committee highlighted as a serious concern.

The level of fraud has also risen sharply, with 592 cases recorded last year, though sums being recovered have gone up, with just over £1 million clawed back last year and £906,000 in 2009/10.

That compares with five-figure sums in previous years.

The top civil servant at the MoD, permanent secretary Ursula Brennan, said particular attention was given to guarding arms and other dangerous items.

The military also had "more things that are of interest for people to steal", she told the committee, and had to balance security with the need to deploy kit quickly.

A Defence Crime Board had been set up, revised zero-tolerance plans sent out to every part of the MoD and fraud awareness education provided to staff, the MoD said.

The committee said though that it expected the MoD "to tackle this issue with a greater degree of vigour" in future, expressing shock at the scale of thefts.

"We recommend that the MoD clarify the roles of the various police and security forces dealing with fraud and theft and provide further information on how the problems of prevention, detection and recovery are being managed within the MoD," it concluded.

A defence minister revealed last year that a plane fuselage had been among other items stolen.

An MoD spokesman said: "MoD takes any loss or theft of equipment very seriously and has robust procedures in place to prevent possible future incidents. New processes and instructions have also been implemented to raise awareness of the need for vigilance in all aspects of departmental security.

"The Permanent Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Staff endorse the MoD's policy of zero tolerance and regularly remind senior managers of their responsibility to combat fraud. Investigations are undertaken into every loss or theft. Criminal prosecutions and appropriate disciplinary action is taken against those caught, as appropriate."

He said the committee had wrongly claimed helicopter rotorblades had been stolen - the item was in fact a rotor tuner which had since been found.

Inquiries were ongoing into the theft of 39 sets of night vision goggles, though 11 had been recovered, he added.

And the "fuselage" referred to in a previous ministerial answer was only "one small section" and had also been recovered.