Insurers are losing millions of pounds by failing to promptly report theft of construction equipment to The Equipment Register (TER).

TER was set up in January 1995 to recover stolen plant and equipment, agricultural machinery and trailers.

But its 18 insurance company clients are taking an average of 56 days to report the theft of equipment to the TER offices.

The Home Office has estimated that £66 million worth of construction equipment is stolen each year.

"Much of the high value plant is stolen to order and exported for resale," said manager Tim Purbrick.

"These are highly sophisticated gangs stealing this equipment and it can take them just 48 hours to get the stolen goods out of the country.

"The quicker we hear about it, the more chance we have of tracking the equipment down."

The Northern Ireland peace process is paying dividends for TER, where this week it found two trailers worth £50,000, insured by Norwich Union, and an excavator worth £80,000, insured through CGU.

The sensitive political situation had left parts of the border hard to police in past years.

But the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Irish Garda have now switched much of their focus away from paramilitary groups to targeting these criminal gangs.

Most of the stolen equipment is sold to companies in the Middle East.

TER is also lobbying the police to release recovered machinery within a few weeks rather than the current waiting period of nine months.

The company relies on the resale of the goods for its income, splitting the sale price with the insurance company.

But the machinery deteriorates during the time it is held by police as they wait for the case to be heard, resulting in market depreciation of an average £1,500, as well as incurring the cost of up to £12 a day for the storage. "With high-tech videos and photographic evidence, there is no need for the police to store the vehicles," Purbrick said.

TER now has 300,000 items registered on its ownership database, while the database of stolen goods is growing at a rate of 4,000 items each year.

This year TER has recovered more than 180 items worth £750,000.

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