LESS than one in five car thieves and house burglars were even identified by Essex Police last year, statistics have shown.

Analysis of Home Office figures show there were 4,236 instances of motor vehicles being stole on taken without consent in Essex in the 12 months up to March this year.

But in 3,481 cases police shut the case without any suspects being identified.

That means 82 per cent of cases were shut without any culprits in the frame.

In terms of proportion, Essex were the fourth highest of shutting car theft cases without suspects only behind City of London police, West Midlands and the Met.

RAC Insurance spokesman Simon Williams said motorists will be "shocked" by the findings.

"This is a sign that thieves have found ways around car security systems and have ways of selling vehicles on with little or no fear of being caught," he said.

"The fact fewer suspects are being identified is very worrying and no doubt a symptom of the declining number of police officers and the resulting reduction in time that can be dedicated to investigating these crimes."

A similar amount of home burglary cases were shut without any evidence of who committed them.

There were 7,439 residential burglaries recorded in the year with 6,058 closed without any outcome equating to 81 per cent of total cases.

But more than half of shoplifters were identified.

There were 9,877 registered in the county compared to 5,014 which went without suspects being identified.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs committee, said: "Too many investigations are closing without suspects being identified and we are hearing increasing reports of the police being too overstretched to investigate.

"Police forces are under immense pressure with rising serious and violent crime and changing patterns of crime alongside cuts in the numbers of officers and PCSOs.

"These figures suggest that investigations into volume crimes are now being hit. Failing to identify suspects gives criminals a green light to reoffend."

Alex Mayes, of charity Victim Support, said: "News like this could undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and prevent people reporting in the future."

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "Our officers continue to work across the county using a mixture of covert and overt tactics to disrupt the theft and unauthorised taking of motor vehicles.

"Using a number of tactics including viewing CCTV, looking at ANPR footage, working closely with manufacturers and our Stolen Vehicles Intelligence Unit, we are often able to track vehicles that have been taken without consent.

"Any crime, including theft of vehicles, depends on the amount of evidence officers are able to gather. With technology becoming more intelligent and an increase in keyless car thefts, we continue to face new challenges in the ways in which these crimes are committed.      

"We would encourage any vehicle owners, especially those for high-performance vehicles, to take steps to increase the security of their vehicle where possible.

"You can fit extra alarms or you can install CCTV in your home.

"The number of shoplifting offences reported across Essex has fallen over the past five years.

"We understand the impact this can have on businesses and livelihoods, regardless of the value of items stolen.

"Unfortunately, there will be times where there may be limited investigative opportunities to identify suspects.

"This can be from lack of available witnesses or limited forensic opportunities.

"Throughout Essex, there has been a decline in the number of residential burglaries over the last year.

"We’ve seen a 9% decrease in burglaries, which indicates that people across Essex are becoming more aware of the importance of home security.

"Burglary can be a difficult crime to investigate, as there are rarely witnesses or CCTV. There are few forensic opportunities to advance the majority of these investigations.

"There are several steps you can take to protect your home, including installing home CCTV or alarm systems, keeping doors and windows locked properly, and asking friends to open and close your curtains when you’re away on holiday."

For more crime prevention advice visit essex.police.uk.