MOTORISTS are being warned to be extra vigilant after a spate of exhaust thefts in the Ribble Valley.

Police have launched an investigation after an 'organised group' targeted vans in the Sabden and Downham areas.

Detectives believe the systems worth thousands of pounds are being stolen for the 'precious' platinum metal contained in the catalytic converter component in the exhaust.

Thieves first struck at Padiham Road in Sabden when they stripped the entire exhaust systems from two Merecedes Sprinter vans overnight.

Police said the systems were valued at around £2000 each.

And the next, two vans parked in Downham Road in Chatburn were also targeted overnight.

Thieves caused £1300 worth of damage to an Iveco van and another 3.5 tonne Iveco van also had its catalytic convertor stolen.

Detective Sergeant Nigel Watson, said: "These vehicles are being targeted by an organised group possibily for the precious metal in the convertor.

"These types of thefts are extremely rare and we would appeal for any witnesses to come forward."

Last month the Lancashire Telegraph reported that metal thefts in the county have rocketed to £1million in the first six months of the year.

Police now fear that organised crime gangs could latch on to the ‘lucrative’ trend as their next source of major income.

And officers are gathering intelligence on scrapyards that help process the stolen metal, as well as gangs who bypass dealers with drop-off points for it to be ferried abroad.

Across the county, there has been a huge 87 per cent rise in scrap metal thefts, with 3,547 between January 1 and September 30 this year. A quarter of those (864) were committed in Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley, and just under a fifth (743) in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.

Anyone with information should call Clitheroe police on 01200 443 344 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.