TWO public bodies in Cleveland have received £324,000 over the past two years to help prevent the deliberate torching of cars.

Car thieves intent on destroying forensic evidence, especially DNA, could be responsible for more than half the vehicles deliberately set alight on the streets, according to research by the Arson Control Forum, published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

From analysing police and fire service data and interviewing offenders, researchers showed that the link between car theft and arson is much stronger than previously thought.

Fire safety minister Phil Hope said police, council and fire services must work together to reduce the numbers of stolen or derelict vehicles being burned out.

To encourage the partnership, Cleveland Fire Brigade has received £180,000 from the forum since 2003, using the money to pay for arson reduction officers. Stockton Borough Council received £144,000 for community education work.

Key changes since the research was undertaken include increased scrap metal prices, a more stringent vehicle licensing and registration system, the impact of the forum's arson reduction schemes and other local authority vehicle removal schemes.

As a result, the number of deliberate vehicle fires attended by fire services in England fell by 13pc, to 58,500, in 2004