A CRACKDOWN on cars with questionable pasts is being launched throughout the North.

Following the start of Operation Outlaw earlier this week, aimed at combating vehicle crime, the region's police forces have singled out those with Q registrations for particular attention.

Q plates were introduced many years ago by the Driver Vehicle Licensing Centre to classify cars, vans and other vehicles with unknown manufacture dates.

Originally designed for kit cars or those rebuilt after crashes, the system aimed to alert prospective buyers to their questionable histories.

But it has since been hijacked by criminals seeking to hide the fact that vehicles had been stolen.

The problem has been identified throughout the Cleveland, North Yorkshire, Durham, Northumbria and Cumbria areas, prompting all five forces to take part in the campaign.

In Cleveland, the vehicle intelligence unit has discovered that over the past three years, 75 per cent of Q cars examined were stolen.

Only half of those checked were taxed, although some did not need to be as they were not used on the roads.

A similar survey by Durham Constabulary showed that 85 per cent of Q registered vehicles were stolen.

Letters have already been sent to Q owners in the region, inviting them to take their vehicles to specialist garages for inspection, with those failing to respond being threatened with police visits.

John Hutt, a vehicle examiner for Cleveland Police, said: "A lot of Q cars are potentially dangerous to both their owners and other cars on the road."