THIEVES snatched music equipment worth almost £170,000 from vehicles parked in York in just 12 months.

The startling figures mean that expensive car stereos, CDs, tapes and speakers were the most commonly stolen item.

Senior police officers said the key to stopping opportunist thefts like this lies in the hands of motorists, who can often take the stereo with them when they leave their vehicle and should remove other possessions.

The warning was the latest in a series of stark messages from officers running Operation Cobra, a campaign to bite back at car thieves, backed by the Evening Press.

It came after Royal Ascot police bosses announced the number of reported thefts from vehicles plummeted during the five-day festival, despite an extra 224,000 people visiting the racecourse.

Chief Superintendent Tim Madgwick who is responsible for policing in York, said only 15 thefts from vehicles were reported, compared to 55 for the same period last year.

Furthermore, only seven vehicles were stolen in the city, matching the same period in 2004.

Chief Supt Madgwick said: "This is particularly pleasing as it reflects well on the huge amount of crime prevention work we have done together with the Safer York Partnership, targeting city and racecourse car parks."

Inspector Colin Moreton, who is leading Operation Cobra, said the combined value of all stereos, CDs and other audio equipment stolen last year was £168,279.

He said: "What is surprising is the number pf people who have stereos with detachable fascias who do not detach them when parking their car.

"Many people also believe that there car is safer outside their home than when parking in York. This is not the case. Sixty per cent of all car break-ins in York occur in residential areas."

However, thieves remained busy last weekend, as three motorcycles and a car were taken. A silver Renault Clio, registration V297 GGR, was stolen from Stone Riggs, Stockton-on-the-Forest, between 9pm on Friday and 7am on Saturday.

The motorbikes, which included a Suzuki GSF, a Kawasaki and a Siam Moto SX1, were taken from Poppleton Road, Peel Place in Heslington, and Burnsall Drive, Holgate.

Updated: 10:34 Tuesday, June 21, 2005