ESSEX Police have started using an unmarked lorry to catch drivers committing offences on the borough’s roads.

The Mercedes tractor, owned by the force for a number of years, is normally used for shifting the mobile control centre.

Now it is being used to fight road crime on main roads in Essex. It has been out on operation twice in recent weeks, and during a spell on the A13 and M25 in Thurrock, officers caught a lorry driver tapping away on his iPad while cruising along at 50mph.

Aside from clamping down on road offences, it might also be a useful tool in the war against metal theft as it is able to blend into industrial surroundings where such crime is often committed.

Last week, the Thurrock Gazette reported how three businesses had been blighted by commercial crimes like metal theft in the last year.

PCs Al Cuthbertson and Gary Winfield, both members of the Essex Police commercial vehicle unit, have got HGV licences to drive the police lorry.

While one officer drives, the other keeps watch from the passenger seat, using a radio to pass information to other officers on motorbike or in cars to stop offending drivers.

The higher vantage point enables officers to spot motorist misdemeanours, particularly those being carried out by lorry drivers.

PCs Cuthbertson and Winfield wear fleeces over their police uniforms and the lorry, which is grey in colour, bears the number plate “A12 EPD”, the only clue that it is police-owned.

Adam Pipe, Essex Police’s casualty reduction manager said: “Although it has been nicknamed the “plainclothes lorry” there is nothing secret or covert about the truck.

“It is being used for road safety and general policing patrols and is especially useful for keeping an eye on lorry drivers and motorists who are not driving safely or are breaking the law by using phones and other devices or not wearing seat belts.”