Car crime victims must foot the bill

Victims of car crime are being told their cases will not be investigated - unless they pay more than £100 for the privilege.Police say they will not conduct fingerprint or DNA tests to discover who might have stolen a car or motorbike unless a fee is first paid to a private company - in Norfolk it is Recovery Management Services - which is responsible for recovering and storing stolen vehicles.

Victims of car crime are being told their cases will not be investigated - unless they pay more than £100 for the privilege.

Police say they will not conduct fingerprint or DNA tests to discover who might have stolen a car or motorbike unless a fee is first paid to a private company - in Norfolk it is Recovery Management Services - which is responsible for recovering and storing stolen vehicles.

Owners will be given a straight choice when their vehicle is found - if they want the case taken further, they will have to pay; otherwise it will be left for them to sort themselves.

The new charges, which start at £105, have been introduced by the Home Office but have immediately been attacked as an extra layer of tax, a penalty on those already traumatised by falling victim to crime and also a first step towards the privatisation of policing.

The issue emerged after a Norwich motorist was charged £150 to recover a motorbike stolen from his home on Saturday morning. The bike was found an hour later less than a mile from his home.

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson said: “If I had my car stolen through no fault of my own and was then asked to pay for it to be investigated, I would be pretty angry.

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“The police are always complaining that they are hard up, but this suggests they are now going down the road of privatisation. What's next? Will we have to pay for officers to attend a house burglary?

“Taxpayers already pay twice for policing, through central taxation and council tax. It's ludicrous to charge them a third time for the police to do their job.”

While in theory the fees are optional, only those who pay up can ensure their vehicles are checked for clues. Victims are told the fees - implemented by forces across the country including Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - are to cover storage.

However, a Home Office-approved letter states that if the fee is not paid: “[The police force will accept] no further responsibility and will be unable to take further action to identify the person who took it.”

On top of the “storage” fee, victims in Norfolk must pay £15 for every night a vehicle is held by police. Many motorists cannot reclaim this through their insurance policies.

Stephen Bett, chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, said: “If this has been foisted upon us by the Home Office, there is very little we can do - but I can understand why people are peeved by it. The fact is the Home Office is constantly trying to find methods to raise funds and this is just the latest attempt.”

Glenn Burrows had his Wu Yang 125 motorbike, worth £1,100, stolen from outside his home in St Leonard's Road, Norwich, at about 4.30pm on Saturday. He was initially delighted when officers recovered it at Heathgate, about half a mile away.

He said: “At first I was impressed at how efficient the police had been but then I was told about this charge. Because of the bank holiday I wasn't able to recover it until Tuesday, by which time I owed £150.

“I feel like I'm paying the police to do their job and I thought I was already doing that through my taxes.”

A Norfolk police spokesman said no figures were available for the number of people who have paid recovery fees or the total amount the force has received since their introduction. But latest crime figures show there were 1,577 car thefts last year - the equivalent of 131 each month.

The spokesman said: “Norfolk police operates with Recovery Management Services Limited which makes recoveries on behalf of the police for the whole of Norfolk and their fees are statutory charges set by the government.

“Part of our policy involves recovery of stolen vehicles in order to ensure that they are not re-stolen and recovering abandoned vehicles which maybe subject to investigations.

“Although each case is assessed individually, before recovery is made using RMS Limited, officers make every effort to contact the rightful vehicle owner at the first opportunity to allow them to recover their vehicle promptly themselves.”

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