International award for Stolen Vehicle Intelligence Unit
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The Stolen Vehicle Intelligence Unit have received international recognition for their ‘outstanding contribution in the fight against vehicle crime’.
PC Paul Gerrish and PC Phil Pentelow were presented with awards by the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators for working with manufacturers including Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, BMW and Mercedes to improve vehicle security.
In 2021, the team of Paul, Phil and civilian staff member Hannah Gerrish recovered or identified 480 stolen vehicles or parts of vehicles with an estimated value of an astonishing £17.5m.
They also supported and worked on 45 investigations linked to chop shops – the places stolen cars are stripped of their parts.
The team frequently seize stolen cars within hours of them being taken, examine them, and use the intelligence picture they have built to hunt down other missing vehicles.
One of their best recent finds came in January when they intercepted and searched a shipping container that was heading to Dubai from the London Gateway Port in Thurrock.
The container was hiding a Rolls Royce Dawn that had been stolen in London. The missing car had recently cost its owner £350,000 and had been stashed alongside parts of eight stolen Range Rovers.
Once a car is taken, thieves may look to quickly sell it on – even for way under the market value – strip it for parts, or ship either the whole car or parts of the car to areas including the Middle East and Africa. There, the vehicles can be sold for two or three times more than they would cost in the UK.
Thieves or handlers of the stolen vehicles may also obtain false or cloned identities, then sell the vehicles on to unsuspecting members of the public in the UK or distribute them to other criminals.
Paul Gerrish said one the best aspects of the job is returning a vehicle to a victim who never expected to see it again.
“When you phone someone up and tell them we’ve got their car back with their kids’ car seats and the pushchair in the back, or other personal items, it’s hugely satisfying. We’ve been to chop shops and seen people’s possessions thrown in a corner – things that cannot be replaced. “We returned a man’s stolen Escort RS Turbo that he’d been rebuilding with his son for over ten years. He was in tears when I told him we’d got it back, he couldn’t believe it.”
The team’s work has evolved to become increasingly intelligence-led with Hannah Gerrish analysing offences to look for patterns. The team then target the people and places they believe are most likely to produce results.
“Car thefts build into a bigger network of criminality. That’s we try to build a picture of what we’re seeing and hearing. It’s all about joining the dots,” said Hannah.
“Our intel is primarily self-generated. Something that may seem insignificant when it’s reported might trigger a lightbulb moment for us.”
Hannah also runs the team’s Twitter page which has more than 5,000 followers and features appeals and crime prevention advice.
She said: “We make appeals on social media and we hope victims feel reassured that we are working for them. We’re very victim-focussed and the feedback and information we get back is great. We are a small team but do our best for victims.”
If you’re concerned about the security of your vehicle, Phil Pentelow said there are simple steps owners can take.
“Learn about your car’s vulnerabilities. There are videos online where you can find this information out. Look on the website Secured by Design to find recommended safety devices for your car and consider investing in a Disklok for your steering wheel at the very least.
“However, the biggest vulnerability is leaving your car unlocked. Double lock your car and check it. We see CCTV of thefts where thieves try the car door and it’s unlocked.”
With the team continuing to disrupt the organised criminal gangs, Paul Gerrish has a very clear message to those who profit from car theft.
“When we know how and where you operate, so expect a visit from us. We know what to look for and we will leave with the stolen vehicles you expected to make money from.”