Stewart Melling arrived at his family-run garage to find a silver Range Rover Sport had been stolen from the forecourt.
But the dismayed 37-year-old from Farington, Leyland, thought his luck was in when Lancashire Police contacted him to say that the £26,000 vehicle had been found in Dover in the back of a lorry destined for Poland.
But Stewart was left scratching his head when officers told him he would have to pay £1,326 to get the car back and the truck driver in possession of the car had been able to leave the country.
Stewart said: “I feel like I’m being held to ransom by the people who should be helping me.”
The nightmare began when Stewart arrived at work to find the Range Rover Sport had been stolen.
The head mechanic at family run garage D Melling and Sons in Leyland immediately inspected his CCTV to see two men in dark, hooded clothing smash the drivers rear window to get into the car before speeding off in it.
He was then contacted by the police to say the vehicle had been found in a the back of a lorry in Dover, ready to be shipped to mainland Europe.
“It was a relief to hear that the car had been recovered,” the Farington resident said. “They had done a spot check on the container and noticed firstly the car, and the smashed window raised the alarm. They’d swapped the plates, but an inspection of the chassis number flagged it as stolen and traced it back to me.”
For the next week, Stewart, who runs his garage with his brother Ross, tried to arrange additional cover at the garage to go and recover the vehicle.
“It would mean us both taking a day out of the business,” he said. “We’d drafted in more staff and agreed to pay overtime to ensure we covered the workload already pre-booked into our garage.” But before the pair had set off, Stewart was shocked to receive an invoice from the Dover Harbour Board informing him a charge of £1,326 that needed to be paid before the vehicle would be released.
“So not only do I have to lose out on two day’s worth of work for Ross and I to drive there and back to retrieve the vehicle,” Stewart said.
“But I have to pay five per cent of it’s value to get it out of the port. How is that fair?
“We are a small business. The garage was started by my grandad more than 40 years ago and handed over to my brother and I by our father. We are just trying to make a living.
“If we try to attempt to recover this unfair and unexpected charge through our insurance, we will lose our no claims and see a massive hike in our premiums.”
Then Stewart was visited by police officers who informed him that the found in possession of the stolen car was arrested but was allowed to go free when he was able to show he had no knowledge of the theft and was transporting the vehicle in good faith.
He said: “They’re making the man on the street suffer for something criminals did.
“To make matters worse, someone has broken into my house on Wednesday night and taken some equipment as well as some lead roofing. We don’t think it’s linked but it’s definitely not something I need right now.”
Chief Inspector Mike Adamson, from Lancashire Police, said: “We were called at around 7.20am on March 18 to a garage on Croston Road, Farington, to reports of the theft of a vehicle.
“We attended the garage and found a grey Range Rover Sport had been stolen at approximately 9.45pm the previous day.
“In addition to our own inquiries, the car’s details were circulated among other forces, and the vehicle was found on board a lorry in the Dover area by colleagues in Kent Police on March 21.
“The lorry driver was spoken to but was able to produce documentation to show he had no knowledge of the theft and was transporting the vehicle in good faith. However his details were taken so he can be spoken to at a later date if necessary.
“Our enquiries are ongoing to trace those responsible and we would urge anybody with information about the incident to contact us as soon as possible, quoting log number 345 of March 18.”
Stewart and his solicitor are now trying to convince Dover Port to waive the fee but all requests have been refused. The Range Rover is still being held by Dover Port and Stewart says he’s received no information about how long it will be kept or if further surcharges will be added.
A spokesman from Dover Harbour Board said: “The dedicated partnership between the Port of Dover Police and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) has resulted in the successful recovery of well over £1 million of stolen vehicles, including Mr Mellings Range Rover. The Port is sympathetic to Mr Melling’s situation. However, in order to continue to provide this service for the benefit of future victims of vehicle crime, it is paramount that costs are recovered by the Port of Dover Police, which is funded entirely by Dover Harbour Board and receives no public financial support.”