There were over 113,000 motor vehicle thefts in England and Wales in 2019/20, and according to the Association of British Insurers the cost of vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles is an eye watering £376 million per year!
Therefore, is it any wonder that a large percentage of our instructions as investigators, relate to the investigation of motor vehicle theft?
You may think that most cases we investigate involve ‘boy racers’ stealing cars for ‘joy riding’, only to be found later, either burnt out or on bricks, or organised crime relating to the theft of prestigious vehicles to order, for export abroad. Our experience is much more varied!
One of our recent cases involved an elderly pensioner reporting their vehicle stolen. However, following investigation, we established it had not in fact been stolen. Due to the elderly gentleman having undiagnosed dementia, he had merely parked the vehicle in a residential area, before going shopping and returning home on the bus. He did not realise until the next day that the vehicle was missing from his driveway. A search for the vehicle in the residential area resulted in its safe recovery.
Amongst the more serious cases, was a vehicle reported stolen, which had been involved in a Road Traffic Collision, in which all four occupants of the third-party vehicle had been seriously injured. The driver of the stolen vehicle had fled the scene without stopping, and the Police were still investigating the matter. The vehicle was later found and recovered a mile away from the scene of the accident, in such a condition that an engineer could not understand how it had been driven from the scene at all. We were instructed by insurers a few months later to interview the policyholder, and fully investigate the matter. It transpired that the policyholder suffered from schizophrenia, which had not been disclosed to insurers. He had not been taking his medication or attending his medical appointments. Upon interview, the policyholder admitted that he was driving the vehicle at the time of the RTC, then subsequently dumped it and reported it as stolen, before going into hiding. Due to his medical condition, the events surrounding the RTC were a blur. Our enquiries also established that he was driving the vehicle whilst banned, for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Other more common cases, would you believe, involve the policyholder leaving their vehicle unlocked and unattended with the keys in the car! These details do not transpire until the policyholder is interviewed by an investigator. General indemnity themes also include false information regarding where the vehicle is kept overnight, non-disclosure of driving convictions / criminal offences, ‘Fronting’, and the last person in charge not being named on the policy.
In another recent enquiry we had attempted to contact the hirer of a vehicle without success. Therefore, we needed to make a ‘cold call’ at their address which was out in the country. It was one of three cottages on an unrestricted road.
The vehicle was on lease hire, paid for by the hirer’s mobility allowance. The vehicle had already been recovered from a city centre location in a damaged condition, however we had been instructed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the theft. When the theft was reported, the hirer had advised that the keys were kept on a table next to a downstairs window and had been taken by the thief to steal the vehicle. When the vehicle was recovered the keys were not found with the vehicle. The hirer however, still had the spare set of keys.
When we arrived at the address there was no answer, however a resident of one of the adjoining cottages approached us and advised that they let the property to the hirer. They also advised that they had spent over two years trying to evict the hirer and his partner and the County Court Bailiffs had just left the property, having changed the locks. The hirer was not there. We were invited into the property and saw it was in a terrible condition, with hypodermic needles strewn around, together with soiled clothing. The landlord advised that the hirer was last seen being driven away in the hire vehicle in a comatose state, by a large male. His partner was also slumped on the back seat. The key to the vehicle was still on the table where it was reported to have been stolen from. Further enquiries revealed that the hirer and his partner were known criminals, with a long history of criminal convictions and CCJ’s. They were involved in ‘County Lines’ drug dealing using their rented property as a base. The lease hire vehicle was being used as a ‘pool car’ by their criminal associates. The hirer’s partner who was a named driver, was also wanted by the Police and was banned from driving.
This is just a sample of the cases we investigate. Our standard enquiries include interviewing and obtaining detailed statements from the policyholder and the named driver last in charge of the vehicle. One in relation to the events leading up to and following the theft, and the other in respect of indemnity. Enquiries are also made with the Police and the DVLA. We inspect the location of the theft for CCTV or anything else that may assist our investigation. We will also make enquiries into the history of the vehicle to include MOT, servicing, and the purchase of the vehicle where necessary.
When hiring an investigator, whatever the specialism required, it is always advisable to ensure they have the requisite skillset, qualifications, and insurance. The simplest way to do this is to check that the investigator is a member of the Association of British Investigators. www.theabi.org.uk By instructing an ABI member you will have the assurance that they have been DBS checked, have demonstrated the necessary qualifications or industry experience; are financially stable; have demonstrated their professional ability to the high standard required; have passed the scrutiny of an interview panel; are registered with the Information Commissioners Office; have appropriate professional indemnity insurance and can be further held accountable for their actions through the Association’s robust disciplinary system.
Further, the ABI is the only association in this industry to be recognised by the Law Society of England and Wales, and included in the Law Society of Scotland's approved Supplier Scheme.