Episode 3 Thief Trackers


Episode 3

Reality series following stolen possessions. The team are on the trail of a bicycle thief and discover they are not the only victims of bike crime.


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Transcript


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Bag snatchers, robberies and street crime.

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More than 3,500 incidents of theft

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are reported every day in the UK.

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But what happens to our belongings when they are stolen?

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Thief Trackers shows how they're taken and where they go.

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Excuse me, mate. Excuse me.

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Hiding trackers inside items like cameras,

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smartphones and bicycles

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to trace the thieves' every move.

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There he is, there he is, there he is.

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The crooks think they've got away with it,

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but we've got them under surveillance.

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I think it was you who took it. No, man.

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Using undercover footage, CCTV and tracking technology,

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we'll uncover the unseen journey our belongings take when they're stolen,

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and we'll shine a light on how easy we make it for thieves

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to plunder our prized possessions.

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My van's gone.

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Today, the thief trackers are on the trail of a bicycle thief.

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Keep your eyes peeled.

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He's moving around really erratically.

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And discover they are not the only victims of bike crime.

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Someone else has fallen foul.

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It's a big lock, as well.

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And using the latest tracking technology,

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one man is on the case of moped snatchers.

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We've got to try and catch him and get him off the street

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and get this bike back as soon as we can.

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Plus, trackers are in hot pursuit of van thieves

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and uncover a horde of stolen goods.

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Seats, bumpers, everything from stripped Transit vans.

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Here on Thief Trackers, we have seen first-hand how vulnerable

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our bicycles are to snatch thieves.

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And how they can be stolen with relative ease, even when locked up.

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Estimates for 2016 suggest one bike was stolen every 90 seconds

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and with 72% of reported cases closed, with no suspect identified,

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the thieves are getting away with it.

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Helping thief trackers with our investigation

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is former Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Hill,

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who has spent over 30 years tackling crime on the streets of the capital.

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A bike can take seconds to be stolen.

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Someone will come along, opportunist.

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Before you know it, they're on some website being sold

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and you never get your bike back.

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We know that 400,000 bikes a year are stolen

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and yet of those 400,000 bikes,

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only 5% are ever recovered and returned to the owner.

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We bought some bikes like this one here

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and fitted them with GPS trackers.

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If they're stolen, we can track the bike and the criminals.

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On stakeout is the Thief Trackers' undercover team.

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For their safety, you won't see them, but you'll hear their voices...

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Get the tracker out. If we're going to do this, we'll do it now.

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..as they follow the thieves' every move.

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The team set up their stakeout on the edge of a housing estate in

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Cambridge, securing the bike to railings with a heavy-duty bike lock.

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The tracker is live.

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Time to watch and wait.

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The bike is in a busy spot, with plenty of people walking past.

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It may be broad daylight, but it's still attracting attention.

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This man checks it out, too.

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This guy's having a nice, long look.

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A little raised eyebrow there.

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A group of lads have a good look.

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But carry on past.

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Night starts to fall and under the cover of darkness,

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your bike is more exposed.

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Looks like this cyclist has taken an interest.

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This guy's interested and I think he may actually try and take the bike.

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He's clearly up to something.

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He's gone into his bag.

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I think he's probably trying to get some tools out.

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After a few minutes, he's found what he was looking for -

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a pair of pliers or cutters.

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OK, so everyone be prepared to move when this happens.

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I think he's going to try and cut it off.

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Yep, he's fiddling with the lock.

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He's definitely looking at it.

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You can just hear the sound of pliers clipping at the cable.

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The guy has been working at it for a little while here,

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at least 40 seconds, possibly longer.

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The lock is giving him a challenge.

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He's determined.

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He sees some people, so he's just casually waiting, I think,

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till they disperse.

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I think he's checking no-one is watching.

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Hopefully he's not clocked us.

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A couple of kids, is it?

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I think they're going to pass and he's going to go for it.

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He's determined. He's still trying to cut the lock.

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This is one of the longest thefts of bike I've seen, actually.

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OK, someone else has arrived.

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They've just came from behind our production vehicle.

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He's passed over some tools.

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Is this the accomplice now there's getting involved?

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Our clumsy crook acts as lookout,

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passing lock-cutting duties to his friend.

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But the accomplice isn't doing any better.

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The first man tries again.

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They don't seem too worried about hiding what they're up to.

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The lock has beaten them and the two chancers give up.

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More interested in what they're having for tea.

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Well, it made me giggle, I have to say, seeing those two people.

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They're more interested in their chips.

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The pliers weren't very good,

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but I'll tell you what they had in abundance,

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stupidity, cos between the two of them,

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they couldn't get that bike off the railings.

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However, they were intent, they wanted to steal that bike.

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With the right lock or a combination of locks,

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your bike will be a lot safer.

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When you do lock up your bike, don't use a flimsy lock.

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If it's an expensive bike, you want to keep that bike.

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Lock the wheel and the frame.

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I've just seen a bike that is locked with three locks.

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The chances are, that bike is going nowhere.

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Later on, our undercover team mount another surveillance operation and

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we'll see what happens when a more expert thief gets his hands on our bike.

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2016 saw an increase in motorbike ownership.

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Around 40% of those new bikes were scooters or mopeds,

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with more and more people taking wheels for their commute to work.

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But these high-value machines make a tempting target for criminals and

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over 1,500 are stolen each month in the capital alone.

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As less than 20% of stolen motorbikes are recovered,

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people are turning to tracking companies like Richard Taylor's,

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who use the latest technology to trace stolen property

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and get it back.

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Today, Richard is tracking a scooter stolen in North London.

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This owner uses his scooter in London every single day

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so it's really important he gets his scooter back

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as urgently as possible.

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Richard follows the scooter's GPS tracking signal on a map,

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as you would with a car sat nav.

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SATNAV: Turn left on Seven Sisters Road.

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We've got a GPS in N7 area,

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but it's round the back of some flats or round the back of a building,

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so we can't pinpoint it to an exact residence.

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To do that, he uses a radio wave scanner.

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It's like a distress signal,

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and that will help guide us in to where the bike is hidden.

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MACHINE BEEPS

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And this could be it.

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Yeah, I can hear it. Can you hear it?

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This game of hide and seek with the crooks requires a lot of patience.

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There is a scooter there, but there is no signal coming from that one.

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Definitely not the bike.

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The RF signal has gone out of range,

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which means the scooter is on the move again,

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but all is not lost.

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The GPS picks up the route and the hunt is back on.

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The tracking data shows the bike heading east through London.

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Richard knows time isn't on his side.

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It's not actually good news at this point.

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Normally if they're on the move, they're going to be

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possibly stripped down for spare parts and sold.

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Although he is tracking the stolen scooter back and forth across London,

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he knows he has to keep his distance.

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Sometimes these stolen scooters are doing 5 or 6mph,

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sometimes these stolen scooters are doing 60mph.

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You can't risk the lives of these lads by chasing them

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or making them do something stupid.

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At the end of the day, we just want to get the scooter back for the customer.

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Then Richard gets surprising news from his client.

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Unbelievable.

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Unbelievable.

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I just had to call the owner of the stolen bike just to let him know we are still on the case

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and he's just told me he believes he's seen his bike

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just go past him in the street with two other scooters.

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Um, some nippers, 14, 15 years of age,

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and he tried to just talk to them and they rode off.

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We've got to try and catch 'em and get them off the street and get this

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bike back as soon as we can.

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The tracking data shows the scooter thieves aren't far away,

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and Richard is right behind them.

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I feel like the net is closing.

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We're just picking up the RF now, we're a few hundred yards away.

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It just means we're going in the right direction.

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That should get louder and louder.

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He's led to a housing estate

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and now the radio wave scanner pinpoints the bike.

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The louder the bleeps, the closer they are.

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It's a game of cat and mouse as Richard drives around the estate

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trying to zone in on the scooter.

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And he may have found it.

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It's in an alleyway.

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We don't know who is going to be behind there.

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Even though it's daytime, it looks pretty safe and serene

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and no problem, but I'd rather have the police in attendance.

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POLICE: Emergency, which service?

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Police, please. Police, thank you.

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It's not long before reinforcements arrive.

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Was it you that called us in? Yes, yes.

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I'm Richard, I'm from the tracking company.

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As the scooter is on private property,

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the trackers need the police to gain access and as backup

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in case the thieves are still about.

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Sure enough, the tracker leads them straight to the stolen scooter.

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With a spate of drive-by snatch thefts in London,

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it's possible this scooter has been stolen to use in other crimes.

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The police recover the bike to check it out for prints and DNA.

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We've arranged for a forensic lift of this moped because it's stolen.

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We need to obviously preserve any evidence,

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so things like the handlebars will be swabbed.

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This will be one happy owner who will soon have their scooter back,

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glad they had a tracker installed.

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We've gone right up to the bike,

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identified the bike and after a few hours of being given the runaround,

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we're here on top, so that's great.

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Earlier on, we saw the importance of using a heavy-duty bike lock

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to deter would-be bike thieves.

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The Thief Trackers undercover team are mounting another covert operation.

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The team set up this stakeout on the corner of a busy street,

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locking the bike to a lamppost.

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The tracker in the bike is live.

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Time to watch and wait.

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This area is a popular site for cyclists to leave their bikes,

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chaining them up to railings and lamp posts.

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Even in broad daylight and chained up,

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our bicycles are vulnerable to seasoned crooks.

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This guy is interested.

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Was that a call, was that a nod?

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Seconds later, this man arrives and checks out the bike.

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He crosses the road and is walking the other way.

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However, he's back again, wandering about,

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and shortly after he comes back across the road toward the bikes.

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He's looking around, acting suspiciously,

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scoping out the various bikes.

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He's not gone for long.

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He's back again and makes a beeline for our bike.

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This time, he succeeds.

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The Thief Trackers spring into action,

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hot on the heels of the bike snatch.

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OK, so as you've just seen, the bike has been taken.

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We're going to try and follow it now.

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The bike's GPS signal shows the thief is weaving through

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the back streets, probably in case he's followed.

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Keep going down here.

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The team are right behind the thief, but this crook knows the area.

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OK. Yeah. Has he taken a cycle route?

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Possibly. Damn it. OK, let's go back to the main road then.

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Yeah. OK, so he's heading towards Haggerston Park.

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The tracking signal now shows the thief taking a meandering route

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through a park close to where he stole the bike.

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The team look for a way closer to the park,

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but are hampered by dead ends.

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Get out on foot?

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Or we can go round the other side of the park.

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He's going to go out the park, realistically, isn't he?

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Let's try in the park.

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The thief may have the local knowledge,

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but the Thief Trackers can keep right on his tail.

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If we lose him, we'll find him again.

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The team go round the park and try and head off the crook.

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The bike snatcher is taking a zigzag route and hasn't left the area yet.

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He's still a stone's throw from where he stole the bike.

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OK, that's where we started.

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The thief has turned off into a side street.

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The team are closing in and now the tracking signal hasn't moved

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for several minutes.

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All right, let's pull in when we get a second. We'll go on foot.

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They have to keep a sharp lookout.

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The thief could be round the next corner.

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Although the signal shows the bike is close by,

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it's nowhere to be seen.

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It's not over yet.

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So the team stakeout the area and wait for the thief to make his move.

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And it's not long before the tracking signal

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kicks into life again.

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Having laid low, the thief is now out in the open

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and the undercover team are right behind him.

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We're going to take a left on Cremer Street.

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OK, go up to Geffrye Street.

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As they close in, the tracking signal comes to a stop

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near a railway bridge.

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So at the moment, it says that our bike

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is in here, this sort of area here.

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The team search the area and they have to be realistic about their

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chances of recovering the bike.

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We're looking for a bike, but it might not be around here.

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It may just be the tracker.

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It's now a real possibility that the thief has discovered

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the tracking device and discarded it.

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Their hopes are raised as they come across a bike rack...

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It's not locked up, is it?

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..and evidence of another bike theft.

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It's definitely none of these.

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Yep.

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The signal indicates the tracker is here,

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but the bike is nowhere to be seen.

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The team have now made their way to an estate,

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which is situated behind the flats that the thief had entered

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just before the bike was stolen, so they know where he might be.

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There's one, two, three, four, five bikes...

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..and not one of them is ours.

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But look how close we are.

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We're seriously close.

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The Thief Trackers make a thorough search of the area,

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looking for the bike or the tracking device.

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Down there. You see that?

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Oh, my gosh.

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That's our tracker.

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Their search comes to an end.

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The thief has discovered the tracker and dumped it.

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He first took it, he went into this building, possibly to get a tool,

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we're not quite sure yet. I feel like he probably lives in here.

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It makes it so much easier if a thief operates in an area

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known to them because they know where the quick escape routes are,

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they know back alleys, they know how to lose someone

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if they're being followed.

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Well, I would suggest that if you have stolen a bike,

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then you've probably got an outlet where you're going to sell it on to,

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and so many bikes never come back and they're probably

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all across Europe and I do believe people are stealing bikes

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to sell on.

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We may not have recovered our bike,

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but we do still have clear footage should the authorities

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wish to take a look at the bike thief in action.

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Vans are the workhorse of many small businesses,

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and a record number were registered in 2016,

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pushing the total figure to over four million on the UK's roads.

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But vans aren't just popular with businesses,

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they're also desirable targets for criminals,

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as over 49,000 were stolen in 2016.

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And if they're key to your company, like at this vehicle rental firm

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in the South West, then theft could cripple the business.

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The fleet is around about 1,000 vehicles in total.

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Theft of a vehicle from our business

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will affect it dramatically.

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To try and combat this kind of crime,

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they invested in tracking devices,

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which were soon put to the test after a break-in.

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We noticed a vehicle had gone missing when one of my

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work colleagues went to go and move it.

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As the yard was constantly monitored,

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they needed to be sure that it had been stolen.

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We checked our CCTV...

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..and realised that it was driven out of our yard in the early hours

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of the morning.

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The thieves made off with ?8,000 worth of truck

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just after four in the morning, thinking they had a head start

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and that they'd covered their tracks.

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The vehicle itself was fitted with two trackers,

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one of which they found and removed and, luckily,

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they didn't find the second one.

0:22:400:22:42

The crooks made their escape, not realising that even though

0:22:420:22:46

they'd got rid of one tracker, another was still monitoring

0:22:460:22:49

their every move.

0:22:490:22:51

I called the police first thing in the morning and then kept

0:22:510:22:53

them updated during the day to advise them when

0:22:530:22:55

the second tracker was reporting.

0:22:550:22:58

The second tracker, known as a sleeper,

0:22:580:23:00

was activated once the vehicle was reported stolen

0:23:000:23:03

and would give updates on its position at intervals

0:23:030:23:06

during the day.

0:23:060:23:07

The tracker was due to give us an update around about

0:23:070:23:10

5.15 in the afternoon,

0:23:100:23:13

so nearly 12 hours after the vehicle went missing.

0:23:130:23:16

This was now an agonising wait for Alex,

0:23:160:23:18

standing by for a location fix on their truck.

0:23:180:23:23

I was unsure where the vehicle was going to pop up across the UK,

0:23:230:23:26

whether it was even going to be in the UK.

0:23:260:23:28

I actually thought I would never see the vehicle again.

0:23:280:23:32

Thankfully, the tracker sprang into life and the signal showed

0:23:320:23:35

the van was now over 100 miles away in Berkshire.

0:23:350:23:39

When the tracker reported in at 5.15,

0:23:390:23:42

the vehicle was parked stationary in Reading.

0:23:420:23:45

Alex decided to call in the tracking company to recover the van

0:23:460:23:50

as soon as possible.

0:23:500:23:51

Director Neil Thomas was straight on the case

0:23:520:23:55

and had a theory about its location -

0:23:550:23:59

parked up in a side street out in the open.

0:23:590:24:01

This could be where the thief had dropped it off as a cooling period.

0:24:020:24:07

The cooling-off period is where the vehicle's been stolen

0:24:070:24:10

and taken to a first location.

0:24:100:24:12

Leave it there, perhaps overnight or maybe for longer than that,

0:24:120:24:15

to make sure that there's no tracking unit in the vehicle.

0:24:150:24:18

They'll either pay somebody to look out for it,

0:24:180:24:20

to see if the police turn up, or to see if the owner itself,

0:24:200:24:23

the company or the person, turns up to recover the vehicle.

0:24:230:24:26

Closer inspection of the area set off alarm bells.

0:24:270:24:31

It was parked next to the premises that was involved in metalwork.

0:24:310:24:35

It looked as though the vehicle could be taken in

0:24:350:24:38

and maybe stripped.

0:24:380:24:39

If Neil was to recover it in one piece, they had to move quickly.

0:24:390:24:43

My advice to the client was, we need to get there as soon as possible.

0:24:430:24:46

The trackers got the go-ahead to try what they call a snatch back.

0:24:460:24:49

Now, a snatch back is where APU go and recover a vehicle for a client,

0:24:520:24:56

usually with a spare key, all times of day or night.

0:24:560:24:59

We liaise with the police, just to make sure they don't think we're

0:24:590:25:02

stealing the car, and we'll turn up and recover the vehicle.

0:25:020:25:05

On the way down to Reading,

0:25:070:25:08

I was told via the Telematic unit the vehicle was back on the move.

0:25:080:25:11

The van was now heading west.

0:25:120:25:14

At this point, I spoke to the office,

0:25:140:25:17

spoke to some colleagues and asked them to track the vehicle,

0:25:170:25:20

live-time tracking.

0:25:200:25:21

We could see where it was on the tracker,

0:25:240:25:25

but we didn't know if it was going to a port,

0:25:250:25:27

whether it was going to be out of the country.

0:25:270:25:29

Some vehicles these days are put into containers and taken abroad,

0:25:290:25:32

we've got experience of that.

0:25:320:25:33

Or whether it was going to be taken to another site to be stripped,

0:25:330:25:36

so I was very keen to get there as soon as possible,

0:25:360:25:39

safely as possible,

0:25:390:25:40

and to try and liaise with the police on the way down there to say,

0:25:400:25:43

"Can you assist us?"

0:25:430:25:44

Time was tight and the van had now moved off the main roads

0:25:450:25:49

onto back roads into the countryside.

0:25:490:25:51

Thanks to the GPS technology,

0:25:540:25:56

the trackers could stay right on the thieves' trail.

0:25:560:25:59

Criminals drive on country lanes in stolen cars because they're less

0:25:590:26:02

likely to be caught on any cameras.

0:26:020:26:04

And the quiet roads, they're less likely to see a police officer.

0:26:040:26:07

If they do come across the police, they know the area,

0:26:070:26:10

they can get out and run across the fields.

0:26:100:26:12

Very difficult to arrange for police to pursue them on.

0:26:120:26:15

The van had changed direction again and was heading south.

0:26:170:26:20

The next update from the tracker was that it moved probably 30 or 40

0:26:240:26:28

miles away from Reading into the farm

0:26:280:26:30

and this farm premises was quite isolated.

0:26:300:26:33

There was a long driveway and it had parked up in a barn on the farm.

0:26:330:26:38

Criminals like to hide stolen vehicles

0:26:390:26:41

in either woodland or barns,

0:26:410:26:43

the sort of place where I know, as an ex-police officer,

0:26:430:26:45

if they're far enough away from the main road,

0:26:450:26:47

they won't get caught by the police

0:26:470:26:50

and also they'll think that the tracking signal will be weak.

0:26:500:26:53

It isn't.

0:26:530:26:54

They had a strong fix on the van's position,

0:26:560:26:59

and as it was stationary, it wasn't long before Neil caught up.

0:26:590:27:02

When we got to the barn, the thief had left.

0:27:040:27:07

There was no-one else there.

0:27:070:27:09

The building was owned by a local farmer.

0:27:090:27:12

It was clear that he was an innocent person.

0:27:120:27:14

He'd rented one of his units out.

0:27:140:27:17

Once they gained access to the building,

0:27:170:27:19

they struck gold and discovered more than they'd bargained for.

0:27:190:27:22

We were able to go in with the police...

0:27:230:27:25

..and we could see the vehicle in there.

0:27:260:27:28

Around the stolen vehicle itself were lots of parts -

0:27:280:27:33

seats, bumpers,

0:27:330:27:34

everything from stripped transit vans, and there was a lot of

0:27:340:27:38

parts from similar vans that looked as if they'd been

0:27:380:27:41

from stolen vehicles.

0:27:410:27:42

With operations like this, it's always fantastic

0:27:440:27:46

to see the vehicle itself.

0:27:460:27:48

It's OK seeing it on a screen.

0:27:480:27:49

However, it's really good to be able to phone a client up and say,

0:27:490:27:53

"I'm in front of your vehicle.

0:27:530:27:55

"Here's a picture of it, and it's safe."

0:27:550:27:57

That's a win for the trackers and one very happy customer.

0:27:570:28:01

The vehicle is back with us and it's all in one piece

0:28:010:28:04

and currently still being used to this day.

0:28:040:28:07

Owen Quine - he's a very famous and good novelist.

0:28:390:28:42

He's gone off before, only this time it's been ten days.

0:28:420:28:45

I'm an investigator. His wife's very worried for him.

0:28:450:28:48

Owen has written a very thinly disguised slandering

0:28:480:28:52

of the people who've tried to help him.

0:28:520:28:54

Quine knew a lot of damaging stuff...

0:28:540:28:55

You're going to have to take on a new investigator.

0:28:550:28:58

The team are on the trail of a bicycle thief and discover they are not the only victims of bike crime. They also hear how, using the latest tracking technology, one man is on the case of moped snatchers. Plus, how trackers went in hot pursuit of van thieves and uncovered a hoard of stolen goods.