You expect owning a car in London to carry risks. Why else would insurance premiums be high? But nothing prepares you for your car being stolen in the capital and found somewhere else.

When our car was stolen from north London, we learned of its disappearance only when the police reported that it had been found - in a lock-up garage in Slough.

The local Thames Valley police advised us that either we could pay for a local contractor to recover the vehicle (cost, pounds 95 + VAT), or the RAC could collect it.

The RAC were willing to oblige, and arranged to meet a local police officer where the car was found, "within an hour or so". Shock evaporated into relief - until the RAC called to say they could locate neither the car nor the police officer. We rang the police, who said they had been too busy to send anyone out, but would do so as soon as possible.Silence prevailed until 8am the following morning, when our worst fears were realised: at 6am the police had checked, and couldn't find the car. It had been stolen again.

Angry, we complained to the chief inspector, who explained that stolen vehicles are not recovered unless the owner specifically requests this at the time they are reported stolen - an option we had not been offered. He also pointed out: "There is no legal requirement on the police to safeguard stolen property."

Thames Valley police used either to recover vehicles, or disable them and leave them where they were - but owners' complaints about damage prompted a change to the system. Other local forces, too, have changed their policy. Yet there is no central source of information as to which forces recover stolen cars, and how.

Meg Carter

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