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How Tracker nabbed our man in five minutes flat

UNLOCKED and with its keys left dangling in the ignition, the shiny black Citroen Xsara Picasso was an offer any car thief would find impossible to resist.

But less than five minutes after we'd decided to drive it away from where it had been left in a quiet Birmingham suburb, a police Volvo with flashing blue lights had us cornered at the bottom of a supermarket car park.

Fortunately, the abrupt end to one of the more unusual test drives had been engineered by Tracker, the stolen vehicle tracking and recovery system.

Based on electronic gadgetry no bigger than a mobile phone and designed to be concealed in any of 30 different locations deep in a car's bodywork, Tracker is now helping almost half a million drivers stay one step ahead in the battle against joyriding and other drive-away offences.

With a vehicle theft happening each minute of every day, Britain really is a battleground for car crime, and 10 years after it was launched, the Tracker system now forms a vital part of the armoury employed by traffic and helicopter units in each of the nation's 52 police forces.

So far, the theft alert, location and retrieval equipment has led the police to a remarkable tally of 8,572 vehicles worth more than £164 million – and proved instrumental in achieving a total of 1,488 arrests.

Sergeant Paul Farley, of the West Midlands Constabulary, said: 'Cars are now better protected against the thief than they have ever been and alarms and immobilisers have proved to be big deterrents. But there's no doubt this is a very useful device. In particular, we appreciate the help it gives us in making arrests because this has now become our key performance indicator.'

One of many policemen who are glad to have electronic helpers in their vehicles, the West Midlands force officer was on traffic patrol duty when Tracker was introduced.

He said: 'I've seen how it has featured more prominently in our work over the years and it assists us in lots of ways – even contributing to combating the drugs problem prevalent in most big inner city areas.'

Traffic police officer Mark Crozier, Farley's partner in the Volvo that located our 'stolen' Citroen, added: 'That may sound surprising, but a high proportion of the car thefts in this area happen simply to raise the cash to fund a drug habit. When vehicles worth £20,000 get stolen and are then sold on for as little as £3,000, you know what the cash is going to be used for.'

Drivers must steer clear of complacency

EVEN though latest Home Office statistics reveal some good news – car crime has fallen over the last few months – Uxbridge-based Tracker believes the motoring public needs to steer clear of complacency and continue to appreciate that thefts and break-ins don't always happen to other people.

Marketing manager Michelle McLaughlin said: 'Car crime accounts for 20% of all recorded crime in the UK and almost half the vehicles stolen are never recovered. In May alone, our equipment was responsible for recovering a total of 110 vehicles and helping the police make 10 arrests. The vehicles totalled £2.75 million in value, with the most expensive car recovered being a Mercedes-Benz S500 worth £85,000. Needless to say, the owner was very pleased.

'We know that if many of the vehicles that get stolen are not destroyed, they are either exported or re-plated and sold on. Prevention is still the best cure and you have to fit alarms and immobilisers, steering wheel locks, park wisely and look after the ignition keys.

'Our experience over the past 10 years shows that all these actions fail to deter the professional car thief – people who are on the look-out for particular brands of prestige vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz or BMW. One of the answers is to fit a tracking system – at least if all else fails, you'll still get your vehicle back.'

Tracker's range starts with Retrieve, a unit that relays the vehicle's location once its owner has reported its loss. Monitor and Horizon, more recent additions, use movement sensors and automatically alert the company's round-the-clock control room if an unauthorised person drives the vehicle away.

Approved by 35 vehicle manufacturers, the equipment attracts car insurance premium discounts of up to 15%, and statistics released by Norwich Union show Tracker has so far saved the company and its customers more than £15 million.

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