An elite cyclist said he spent almost £6,000 to track down four stolen bikes in Poland after police in the UK failed to intervene.
Damian Groves, 34, had four professional bicycles worth £36,000 stolen on 25 June in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.
But after a lack of progress from British police, Groves ended up hiring a private investigator and using drones to close in on the thieves.
He said he even gave the names of suspects to Staffordshire Police but that the force did little to help him.
Groves ended up playing amateur detective himself and eventually drove to Warsaw, Poland, to recover the bikes on 18 August.
Groves is a semi-professional cyclist who also works as a plasterer. His partner, fellow cyclist Emily Smith, 33, is an former police officer turned military athlete who rides for the British Army Enduro Team.
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Four bikes from US brand Niner belonging to the couple were stolen from Groves's parents' house in Wolstanton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, in the middle of the night.
Groves said he found out the names of suspects after talking to locals and passed them on to Staffordshire Police.
He said: “I gave the police some names that had been passed to me and the police said, 'We know of them but just giving us their names isn’t enough.’
“At that point I knew I was going to have to go deeper myself."
After Groves and Smith posted about the theft on Instagram, he was contacted by someone who claimed to have all four bikes and asked for £300 in cash to return one of them.
Desperate to get his bike back, Groves left the money in an alleyway, but his bike was not returned.
The person who had contacted him then messaged to say they were sending their daughter in a taxi to get more money from Groves, but he ignored them.
Groves contacted the police again but there was no progress.
“At this point I decided that we either had to let it go or do something about it. I didn’t want to be the person who just complained," he said.
Groves hired a private investigator before a Hungarian cycling enthusiast got in touch to say he had seen the bikes posted on a Polish sales site.
The private investigator tracked the person who posted the bikes for sale to an address in Leicester, where Groves used a drone to match the background of the seller's online advert to their garden.
Groves said he was told by Staffordshire Police to contact Leicestershire Police, but that a search warrant of the property was turned down.
“From my point of view all this procrastination from the police was just making my bikes get further and further away," said Groves.
“I told them they weren’t leaving me any choice but to take the law into my own hands. And I’m a normal person. I didn’t want to do that."
Groves wrote a letter to the addresses linked to the seller in Leicester asking for his bikes back.
The man got in contact and apologised, saying the bikes had already been taken to Poland but that he could have them back. It is not known if the seller knew the bikes were stolen.
The private investigator found a security team who retrieved the bikes from Warsaw.
Groves left for Poland on 18 August and returned with all four bikes 48 hours later.
“By midnight I found myself back at my house looking at my four bikes and I couldn’t believe it was all over," he said. "I’d got my bikes back without any real help from the police at all."
The entire operation cost Groves almost £6,000 - £2,500 for the private investigator, £300 that he lost when he was blackmailed, £1,700 to the operatives who collected his bikes in Warsaw and £1,200 driving there and back to collect them.
He said: "I don’t want this to be a witch hunt on the police - I am pro-police, but the system in place needs addressing so the police can actually just do their jobs."
A spokesperson for Staffordshire Police said: “We were first called to an address in Newcastle-under-Lyme on Sunday 25 June following reports of theft.
“The victim, a man in his 30s, reported that four high-value mountain bikes had been stolen from the address.
“We began investigating and were following several lines of inquiry.
“Then, on 17 August, we were notified that the stolen bikes had been returned to the owner.
“We are sorry to hear our actions to date have not met the expectations of the victim. However, we have conducted a number of enquiries and the investigation remains ongoing."
According to figures published in June by the House of Commons Library, there were 77,201 reported bicycle thefts in 2022, but almost nine out of 10 were left unsolved - no suspect was identified in 89.2% of cases.
'All thefts must now be investigated'
Last month, home secretary Suella Braverman said police must investigate every theft and follow all reasonable leads in an effort to catch offenders.
Braverman said: "There is no such crime as minor crime - whether it's phone theft, car theft, watch theft, whether it's street-level drug-dealing or drug use, the police must now follow every reasonable line of inquiry."
According to the Home Office, 73.7% of theft cases closed in the year to March 2023 did so because no suspect had been identified, the highest rate for any crime category.
The Labour Party attacked Braverman's comments, calling them a "staggering admission of 13 years of Tory failure on policing and crime".
Steve Hartshorn, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said officers were already "stretched beyond human limits".
What can private investigators do legally in the UK?
A private investigator (PI) can be hired to collect data but must do so in a lawful manner.
They are not allowed to arrest someone, although they can carry out a citizen's arrest just like any member of the public.
If a PI discovers incriminating evidence, they will usually hand it over to the police.
Private investigators can look at social media for information but they are not allowed to hack into social media accounts.
PIs can also legally examine public records and court rulings and they are allowed to perform background checks.
A private investigator is not allowed to put a tracking device on someone's car without their permission.
A PI is allowed to follow someone as long as they do not break privacy laws, such as taking photos of someone through the windows in their home.
Private investigators may obtain a licence provided by the government's Security Industry Authority (SIA).