Motorists whose cars are stolen are being told they must pay the police at least £105 if they want them to recover their vehicle when it is found and check it for forensic clues.
The scheme — being implemented by forces across the country — has been attacked by angry motorists.
Only car owners who agree to pay the fee, which in theory is to cover storage, are assured their cars will be “forensicated” — which means dusted down for fingerprints or swabbed for DNA.
A police letter approved by the Home Office warns motorists who recover their own vehicles that the cars will not be checked for clues. It states: “[The police force will accept] no further responsibility and will be unable to take further action to identify the person who took it.”
Opposition MPs this weekend attacked the charges, which often cannot be recovered under car insurance policies, for penalising the victims of car crime.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “Taxpayers already pay twice for policing, through central taxation and council tax.
“It’s ludicrous to charge them a third time for the police to do their normal job when their cars have been stolen through no fault of their own.”
While victims of car theft will automatically be charged if they want the vehicle taken to a “forensic car pound” for tests, there are no similar fees for any other police services. Victims of burglary are not offered any optional fees to guarantee forensic tests when they report a break-in.
“This is an absolute scam,” said Don Astwood, 54, who is disabled and was levied with the £105 charge and a storage fee of about £100 after his car was stolen outside his home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. “My car was found legally parked a few miles away where I could have picked it up, but they charged me to take it another 10 miles further away where they checked it for fingerprints.”
Chris Haslam, a travel writer from north London, said he was “flabbergasted” when he reported his Land Rover stolen last week and was told of the “new service”. The alternative was that he would be given the car’s location if it was found and he could “retrieve it himself”.
“That’s free, sir,” the operator told him. The number of cars stolen each year in England and Wales has more than halved in the past 10 years as manufacturers develop more sophisticated security systems. In 2005-06 203,600 cars were stolen, half of which were recovered.