ESSEX Police is fighting back against car theft – with a specilised unit recovering an astonishing £17.5m of stolen vehicles or parts in last year alone.

PC Paul Gerrish and PC Phil Pentelow, along with civilian staff member Hannah Gerrish, of the Stolen Vehicle Intelligence Unit, tracked down 480 stolen vehicles or parts of vehicles in 2021 alone.

They also supported and worked on 45 investigations linked to chop shops – the places stolen cars are stripped of their parts.

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The team frequently seize stolen cars within hours of them being taken, examine them, and use the intelligence picture they have built to hunt down other missing vehicles.

Echo: Top squad - PC Paul Gerrish and PC Phil Pentelow, and Hannah GerrishTop squad - PC Paul Gerrish and PC Phil Pentelow, and Hannah Gerrish

One of their best recent finds came in January when they intercepted and searched a shipping container that was heading to Dubai from the London Gateway Port in Thurrock.

The container was hiding a Rolls Royce Dawn that had been stolen in London. The missing car had recently cost its owner £350,000 and had been stashed alongside parts of eight stolen Range Rovers.

Echo: Recovered - The Rolls Royce DawnRecovered - The Rolls Royce Dawn

Paul Gerrish said one the best aspects of the job is returning a vehicle to a victim who never expected to see it again.

“When you phone someone up and tell them we’ve got their car back with their kids’ car seats and the pushchair in the back, or other personal items, it’s hugely satisfying. We’ve been to chop shops and seen people’s possessions thrown in a corner – things that cannot be replaced.

“We returned a man’s stolen Escort RS Turbo that he’d been rebuilding with his son for over ten years. He was in tears when I told him we’d got it back, he couldn’t believe it.”

Echo: Hard at work - PCs Paul Gerrish and Phil Pentelow investigate vehicleHard at work - PCs Paul Gerrish and Phil Pentelow investigate vehicle

The team’s work has evolved to become increasingly intelligence-led with Hannah Gerrish analysing offences to look for patterns.

“Car thefts build into a bigger network of criminality. That’s we try to build a picture of what we’re seeing and hearing. It’s all about joining the dots,” said Hannah.

“Our intel is primarily self-generated. Something that may seem insignificant when it’s reported might trigger a lightbulb moment for us.”

PC Gerrish and PC Pentelow were this week presented with awards by the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators.