A SPECIALIST police unit recovered or identified 737 stolen cars worth £27million including a Ferrari owned by a Premier League footballer in the past year.

The Essex-based Stolen Vehicle Intelligence Unit seizes stolen cars within hours of them being taken, examine them, and uses the intelligence to hunt down other missing vehicles.

Their efforts have meant they have identified or recovered more than 700 stolen vehicles in a record-breaking 12 months.

The team have retrieved more than £1m of vehicles in a week after intercepting shipping containers hiding a Ferrari and Range Rover belonging to Premier League footballers.

Echo: Rolls-Royce Cullinan worth £360,000 was discovered in a shipping containerRolls-Royce Cullinan worth £360,000 was discovered in a shipping container (Image: Essex Police)

Essex Police's PC Paul Gerrish, PC Phil Pentelow and analyst Hannah Gerrish have also discovered a Rolls-Royce Cullinan worth £360,000 in a container.

A warrant in Canvey also led to three arrests and the discovery of £640,000 of cars thanks to the team.

PC Paul Gerrish said: “We are continuing to dismantle the organised criminal networks behind these thefts.

Echo: PC Paul Gerrish analyses parts of a broken-up FordPC Paul Gerrish analyses parts of a broken-up Ford (Image: Essex Police)

“We have tracked down a record number of vehicles in the past year and recently we have had three very big jobs where we have recovered huge hauls of cars.

“We are seeing a trend at the moment of thieves targeting family cars - Hyundais, Toyotas, Lexuses – and pushing them back out into the market with false identities.

“These are the vehicles that make a huge difference to people’s daily lives.

“It is very satisfying when we return a car to a family who need it to drive the children to school, or we take a van back to someone who relies on it for their job when they thought they’d never see it again.

“We know what to look for and we know how and where these gangs operate. We will continue to disrupt their operations and arrest those responsible.”

Since the start of 2021, the team have recovered or identified more than 1,800 vehicles worth £58.5m and investigated 106 chop shops – garages where stolen cars are dismantled or given false identities.

Despite the media attention that has followed the recovery of high-value vehicles, the majority of the team’s work involves retrieving the hatchbacks, saloons and vans that are a familiar sight on the UK’s roads.

The team have also worked with manufacturers including Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, BMW and Mercedes to improve vehicle security.

PC Phil Pentelow said there are simple steps to take if you’re worried about the security of your vehicle.

He said: ““Learn about your car’s vulnerabilities. There are videos online where you can find this information out. The website Secured by Design has recommended safety devices for your car – it may be additional immobilising, OBD protection or Faraday bags for keys, but this is model specific.

"At the very least, consider investing in a Disklok for your steering wheel.

“However, the biggest vulnerability is leaving your car unlocked. Double lock your car and check it. We see CCTV of thefts where thieves try the car door and it is unlocked.”