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An elite cyclist who was forced to spend around £6,000 tracking down thieves who stole four of his bikes before driving 1,200 miles to Poland to get them back has claimed that police were ‘too tied down by red tape to help’.
Damian Groves, 34, was horrified when burglars made off with cycles valued at £36,000 in Newcastle-under-Lyme on June 25.
Determined to get justice, he set in motion an extraordinary sequence of events that saw him travel across Europe to recover his bikes after they were shipped out of the country.
During the hunt, Mr Groves hired a private investigator and even flew a drone over an address in Leicester where he was told the bikes were. To make matters worse, he had already given the names of two suspects to Staffordshire Police, who failed to act to retrieve the stolen goods.
It is the latest example of a police force being criticised for failing to deal with a crime when the victim provided a tip-off.
Mr Groves said his battle for justice left him ‘broken’ after he had to take matters into his own hands: ‘I don’t blame any individual officer, it was clear every time I spoke to one that they wanted to help – but they were tied down by too much red tape to do anything and there isn’t enough of them.
Damian Groves was horrified when burglars made off with cycles valued at £36,000 in Newcastle-under-Lyme on June 25
Mr Groves is well-known in cycling circles as is his partner Emily Smith
Four bikes were stolen in Newcastle under Lyme on June 25. Three of the bikes belonged to Mr Groves and one was his partner’s
After being stolen in Newcastle under Lyme on June 25, the bikes appear to have later been sold on to a buyer in Leicester, who in turn planned to sell them in Poland. After Mr Groves got in touch, the seller agreed he could have the bikes back – but by this time they were already in Poland. On August 18, Mr Groves drove 1,200 miles to Warsaw to retrieve them
‘Mr partner Emily was in the police and went out with the military in the Middle East. You serve your country but it’s a sad fact you can’t get help when you need it.’
The plasterer told Stoke-on-TrentLive: ‘We’re not talking about minor crime here. We’re talking about a huge [crime]. I’ve provided the police with all this intel and they’ve just done nothing.’
He said he ran out of funds for the private investigator, while police just asked him whether the bikes were insured.
‘The way the law works, these criminals know the chances are slim that they will get caught. That is a s***show that shows what the state of the country we are in right now,’ he added.
‘You hand the police all this information, and I don’t think it’s that the police aren’t interested. I just think they haven’t got the power and the system is just no good. It has broken me.’
Mr Groves said about his fight to get his bikes back: ‘I gave the police some names that had been passed to me and they 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.
Because of their sporting high profile, Mr Groves said he initially thought he and his partner ms Smith (pictured cycling) may have been the victims of a professional steal-to-order racket
‘I thought at this point »the police are going to be fairly useless here. »’
It comes as the Mail on Sunday leads a campaign calling on police take action on ‘low level crime’ amid shock statistics that shoplifting in Britain occurs on average every two seconds, with Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose saying the offence has effectively been ‘decriminalised’.
Britain’s high streets have also been compared to the ‘Wild West’ as small business owners report they are having to defend their own premises.
Police Scotland, meanwhile, has received strong criticism for saying it won’t investigate every crime, even after the Home Secretary ordered forces to follow up investigations whenever evidence is available.
Mr Groves is well-known in cycling circles as is his partner Emily Smith, 33, a former police officer turned military athlete who rides for the British Army Enduro Team.
Their nightmare began when four bikes from US brand Niner – which act as a sponsor for Mr Groves – were stolen overnight from his parents’ garage.
Because of their sporting high profile, Mr Groves said he initially thought he and his partner may have been the victims of a professional steal-to-order racket.
But after asking locals, he was given the names of the alleged perpetrators – who he says were opportunist thieves who simply broke into the garage at random.
Mr Groves handed the names to Staffordshire Police, but claims officers took no action.
The couple posted about the thefts on Instagram and amassed hundreds of thousands of views, before Mr Groves was contacted by a person on the site who claimed to have all four bikes.
They blackmailed him, asking for £300 in cash to return one of them.
The crook even sent a taxi to his home with his daughter in asking for more money
The crook insisted Mr Groves hand over another £200 to his daughter in the taxi, but the cyclist refused to pay unless a bike was handed over
The alleged thief insisted money be handed over to his daughter, despite her ‘knowing nothing’ about the stolen bikes
Desperate to get his gear back, Mr Groves left the money in an alleyway, but his bike wasn’t returned.
The crook then sent a taxi to his home with his daughter in asking for another £200 – but Mr Groves ignored them.
He said he felt certain the person had the bikes because of the level of detail they gave him about them.
After telling the police the latest update, he says officers told him they would approach Instagram owner Meta for the user’s details – but did not hear back.
Mr Groves added: ‘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.
‘Two weeks went by and I decided to get a private investigator (PI).’
The sleuth received a major tip-off when a Hungarian cycling enthusiast got in touch to say he was certain he had seen the bikes posted on a Polish sales site.
Mr Groves confirmed they were his bikes and the private investigator tracked the poster down to an address in Leicester. By this point, the bikes were believed to have been sold on by the original thief.
He said: ‘We put a drone in the air to match the background of the ad to his garden in Leicester.
‘It appeared the guy lives in Leicester but was selling them in Poland. He’s a self-employed trucker and he takes the stuff over there.’
Mr Groves’ contacted his investigating officer, but says there was toing and froing between Staffordshire Police and neighbouring Leicestershire Police about authorising a search warrant.
‘I was doing somersaults at this point,’ he said. ‘My PI had made a dummy account and was trying to arrange a meet to get the bikes.
Mr Groves (right) with a friend in Warsaw, Poland. Here, they are pictured on August 18, having just got the bikes back after they were stolen on June 25
Mr Groves later contacted a seller who was advertising the stolen bikes on a Polish website
The seller in Poland agreed that Mr Groves could have the bikes back. It is unknown if he was aware they were stolen
‘From my point of view all this procrastination from the police was just making my bikes get further and further away.’
Mr Groves says he had further frustrating communication with Leicestershire Police about the warrant before finally taking action into his own hands.
He wrote to the seller in Leicester. On this occasion, the man replied with an apology, saying the bikes were in Poland but he could have them back.
It is not known whether or not the seller knew they were stolen.
Unwilling to spend more money on outside help, Mr Groves left for Warsaw on August 18 and after a 1,200-mile round trip returned with all four of his stolen 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. I’d got my bikes back without any real help from the police at all.’
He estimated the ordeal cost him around £6,000 – with £2,500 spent on the private investigator, £300 to the blackmailer, £1,700 to operatives who collected his bikes in Warsaw and £1,200 driving there and back to collect them.
Reflecting on the case, he said: ‘The police on the ground want to do their job but there is too much red tape for them.
‘When it first started because the bikes were worth almost £40,000 I was told CID might have picked it up.
‘I don’t want this to be a witchhunt on the police; I am pro police, but the system in place needs addressing so the police can actually just do their jobs.
‘It’s not the eyes on the ground that are the problem. Every officer I spoke to was interested and it seemed as though they wanted to help, but they almost had to ask for permission to breathe, let alone knock on a door.’
Emily Smith and Damian Groves are pleased to have retrieved their pro bikes, although Mr Groves says he felt frustrated by police inaction
A spokesperson for Staffordshire Police said: ‘We were first called to an address in Newcastle-under-Lyme on Sunday June 25 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.
‘We are still keen to speak to anyone with any information which may be able to help us with our investigation.’
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