Two people have been arrested at a car park near Manchester Airport during a crackdown on “rogue” meet and greet firms. Officers today swooped on two sites in Styal, Cheshire, just three from the airport after 55 complaints in just six months.
They include reports of cars being stolen, damaged, and even driven thousands of thousands. One traveler said they returned from an eight-week trip to find 3,000 had been added to their mileage clock. Another said their bonnet had been stolen whilst there was a fire at one site in May where a number of cars were reported to have been damaged.
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Holidaymakers have often found the firms through online comparison sites, giving the impression that they are booking with professional, secure airport parking linked to the airport, Cheshire Police say.
Whereas in reality, the firms have no affiliation to the airport whose ver and cars are often being left on muddy fields or on residential streets whilst their owners are away.
In April, around 150 people coming home from trips returned to find their cars trapped in a boggy field in Styal, with the keys missing and the firm they booked with no answering calls.
Officers were eventually able to resolve that and reunite their owners with their keys and allow them to drive them away.
However they said the firms, and their practices, were, despite sometimes not being illegal, were having “a hugely detrimental impact on local residents and holidaymakers alike and placing unnecessary pressure on local police officers”.
In response, they launched Operation Cicaro – a multi-agency crackdown on such rogue firms. More than 50 people including officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP), immigration officers and staff from the Environment Agency, Cheshire East Council, Trading Standards and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) took part in the day of action.
They visited two sites where it is believed several businesses are operating from. The first was at Lode Hill in Altrincham Road where there have been 42 incidents reported in the last 12 months, a third of which have come in the last eight weeks. They also visited another on Moss Lane in Styal where there were 23 reports in two days in April this year when keys to 150 cars disappeared for a time.
Whilst at the Altrincham Road site, officers discovered cannabis and equipment commonly used in its production Cheshire Police said. Two men, aged 40 and 47, were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the production of class B drugs and are currently in custody for questioning.
A driver also arrived at the site to protest with the business owners about damage allegedly caused to their car. Officers are now also looking into this incident.
Whilst Cheshire East Council officers are also now said to be probing whether the use of the land, part of which is agricultural land, complies with regulations. There were no arrests at the Moss Lane site.
Inspector Andrew Baker, Beat Manager at Macclesfield Local Policing Unit said: “Holidays are supposed to be the highlight of the family calendar, so the last thing anyone wants is to return home and find that their car has been damaged, or even worse is missing .
“While many of these businesses are not illegal, some of the activity taking part on their sites is and some of the services they are providing are questionable, hence today’s operation.” He added that if the businesses “want to keep operating, they need to do so lawfully or leave.”
I have told the Manchester Evening News: “We had some results today and that’s great. But even if we hadn’t had any arrests or prosecutions, we would have made it clear to both sites that we are now in a position, with the team we have got together with multi- agency specialisms, to go on there and find out quickly if any offenses are being committed.
“We can now go to these sites now pretty much at the drop of a hat when we start to see any issues.
“But what we want ultimately, is for businesses to operate in an ethical and lawful way. That’s the ultimate aim.”
Insp Baker also issued a warning to those flying from the airport who are looking to book parking, especially online, to said: “We all like going on holiday, and people want peace of mind when they come back off the holiday” he said.
“They don’t want to have found their car damaged or that there are thousands more miles on the clock.
“The sites we visited today are in no way affiliated to the airport. I appreciate these are budget sites and people are making a saving. But my advice would really be to please, do your research and do your due diligence online. Have a look at what sites have got good reviews.
“If you’ve got a friend or a relative who has used a site without a problem, consider that a good review and go with that. I appreciate there may be sites that are cheaper.
“But ultimately that piece of mind and knowledge your vehicle is being looked after on a site which might more expensive, I think it would be worthwhile considering.”
A Manchester Airport spokesperson added: “We are grateful to Cheshire Constabulary and its partner agencies for the work they are doing to tackle this issue, and will continue to work with them to raise awareness of the risks posed by booking airport parking through these unscrupulous companies. .
“In addition to our own official parking products, there are a number of reliable and reputable third-party providers located near the airport and we would always urge passengers to do their research before handing over their keys.
“We encourage customers to use initiatives such as Park Mark and the government-backed Buy with Confidence scheme to find a provider that has undergone a series of detailed checks and is committed to trading fairly.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.