Penalty charge notices affixed to several cars left in restricted parking bays on a road near Gatwick Airport. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
A criminal investigation has been launched after holidaymakers who left their cars with a meet-and-greet parking firm at Gatwick Airport returned to find the company had gone bust.
West Sussex Trading Standards said investigators were trying to find the director of Gatwick First Parking Ltd after travellers were left stranded when they returned.
The company, which is not a Gatwick-approved meet-and-greet parking company and has no relationship with the airport, normally left cars at two secure compounds.
But it emerged customers’ cars were also being parked at various unsecured locations across West Sussex and Surrey, including supermarket car parks and road lay-bys.
Trading standards and Sussex Police found all the vehicles and have been reuniting them with their owners.
Police said this week that more than 100 vehicles were found parked at various sites in Sussex and Surrey. Keys for cars left by travellers before they flew out were discovered at a Surrey office.
A trading standards spokesman said evidence was now being gathered as part of a criminal investigation into the activities of the firm.
West Sussex Trading Standards team manager Richard Sargeant said: “This has been a difficult and stressful time for those Gatwick passengers involved.
“We are still trying to locate the director of Gatwick First Parking to assist our enquiries. Fortunately, we have been able to contact some vehicle-owners still away on holiday to warn them and give them advice for when they return.”
The website for Gatwick First Parking, which has been in business for 10 years and claimed to keep vehicles in CCTV-covered secure compounds, has been suspended.
Debbie Kennard, of West Sussex County Council, said: “Our advice to protect consumers is to always use a Gatwick Airport approved trader when booking a meet-and-greet parking service.”
Gatwick Airport officials said its number plate tracking system was used to help trace many missing cars. It reiterated advice for passengers to use either official on-airport parking or firms registered with Gatwick’s approved operators scheme.
Chris Banford, senior commercial operations manager at Gatwick Airport, said: “We sympathise with any of our passengers who put their trust in Gatwick First Parking and have been affected by its abrupt collapse and the lack of information provided in the aftermath.
“This company had absolutely no affiliation to Gatwick Airport and we strongly recommend that passengers should avoid non-approved firms going forward.
“By using official on-airport parking or companies in our Approved Operators Scheme instead, passengers will eliminate the risk of experiencing a distressing incident like this in the future.”
Source: The Argus