London

Cars left at Secure Park Heathrow Limited 'speeding'

Staff at a Heathrow airport valet service have damaged customers' cars, been caught speeding and parked them in public places, the BBC has revealed.

One customer received speeding tickets and another's catalytic converter was stolen.

Secure Park Heathrow Limited does not have permission to park on some of the land it uses, the BBC's Watchdog found.

The firm, not to be confused with companies with very similar names, has made no comment.

Over 68 million passengers use Heathrow every year, many leaving their cars in the hands of people they have never met to look after.

Secure Park Heathrow Limited has received a number of complaints.

One customer said he found paint poured on the roof that had drained onto the windscreen.

"It appeared that [one of the workers] had tried to scrape it off with the car key just before giving it to me," said customer Vimal Patel.

"[The manager] arrived at the car, didn't introduce himself, just walked straight up to the vehicle and spat on the windscreen and tried to wipe off the scratches.

"He said 'I've cleaned it off with my spit' and I said 'no you can see the scratches clearly because it's all gone through into the glass' and at that point he just said I was being too fussy."

Another customer reported cracks in their windscreen and another found dents in the side of his car.

The Rose family came home to find their car making a loud exhaust noise, and when they investigated it, found part of their car missing altogether.

"My first thoughts were maybe they have parked it in a muddy field, maybe the exhaust has corroded and it's gone… you get home and find a really big hole where there should be a catalytic converter," said Daniel Rose.

"You'd never think you'd leave your car in a car park and you come back and somebody's stolen the catalytic converter," said his wife Gillian.

Another customer returned to the UK from Australia to find his vehicle had been stolen.

'Good feedback'

On the other hand, the Gridley family were initially quite pleased with Secure Park Heathrow's service.

"We even gave them good feedback," said Jill Gridley.

But then they started receiving penalty notices.

"Thirty days later we get these tickets arriving through the post, parking tickets to £120," said Derek Gridley.

Image caption Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world with over 180,000 passengers a day

"The car was left on the high street in Slough."

The Gridleys contacted one of the managers about their concerns.

"I said to [one of the managers] about what had happened and he said send me all the documents," said Derek.

"We sent everything too him and since then we never heard anything at all."

The people believed to be in charge of the company have failed to comment about these customers' concerns.

The BBC's Watchdog programme equipped a Toyota, a Mercedes and an Audi with secret cameras to see if the allegations could be substantiated.

"People should expect a locked compound, security lighting, cameras and no unauthorised access," said Tim Shallcross, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

"Above all, the cars should be driven straight there and straight back to meet us off the plane."

One was left on a recreational ground near a children's play area, public land owned by the council which the company does not have permission to use.

"Parking in a council owned car park is just asking for trouble," said Mr Shallcross.

"It's got full access to the public you don't know who's going in there, who's going out of there, its simply not secure… not fair."

The car was there for almost an hour before being moved on to a compound.

This compound was locked at night but when visited a number of times during the day, the gates were wide open without any sign of CCTV.

All cars' exteriors could be accessed and some customer flight details were left on full view in car windscreens.

Hillingdon Council said it was investigating and intends to take action against any company using any of its car parks.

Travelling at 100mph

The night before the cars were to be returned, the Mercedes was moved again to a residential street.

"Parking in residential streets is not secure… cars do get damaged, they get scratched, they get broken into and stuff gets pinched out of them," said Mr Shallcross.

The Mercedes was left in the street while the Toyota was driven to the council car park - both unattended all night.

Around three hours before the Mercedes was due to be returned, it was used to transport drivers to and from Heathrow.

Image caption Dominic Almond was confronted by the programme about allegations made by customers

"This is ridiculous," said Mr Shallcross.

"You've paid this company to look after your car, you don't expect them to use it as a taxi."

Vehicles were recorded travelling 69mph in a 40mph zone and even 100mph in a 50mph speed limit.

Drivers were also caught using the phone while on the road and using the vehicle as somewhere to sleep.

Dominic Almond, believed to be one of the bosses of the company, was tracked down to a public house in Old Windsor which he was running.

He said that he had not actually been to the company for a few months and wanted to investigate further before making a comment.

The BBC has yet to receive any further details from Mr Almond.

BBC One's Watchdog programme returns for a new series of consumer investigations at 20:00 BST on Thursday 1 September and available on the iPlayer.