A vintage motorcycle enthusiast has thanked Kent Police and other partners for reuniting him with his stolen bike after 27 years.

West Malling farmer Stephen Betts reported the theft of his 1949 Ariel Red Hunter in 1996 and despite an investigation at the time it was not possible to locate the person responsible.

He thought the 500cc bike had gone forever until being notified by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) earlier this year that a new owner had applied to register it.

Stephen Betts with his motorcycle that was reported stolen in 1996.


Mr Betts said: ‘The new owner had bought the bike off eBay some time ago without realising it had been stolen and decided to do it up during the Covid lockdown. It was only when he tried to register the bike with the DVLA that they discovered it had actually belonged to me through the engine and chassis numbers, as the number-plate had been changed when it was stolen.

‘He had put his heart and soul into restoring it and spent a lot of money in the process, so was understandably upset to find it had previously been stolen. He was very gracious though and we were able to come to an arrangement whereby I would compensate him for his time and money, as he had done a great job with the bike.

‘I never imagined I would ever see it again. I had kept it in a shed on my farm and one day forgot to lock it, and the next time I went out there it had gone. I spent a lot of time going to village rallies and bike meets hoping I might find it but I obviously never did and always wondered where it had gone. I was really gutted at the time.’

After the DVLA discovered that the bike was still registered to Mr Betts, Kent Police made further enquiries and with support of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Organised Vehicle Crime Unit, an examination of the vehicle was carried out before arrangements were made for it to be returned to its original owner.

Mr Betts said: ‘Everyone worked very hard behind the scenes to trace the motorcycle back to me and I am very grateful. I am amazed that after nearly 30 years they were still able to do so.’


Detective Chief Inspector Neil Watford of Kent Police’s Investigation Management Unit said:

‘When somebody’s vehicle is stolen from them, it is always our hope that we will be able to reunite them with their stolen property no matter how much time may pass.‘I am very pleased that with the support of our partners at the DVLA and Metropolitan Police we were able to return Mr Betts’ motorcycle to him, demonstrating that no criminal investigation is ever truly closed and we will always act on any new information received.’

PC Mike Pilbeam from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Organised Vehicle Crime Unit, who worked on the case, said:

‘Reuniting Mr Betts with his missing bike after such a long time and hearing how much it means to him makes the work that we undertake all worthwhile. The bike had been restored to an exceptional standard and I’m pleased that both parties are happy with the outcome.‘As someone with a keen interest in classic motorcycles I could completely understand what a loss this would have been to Mr Betts, and does make this recovery even more special.’

By Ed

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