Was Number Plate AB 1 Undersold Yes It Was
police boss has been accused of short changing his force after he sold off a rare number plate for hundreds of thousands of pounds less than its market value to a former chief constable.
John Campion, who was elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Mercia force last year, put the AB1 plate - which had adorned police vehicles in the region since 1904 - up for sale in a bid to raise funds for his cash-strapped force.
It was bought for £160,000 by West Mercia's former Chief Constable, Paul West, who made a private bid rather than go through an authorised dealer.
But questions have been raised over the sale after it emerged that the rare plate could actually be worth in excess of £500,000.
Local politicians have now accused Mr Campion of selling off the “family jewels for a knock down price” and securing a terrible deal for local taxpayers.
Personalised number plates have soared in value in recent yearswith the most sought after registrations being snapped up by wealthy celebrities, sports stars and business people for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
West Mercia’s AB1 plate had traditionally been used on the Chief Constable’s car, but was removed six years ago for security reasons.
Following Mr Campion’s election as the Conservative PCC last May, he decided to put the plate up for sale, ignoring complaints from many serving and retired police officers that it was part of the force’s proud history and was not his to sell.
Despite being advertised with a guide price of £175,000, Mr Campion accepted a lower offer after cutting out the dealer.
But the final price has sparked widespread anger after it emerged that the plate could have actually fetched more than three times as much.
Alan Hebbs, who works for the plate dealer, Mark Hunt, said: “If they were trying to raise money for the force they have not done a very good job as they have done themselves out of a couple of hundred thousand pounds.
“The AB1 plate is as rare as you can get and it is like owning a piece of fine art or a valuable antique. The AG1 plate is on sale at the moment for £500,000 that is arguably not as desirable as this one.
“It will only increase in value and in a couple of years it could be worth as much as £700,000.”
Last night Mr West, who was Chief Constable of West Mercia Police between 2003 and 2011, insisted he had purchased the plate because he did not want to see its connection to the force lost forever.
He told the Telegraph: "I was not in favour of the decision to sell the number plate in the first place and I would never have agreed to it being sold in my time in office, but after a number of people told me that they had seen it being advertised I sat down with my family and we discussed making an offer.
"I had the AB1 plate on my official Police Authority owned car for eight years when I was Chief Constable, and so have a very personal connection to it.
"As it happens, I have owned personalised number plates for over 25 years and so I understand how the business works. The plate was advertised on the open market for sale through a dealer, who obviously would have taken a significant commission for the sale.
"I decided to make a direct offer to ensure that if the offer was accepted, all of my money would go to West Mercia for the purposes of policing and none would be wasted in commission for a straightforward transaction that involves nothing more than a signature on a document.
"The only figure that was being talked about in the media at the time I made my offer was £175,000. Whilst I am not willing to divulge what I paid, I am quite happy to say that the offer I made was for more than West Mercia Police would have received if AB1 had been sold for £175,000 minus any dealer’s commission.
“Once you’ve bagged that number plate – if it’s a good one it adds value to it. Some are iconic and will be sought after. Some of the best are simple but exquisite.”
The biggest went for £180,000 in May last year – for KR15 HNA – which was a new British record for the most expensive current style personalised registration plate.
Today, plates with just one number and two letters cost an estimated £60,000, 20 times more than the early 1990s, when drivers could expect to pay somewhere between £3,000 to £5,000.
A DVLA spokesman said: “Many people enjoy displaying a personalised registration number and the general sale and auctions remain extremely popular with the public.
“Since we began selling personalised registrations we have raised around £2.3 billion and all the money raised is passed to the Treasury.”
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