A grieving husband has praised the power of social media after he was targeted by thieves on his first day back at work.
Self-employed builder and plasterer Alan Fowler was still mourning wife Kris, who died in May, but had already committed to a job last Tuesday.
I want to thank everyone on Facebook. So many people out there did so muchAlan Fowler
He went to Travis Perkins, on Queen Street, Wigan, to pick up the supplies he needed at around 9am.
But when he left the reception, he discovered his silver Renault Traffic van had gone.
Mr Fowler, who had been off work for five months, realised he had forgotten to lock the vehicle.
He said: “It’s a busy builders’ yard and with everything going through my head at the moment, it was the last thing in my head.
“It was literally three minutes. I was parked at the front door.”
He phoned the police to report the theft and posted the details on Facebook, which were shared by his three sons and hundreds of other people.
And within 90 minutes, he got a message from someone saying they had seen it parked on Chatworth Fold in Spring View.
Mr Fowler, 56, called the police but they had not been to the van when he phoned back an hour later so he went himself.
He located the van and called the police again to tell them.
He found a house nearby with CCTV cameras and met the man who had discovered his van.
He was also told he had been followed into the Travis Perkins site by a white Mercedes van before his own vehicle was stolen.
And while in Spring View, Mr Fowler saw a white van slowly driving along the road, which he says sped away when the driver saw him.
He got his phone out to take a photograph and gave descriptions of the two men to the police.
Several hours after arriving in Spring View, Mr Fowler decided to move the van himself, using a spare key.
It was stored overnight so police could examine it the following day.
Work has been carried out to ensure the key obtained by the thieves could not be used to operate it.
Tools were stolen, but Mr Fowler was pleased to be reunited with the £17,000 van, which he bought in 2013.
And the rest of his stolen keys were found and handed in at Springfield Cricket Club that morning.
Mr Fowler, of Billinge Road, Highfield, said: “If it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have found my van.”
Mr Fowler said he had a “broken spirit” when his van was stolen, but he was boosted by everyone’s help.
“I want to thank everyone on Facebook. So many people out there did so much,” he said.
He added: “Facebook is like a modern version of Neighbourhood Watch, where everyone is looking out for each other.” Greater Manchester Police are investigating the theft of Mr Fowler’s van and want to hear from anyone who has information about what happened.
However, no arrests have yet been made in connection with the theft.
A police spokesman said: “Shortly before 9.10am on Tuesday, July 26 police were called to a report that a van had been stolen on Queen Street, Wigan.
“The vehicle was later recovered and enquiries into the theft remain ongoing.
“Anyone with information should contact police at Wigan neighbourhood policing team on 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.”
Mr Fowler was able to give descriptions of the two men seen in the white Mercedes van.
He believes the men could be involved in the theft.
The driver was aged 35 to 40, slightly overweight and with short grey hair.
The passenger was in his mid 2os and had short hair.