A NORTHWICH man has been dealt a blow by a service which prides itself on being first class.
Retired teacher and piper John Beattie shelled out to have a set of rare antique bagpipes delivered to a collector in Belgium.
But the package was 'lost' without trace by the Royal Mail - but then to his amazement was sold off on eBay by the company.
John, who lost £1,000 in the bungle, has since discovered that the firm auctions 75,0000 undelivered parcels every year and pockets the cash.
Even those who pay extra for secure services to cover valuable goods risk having their property sold.
John, who lives in Crowton, only found out when he discovered the 'missing' pipes for sale on internet site eBay. He had sold the 100-year-old instrument to a collector in Belgium for £1,500 and sent it using Royal Mail's Airsure premium delivery.
But the package was 'lost' without a trace last July. It turns out it spent three months at the national undelivered mail centre in Belfast before Royal Mail sent the bagpipes to auctioneers. They were then sold online for £60 - 25 times below their value.
Mr Beattie, 55, a member of the Sandbach-based South Cheshire Pipe Band, said: 'I've spent a year trying to
sort this out. I did everything I should have. I clearly addressed the box containing the bagpipes, and Royal Mail labelled it with its own stickers too.
'After months of phone calls and countless letters, I've lost my bagpipes, lost money and I'm worried this is happening to plenty of other people.'
A spokesman for Royal Mail said: 'About 500,000 undeliverable parcels are sent to the return letter centre every year. They are kept for up to six months, after which about 15% are sent to auction.'
Royal Mail paid Mr Beattie the maximum £500 compensation under its Airsure scheme. Police are now holding the bagpipes until they decide who is the rightful owner.
Watchdog Postwatch said: 'We are asking Royal Mail to explain the process. It would be good if they paid Mr Beattie the money he is out of pocket by. '