A spate of number plate thefts at one of Newcastle's major health facilities has led to a pregnant woman being arrested over an alleged kidnapping that had nothing to do with her.
But Newcastle's police commander has stood by the actions of officers, saying he was "comfortable [they] were acting lawfully and in good faith".
The healthcare worker, who asked not to be named, did not realise the rear licence plate of her Mazda had been switched until she was approached, in a carpark just off the Pacific Motorway at Ourimbah, by police who had climbed out of three highway patrol cars and were demanding to know whether she owned the vehicle she was driving.
As the scene was unfolding, she quickly remembered recent reports of people who had number plates stolen and replaced with those belonging to other vehicles while in the carpark at the Calvary Mater Hospital - where her car had recently been parked.
The woman spoke to the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday in the hope of warning people about the spike in licence plate thefts - she said she had heard of at least 10 cases from the Mater's carpark alone in recent weeks - and to express anger over the ordeal.
"I think it's more than a mistake, I think it's a terrible thing to have happen," she said. "It didn't have to be like this."
The woman was driving down the M1 to visit her elderly mother on the Central Coast on the afternoon of April 26 - cake and a bag of baby clothes to show her mum were sitting on the back seat - when she noticed a police car appeared to be following her as she was passing Morisset.
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She said after about 18km, with the police car still behind her, a second pulled onto the motorway and joined in.
The woman pulled into a commuter carpark near Palmdale and the police vehicles followed - with a third arriving at the scene as the Mazda stopped.
"I was surrounded by police, they all had their hands on their weapons," she said.
"I didn't even need to be told to put my hands up, I did.
"They were yelling at me, [asking] was the car mine."
She identified herself to officers using her driver's licence and a work-issued ID.
Despite the incorrect rear number plate, the front license plate matched her car - as did the vehicle's VIN number.
She said officers spoke on the phone for about 20 minutes after the initial exchange before they told her the car would need to be forensically examined and that she was being arrested as part of an investigation into an alleged kidnapping.
"At this point people in the carpark are taking photos of this," she said.
"They [police] agreed not to handcuff me but they patted me down, I had to take my shoes off.
"I have no idea where those photos ended up."
The woman was taken to Wyong police station, according to a Custody Management Record seen by the Herald, where she was detained for just under an hour before she was released.
She alleges police asked her to unlock her mobile phone and show officers some of the contents, describing the experience as "intrusive and a bit over the top".
She said police also kept her vehicle for three days for forensic examination before it was returned.
The woman said she understood the initial reaction of police when they approached her in the carpark but she did not believe she should have been taken into custody after she provided ID and it became clear the vehicle still had an original number plate.
"I would not have had a problem with them taking the car for forensic analysis and I would have caught an Uber," she said.
"I got caught up in it and it should have been sorted out in that carpark in Ourimbah.
"Where is the police intelligence? If people are reporting this [number plate thefts] at a major hospital do you not call this a pattern?"
Newcastle City Police District commander Superintendent Brett Greentree said on Wednesday police had spoken to a motorist on April 26 as part of ongoing investigations into a kidnapping and serious assault allegations.
"Once it was established that stolen number plates had been affixed to the vehicle, the vehicle was forensically processed, and the woman was no longer suspected to be involved," he said.
"She was released and assisted by police in the return of her vehicle. All of these details were articulated to her at the time.
"There are multiple avenues available to the public should they wish to question or challenge the lawfulness of police actions. On this occasion, I am comfortable officers were acting lawfully and in good faith in the active pursuit of persons believed to have committed serious acts of violence.
"Given continuing investigations, police will not be commenting further at this time."
Secure Parking, the firm that runs the Mater's carpark, referred the Herald's request for comment about instances of number plate swapping to hospital management.
A Calvary Mater spokesperson told the Herald the hospital was "aware of a number of incidents involving number plate swapping in the Calvary Mater Newcastle carpark".
"Police have been notified and staff have been advised to contact Waratah police station if they become aware of any car number plates that have been changed or are missing," she said.
Superintendent Greentree said police had provided advice to the Mater to prevent and disrupt crime.