Kathleen McLelland and Michael Curry were told by officers that they have “no lawful powers” to take their caravan back from a traveller couple and their two children.
The couple, from Tongham, Surrey, bought the 26ft Bailey Louisiana caravan with their retirement savings before spending £10,000 on upgrades. The £20,000 mobile home was stolen 18 months ago.
They will now have to launch civil proceedings against the traveller family if they want their caravan back, but fear they will not be able to afford legal fees.
Ms McLelland, 68, said: “We’re devastated – it was all we had.
"They've told us social services would have to be involved to get the family accommodation before they could seize it, otherwise they said it could breach their human rights.”