CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Police: We need public’s help to stop moped phone thieves

New Journal reporter witnesses two phone snatches at the same spot in as many weeks

11 May, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya, William McLennan

Suspects were snapped by residents in Fleet Road on Thursday

POLICE have said they need the public to help them counter a surge in moped crime by taking photographs of perpetrators and dialling 999 to report suspicious behaviour.

A recent increase in victims having their phones ripped from their hands by criminals on stolen mopeds has led to calls for police to be given greater funding to tackle the crime.

But the officer in charge of dealing with so-called “moped-related criminality” in Camden and Islington told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday): “It’s a constant battle, but we have got the tactics, we have got the staff and we have got the resources to do it.”

Police in Bloomsbury released a map on Sunday detailing the locations of 20 snatches that had taken place in that ward alone during the past seven days. In one night last month, it was claimed there were 80 phones stolen across Camden. And in one of the most alarming incidents, neighbours near South End Green, Hampstead, were threatened with a hammer as they intervened when two suspects tried to steal a high-powered motorbike.

Alex Pride, who witnessed the scene unfold in Fleet Road on Thursday, said seven or eight members of the public stood in the street attempting to deter the suspects. He added: “It was like dealing with wild dogs. They just want the carcass and they are not going to stop.”

Mr Pride said he had in recent weeks become increasingly aware of the problem and last month called to alert police after nearly falling victim himself. “They said that by the time they got to me there had been about 40 callouts and there had been 80 phones taken in Camden. It needs nipping in the bud.” He said the police “do a great job” but believes they should be better funded, with more officers on patrol. Mr Pride added: “For the first time in London since the riots we are just looking over our shoulders.”

Pictures of the suspects were widely shared online and were eventually seen by a man whose Piaggio moped had been stolen the day before in West Hampstead and was being ridden by one of the suspects. The man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was shocked to see his bike being used to facilitate further crime. He added: “I’m not happy with the fact [the police] don’t seem to be taking it seriously enough. If they’d have caught them, not only would my bike have been returned, but they wouldn’t have been able to go out committing more crimes.”

DCI Steven Heatley, who is leading the fightback through Operation Attrition, said they had a well-resourced and skilled team on the case using “all the tools in our toolbox” – including undercover surveillance, regular patrols and informants. He said: “We are good at what we do, but we do need the public’s help. If they see some suspicious males walking in the area, or riding a bike, call 999.” DCI Heatley said being provided with photos was “brilliant” and had led to the identification and arrest of suspects.

He said people should take more care while using their phones on the street, adding: “This isn’t about us making people feel it’s the Wild West, because it’s not. All I’m asking is, use your hands-free, make sure you have got all your security features on the phone switched on, don’t text while you’re walking, and step back from the kerb a little bit when you are using your phone.”

Operation Attrition was launched in May 2015 and has led to hundreds of arrests in the past two years. Officer’s ability to chase suspects is limited by safety issues surrounding high-speed pursuits, which could injure or kill both suspects and members of the public. DCI Heatley said his team have a list of 12 most-wanted suspects at all times who they believe are responsible for phone-snatches, but have yet to be caught in the act. “If they get arrested, then we put in another person, because there is always people coming through, because this crime type is fairly lucrative,” he said.

3He said phones were worth roughly £100 to criminals and were either stripped for parts – particularly for costly lithium batteries – or sent abroad. “They sometimes get shipped off to Africa and other parts of the world and they go to spare parts as well because spare parts are very lucrative,” he said. Police have made a number of arrests in the past week and four teenagers are awaiting trial for conspiracy to rob.

Asked if there was a connection between moped crime and a rise in stabbings on the street, DCI Heatley said: “It’s not that easy to say there is a definitely overlap. Of course there will be some people who are possibly linked to gangs, but this isn’t being fuelled by moped-enabled crime.”

Eyewitness: New Journal reporter sees how the thieves can strike in a matter of seconds

By ALINA POLIANSKAYA

AS I waited at a crossing for the lights to change on Tuesday evening I heard the roar of a moped, worryingly close. I looked to my left, and sure enough there they were. Two riders dressed in black, helmets covering their faces, zooming off along the pavement down Royal College Street in Camden Town.

Behind them, a distraught-looking young man was desperately trying to chase them on foot. Of course, there is no hope and he soon gave up. His shoulders slumped, defeated, he told me they had snatched his phone right out of his hand seconds earlier.

It should be shocking to see something like this happen in broad daylight, but suddenly it feels like the new normal. Why? Only two weeks earlier, at the same spot on Royal College Street, I heard a distressed scream, followed by a moped appearing around the corner and speeding off down the road.

Again, both riders were in dark clothes and helmets. A young woman came running around the corner, her phone had been snatched and she could only watch as the thieves made off into the distance. She told me she had been texting as they grabbed it from her hand. She was upset, but unsurprised.

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