Watch your phones! Snatch street thefts are back

Phones snatched by moped and bicycle riders as lockdown rules are eased

Thursday, 6th May 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby


People sitting outside pubs and restaurants are said to be a target

POLICE are warning the public to keep their phones out of sight amid concerns that thieves on mopeds and bicycles are operating again.

With coronavirus lockdown restrictions gradually coming to an end, there is concern that some residents may be “off their guard” after months of mainly staying indoors.

Officers confronted a wave of rapid steals in 2017 when thieves would snatch phones from the back of pushbikes, scooters or ­mopeds.

Unsuspecting victims would be transfixed by their screens one moment, and their phone would be gone the next – an item potentially worth £1,000 grabbed in seconds.

The New Journal understands people sitting in the street outside pubs and restaurants – allowed to serve outdoors since last month – are at particular risk of being targeted. Thieves have also grabbed devices off tables.

Last month, a man had his brand new iPhone 12 Max snatched near Warren Street tube station by a thief on a scooter.

TV judge Robert Rinder had his phone nabbed by balaclava-clad youngsters

In another incident, two weeks ago, two bandits on a moped reportedly made several snatches in a matter of minutes as they rode through Somers Town, while a woman had an expensive Apple phone swiped in Belsize Road.

There have also been high-profile victims including Robert Rinder – the lawyer who became “Judge Rinder” in his own daytime TV show – who was targeted in March during an incident in Finchley Road when he said his phone was “grabbed out of [his] hands by three boys wearing balaclavas”.

He later said he had pity for young men who had to resort to stealing.

Similar reports are being made on social media platforms by residents, with people saying they were targeted in a number of areas including Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, Primrose Hill, Hampstead and Camden Town – although it is not known how many of these thefts were reported to police.

On Saturday evening, the Chavs author and Guardian journalist Owen Jones said his phone was stolen by a cyclist near Angel tube station in neighbouring Islington – the third time he had lost a handsets.

“This time it was in broad daylight in a crowded place. It’s just very frustrating,” he said. “I was just finishing a phone call when a white, middle-aged, lycra-clad cyclist came around the corner.

Officers are urging mobile phone users to stay vigilant outdoors

“At first I thought he’d gone into me but then I realised my phone was no longer in my hand. “I called the police just to get a crime reference number because you need it to claim your insurance, but otherwise I know they won’t investigate a single incident like this.”

He added: “It does seem though like there’s networks or organised gangs behind this type of crime and I just hope the police are focusing on bringing them down.  I’m fine, but this kind of incident can really shake someone up.”

Mr Jones said when he last looked, the last known location of his phone was near St Pancras station.

The latest figures from the Met show that in March “thefts from a person” in Camden were still down by more than half compared with last year, although comparisons are difficult because crime rates plummeted during the first national lockdown.

Officers have said they are determined not to let the number of thefts increase this summer with the lockdown release continuing.

Police in Islington – Camden’s twin borough in policing terms – have said they will be “proactively targeting [their] phone snatch hotspots, engaging with local residents and businesses and offering crime prevention advice”.

Detective Chief ­Superintendent David Courcha said: “We have seen fewer phones being snatched on the streets of Camden and Islington with fewer people being out and about. As we’re coming out of lockdown, we’ll continue to work to keep crime levels down in the borough.”

He added: “Our advice is to keep your mobile phone and valuables out of sight. If you’re using your phone it’s more likely to be snatched from your hand as you’re not paying attention to your surroundings, so look around you. And never leave a mobile, or any other device on the table of an outdoor café, pub or restaurant.”

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