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Moped thieves cross city to snatch phones

Fall in offences as police knock culprits off their bikes

15 June, 2018 — By William McLennan

PHONE-snatch thieves are riding into Islington on stolen mopeds from as far afield as Essex to target tourists and students, police have said.

The number of “moped-enabled offences” has fallen dramatically in the past 12 months, the officer in charge of tackling the crime wave said, but she warned that the battle is not yet over.

Detective Superintendent Caroline Haines said: “[Mopeds] are stolen from elsewhere in London or the Home Counties and then they actually travel into Camden and Islington to commit the crimes. They are travelling across the whole of London to commit crimes.”

She said that reduction in thefts was partly down to the increase in “tactical contact” – whereby police drivers end a pursuit by knocking suspects off their moped.

Inspector Richard Berns said anyone could fall victim, but thieves only targeted expensive phones and would immediately discard older handsets.

“The thing the victims all have in common is they are distracted when they are using a valuable mobile phone,” he said.

“If it’s not a particularly valuable phone, the thieves will actually throw it away. They’ll say: ‘Oh, what, an iPhone 6?’ and throw it back.

“They are after the valuable Samsungs, the valuable iPhones. The iPhone 10 is probably the Holy Grail for thieves and they can get some decent money for it.”

DSI Haines said the reduction in offences followed a “root and branch review” of police response, which led to the deployment of highly-trained drivers.

“Tactical contact is one thing that we do, which effectively is a posh way of saying that we in a controlled way knock people off their bikes,” she said.

They have also introduced remotely-controlled “stingers” – which deflate moped tyres – and a “DNA spray” that allows officers on foot to cover a suspect with a liquid that contains a unique code that shows up under UV light, linking them to a particular crime scene.

DSI Haines said that the “core group of offenders are young people, almost exclusively under the age of 18, and some of them starting as young as 11 and 12 years old”.

“We do have some challenges with the criminal justice service, around charging those offenders and bringing them to justice through the courts, because there are separate forces at work to try to divert young people from the prosecution system. That’s the challenge we are up against.”

Insp Berns, speaking at a public meeting in Hampstead on Tuesday, said people could take simple steps to avoid becoming a victim. “Just be alert, maybe go into a doorway,” he said.

“They can still have their conversation, just with their eyes open and looking around.

“If they hear that little buzz of an engine coming up near them, that’s the time to put their phone away.”

He added: “The big message is that the trend is now going down. I know when crime is down we take the credit and when crime goes up we say that must be some other mystical force. On this occasion I think we can genuinely take credit.”


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