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Phone snatch thieves using ‘stealth’ tactics on pedal bikes

Teenager wearing balaclava snatches handset in York Way

09 May, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Inspector Richard Berns: ‘There’s a small number of thieves who are responsible for quite a lot of thefts’

CHILDREN as young as 11 are now using pedal cycles instead of loud mopeds to sneak up and snatch mobile phones off unsuspecting victims, police have warned.

It follows a crackdown on moped bandits who have wreaked havoc in recent years by snatching valuables from pedestrians across Camden.

Police began ramming them off the road as part of their fightback, but now senior officers believe the thieves are using “stealth” tactics to grab top-of-the-range phones.

Inspector Richard Berns, from Camden police, said: “Cycle-enabled phone thieves share much of the same methodology as the moped-enabled ones but what they lack is raw speed, they make up for in stealth. Cycles are quiet and many victims won’t even know the suspect was even there, until it’s too late and he is riding away with their phone in hand.”

Since the start of the year the number of reported snatches in Camden of this kind has started to creep up, with a 16 per cent increase on the year before.

The New Journal has been told of phone grabs on pedal bikes in York Way, King’s Cross, with one victim having an iPhone grabbed from their hands by a teenager or young man on a pedal bike and wearing a balaclava. Other hotspots have been identified in Bloomsbury.

Insp Berns said: “The numbers are not nearly close to the number we saw with moped phone snatches but it’s increasing, which is always a concern. It’s not a new crime, but the recent trend is showing an increase. Like moped snatches, there’s a small number of thieves who are responsible for quite a lot of thefts. They tend to target tourists and students who can be harder to educate because they are transient.”

Insp Berns said police face a challenge trying to divert the young snatchers – who are generally under 18 – away from a “profitable crime”.

Shabbir Ahmed, who works on a souvenir stall near the corner of Russell Square, said he is asked almost every day where the police station is by people who have had their phones snatched by thieves on bikes. “It’s never been like this, it’s getting worse and worse,” he said.

Police have been using a controversial ramming strategy – known as “tactical contact” – against suspected muggers to knock them off their mopeds and force them to stop. Officers say this has helped cut moped crime by 90 per cent in Camden.

On whether this tactic could now be used on cyclists, Insp Berns said that it could be but that police are targeting the issue with officers on their own bikes. He added that cyclists are legally required to stop for police and if they fail to do so they can use force.

This would be under section 117 of PACE or section 3 of the Criminal Law Act and any force used would have to be “proportionate and justifiable in the circumstances”.

Insp Berns said: “In Camden the people committing pedal-cycle phone snatches are generally under 18. One was as young as 11, they are younger than some of the moped snatch offenders. We have put officers on pedal bikes in the areas where we know the criminals are operating and we have had some success.”

He added: “We are using stop and search, local intelligence and have been arresting people but unfortunately it’s a challenge to divert the young criminals away from such a profitable crime. The same challenge we faced with the moped crime – young people are less likely to go to prison or face real consequences so they offend again after being caught.”

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