Phone-snatching spike as bicycling thieves copy commuter dress code

Pic: Metropolitan Police
Pic: Metropolitan Police

Robbers are blending in with commuters by wearing “traditional cycling clothing” as phone snatching increases in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. 

In Shoreditch, Hoxton, Bethnal Green, and Dalston there has been a recent rise in criminals on bikes stealing mobile phones from the hands of people, particularly as they are on their way to or from work. 

Acting Police Sergeant Vincent Boughton, Central East Robbery Task Force (RTF), told EastLondonLines that offenders tend to be “dressed as ‘professional commuters’ i.e. in traditional cycle clothing with helmets, snoods/face coverings/balaclavas. Suspects are even known to wear high-visibility clothing in a bid to ‘blend in’ with their surroundings.” 

This comes after two male suspects targeting commuters were chased and arrested by two officers from the Central East Robbery task force on Monday. 

A/PS Boughton said: “Snatchers rely on unsuspecting members of the public paying more attention to their phones than their surroundings. Offenders target both sober commuters and tipsy revellers in equal measure.” 

Records of theft across the Metropolitan police area show an increase of 3% from 2017-2019 to 231,411, including 46,097 theft from person offences.  

Alice Marconi, 34, Hackney Wick, witnessed a phone snatching and said: “a friend of mine had his phone taken right from his hands by two people on mopeds. It happened very fast. Whenever I am walking around now I try to keep my phone hidden. It doesn’t feel very safe, particularly around the Greenway and canal where there are no lights or CCTV cameras.” 

Boughton said: “Suspects tend to either be teenage boys on bicycles or males on electric-powered pedal cycles. Moped-enabled crime still occurs but is not as prevalent as cycle-enabled crime at the moment.” 

Pic: Les Chatfield
Pic: Les Chatfield

In the last month alone the RTF have arrested eight different suspects for three offences. RTF tactics include patrols in unmarked cars and on bicycles in ‘hotspot’ areas, responding to reports of robbery and theft, targeting known nominals, including stop and search, and also patrols of the two boroughs.  

Offences mainly occur around the hours of 0700-0900 and 1600-2100. This is particularly key as the mornings are darker and the evenings come earlier as we settle into winter.  

Boughton said: “Our message to the public would be to be aware of their surroundings, however people should be able to walk the streets freely without fear of theft but must take a common sense approach to personal safety and their belongings.” 

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