Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bike theft - the forgotten crime

Best to keep a bike owner's identity secret

I don’t usually write about bikes; generally, I prefer to get around on four wheels (or foot) but bikes are very much on my mind at the moment.

The reason? My lovely brother-in-law had his new bike stolen from a locked garage last week – he’d used it just four times and was understandably very upset and angry about the theft.

The crime appears to be the work of professional thieves who, not only knew when their property would be unattended, but arrived with metal cutters strong enough to cut effortlessly through a large padlock.

The whole incident was over in seconds – and if you’re wondering how I know that, it’s because Harri had his own bike stolen in broad daylight in Caerleon High Street in July 2010. We didn’t have to surmise what happened because it was all there, captured on the grainy black and white film of the Roman Museum’s  CCTV camera.

The previous day’s footage revealed two tall, hooded men walking confidently into the forecourt in front of Harri’s place of work (then closed) and checking out possible escape routes – they had a good look around, it’s all there on film.

Coincidentally (!), on his way home earlier that week, a group of younger teenagers hanging around on the pavement had shouted ‘nice bike’ as Harri cycled past. Maybe it’s wrong to put two and two together but there are kids who will do anything for a tenner.

Fast forward to the following lunchtime when Harri disappeared to the staff room at his usual time. He returned half an hour later to find his bike, which was padlocked to the metal railing, gone.

Needless to say, he was gutted. Which is exactly how Paul felt last week. Bikes are not cheap and neither are they automatically covered by most people’s household insurance policies.

In our case, all was not lost. Afterall, the CCTV footage suggested the thieves were the same men who’d stalked the place the previous day. Not kids but big, strong men, one of whom pulled large metal cutters from under his hoodie. As one man kept a lookout, completely unperturbed by the passing cars, the other leaned over the high railing, cut through the lock and lifted the bike effortlessly onto the pavement. Armed with this footage, we were confident that the police would quickly recognise and arrest the culprits.

Not a chance. The police’s standard reaction to a non-violent crime is to issue a crime reference number – for the insurance you usually can’t claim. And just in case, you’re thinking the police had carried out some investigations, the CCTV footage came to light when concerned museum staff presented it to Harri. Stealing a bike, however valuable (Harri’s was worth about £1,500) simply doesn’t rate as a crime in police eyes. Or not one they care to do anything about.

My brother-in-law, who was on holiday when the theft of his bike took place (it was reported by his brother), was promised a visit by police officers last night. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t show; no phone call, no explanation, just no show.

Nothing’s changed then. In 1994, my daughters’ new mountain bikes were stolen from our padlocked garden shed. After a tip-off, my ex found both bikes in the garden of the teenage thief. We tried talking to his mother but she said she couldn’t be expected to know what her son was getting up to, the boy himself said he’d found both bikes abandoned on wasteland and the police . . . did absolutely nothing.

Okay, I understand they have to prioritise resources. Bike theft isn’t (usually) violent so it’s never going to warrant the attention given to more violent crimes; nonetheless, it is a growing crime and it affects a lot of hard-working people who are simply trying to get to work without getting into their cars and polluting the atmosphere. Theft is theft. If I was to steal a pair of knickers from Tesco, I’m pretty certain I’d be prosecuted, but bike thieves know that they’ll get away with it.

An article on BBC News claims ‘More than 26,000 bicycles were reported stolen to the Metropolitan Police last year, up a third on five years ago, BBC London has learned. Arrests for thefts and numbers of bikes recovered by the police are also down on last year.’

When you consider that only one in four bike thefts are reported in the first place, that’s an awful lot of bikes disappearing, around 71 a day in London alone.
Given my family’s experiences with bike theft and the dire response of the police on each occasion, it’s no wonder people don’t think it’s worth the effort of reporting this upsetting crime.
There’s some interesting stuff about avoiding bike theft on this blog.
In the mean time, I shall be putting in a Freedom of Information request to Gwent Police asking how many bike thefts were reported last year and how many arrests/bike recovered. 
Watch this space.

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