Hackney Gazette reporter: ‘I saw masked thieves in iPhone cycle snatch’

Emma Bartholomew doing exactly what you shouldn't - walking down the street with her phone on show w

Emma Bartholomew doing exactly what you shouldn't - walking down the street with her phone on show where thieves are at work (Photo: Polly Hancock) - Credit: Archant

Police are constantly telling us not to take out our phones on the streets – and despite often writing stories in the paper about their warnings I’d become somewhat flippant about doing it myself. Not any longer.

Smartphone snatches by thieves riding bikes or mopeds have become one of the biggest thorns in the side of police – and this week I witnessed one first-hand.

Walking down leafy De Beauvoir Road, I heard heavy footsteps running towards me from behind and a man shouting: “Oi”.

Ahead of us, just past the crossroads, we could see two men pedalling their push bikes furiously, checking over their shoulder behind them to ensure they were making a successful get-away.

The victim – an architect on his way into work – told me he would have chased them further on foot but hadn’t considered it worth risking his life running across the busy main road.

I phoned 999 for him, and he explained to the operator how the cyclist had mounted the pavement and snatched his phone out of his hands as he was walking along texting.

A passing cyclist told us she had seen the intimidating-looking perpetrator, who had been wearing a black hoodie and black face mask. As I waited with the victim for police to arrive, we watched as a cyclist approached us and slowed as he rode past. He, too, wore a black hoodie and a black mask that was covering his mouth and nose. All we could see were his eyes staring menacingly at us. It made my hair stand on end.

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Later, the victim got into the police car to have a drive around and look for the culprits, but they were long gone. He didn’t have a “trace your phone” app set up, which can sometimes help police track a stolen device soon after a theft. He hadn’t recorded his IMEI code, which could have helped police return it to him if it’s ever recovered.

It’s an easy crime to commit when there are a bunch of oblivious people walking around with their phones on show.

The brazen criminals who use bikes and mopeds to snatch mobile phones out of their owners’ hands could be raking in more than £4,000 a week in Hackney alone.

Last month there were an average of four moped-enabled snatches and two bicycle-enabled snatches a day, with thieves flogging them to stolen goods handlers for £80 to £100 a pop.

Police in Hackney have now joined forces with Camden and Islington in Operation Attrition, which aims to raise awareness among potential victims that they shouldn’t text while walking around risky areas, and to stand away from the roadside close to a wall when using their phones so thieves cannot catch them unawares.

Partnership Inspector, Ian Simpkins, told the Gazette how his team have tried to push the crime prevention message.

Over three days earlier this year they stopped hundreds of people in Shoreditch.

“We were trying to target people whose heads were down into their phones coming away from transport hubs, but the response was not particularly favourable,” he said.

“On the whole their reaction was, “We need to use our phones, and we don’t think it’ll happen to us,” but we would try and drive home that it’s important you stay aware of your surroundings.

“It’s particularly difficult to combat.”