Victims’ plea after wave of two-wheeled robbers in London

Calls were made on Friday for a purge of gun-wielding robbers using e-bikes and mopeds to rob Londoners of their phones, as the capital’s victims commissioner warned of the trauma the crime wave is inflicting on the public.

Claire Waxman said robberies leave victims suffering long-term trauma and cause fear in public spaces and can have a “severe impact on someone’s sense of security”.

The threat was brought into sharp focus earlier this week when a prolific robber on a fast e-bike was brought to justice. Sonny Stringer, 28, from Islington, took mobile phones from 24 people during a day-long crime spree in central London.

He was caught when police made ‘tactical contact’ with the rear wheel of his bicycle and knocked him off.

The government’s police minister, Chris Philp, echoed Ms Waxman’s call as he warned that the number of phone robberies in the capital was “far too high”, despite a decline in such crimes elsewhere in the country.

Mr Philp, who has already met with tech giant Apple to pressure it to make it easier to track and disable stolen phones, added that he wanted the Met to “declare war on this type crime”.

Scotland Yard sources said Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley also wanted phone manufacturers to thwart the robbers, often wearing masks, by installing ‘kill switches’ that could switch off mobile phones once a theft is reported.

Vanished in seconds: American tourist is targeted by a robber who takes her phone in Marylebone (ES Composite)

Vanished in seconds: American tourist is targeted by a robber who takes her phone in Marylebone (ES Composite)

Sir Mark met the tech giants with London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the autumn to press for action and is reportedly disappointed with the slow pace of progress. He believes the phone companies could go further and faster in “evading” crime.

However, the focus on Friday was on the plight of the victims after an ongoing wave of violent and disturbing robberies in the capital by knife-wielding robbers on two wheels.

Recent incidents include the one featured on our front page today, where a balaclava-clad robber on an e-bike climbed the curb in Albany Street, Marylebone, and grabbed a woman’s mobile phone from her hands.

A student who tried to help said: “She was a tourist from America and was desperate. She was in shock and had lost everything on her phone… It doesn’t look good for London.’

In another attack, two robbers on e-bikes were seen on CCTV riding side by side along Oxford Street, before one sped off to attack a couple at a bus stop and grabbed a phone before the two bikes and their riders ran away .

Brought to justice: Sonny Stringer was knocked off his bike and arrested after stealing phones from 24 people in one day (City of London Police)Brought to justice: Sonny Stringer was knocked off his bike and arrested after stealing phones from 24 people in one day (City of London Police)

Brought to justice: Sonny Stringer was knocked off his bike and arrested after stealing phones from 24 people in one day (City of London Police)

Ms Waxman said such crimes cause victims great distress and jeopardize their safety, and more action is needed to tackle the problem.

“Robberies are not only an inconvenience to their victims, but can also have a serious impact on someone’s sense of security, causing shock and fear in public spaces,” she said.

“When violence occurs, the impact can be even more profound and long-lasting. If this is not properly addressed, it will erode victim and public confidence in the police.”

Mr Philp said the solutions include increased surveillance of hotspots in areas targeted by robbers, as well as the use of facial recognition to track offenders and changes by the tech giants to make it easier to disable stolen phones to make.

“The number of mobile thefts in London is far too high and that is why we are asking the police to pursue all lines of inquiry to catch the perpetrators, including always searching the perpetrators’ CCTV images via the facial recognition database. I also want phone manufacturers, especially Apple, to do more to make these phones unusable after theft.”

How to defeat the robbers

* Be aware of your surroundings and only use your phone when it feels safe.

* When you finish using it, put it away.

* Use your phone’s security features to prevent someone from using your phone if it is stolen. Choose a strong PIN, access code or password.

* Get your phone’s IMEI number by typing *#06# on your phone’s keypad. The IMEI can help track the phone.

* Set up a tracking app so you can see where it is from another device. Use it quickly, before thieves have a chance to disable it.

* Disable message previews so thieves don’t see reset code messages.

Mr Philp added: “Although mobile phone theft across the country has fallen by 70 per cent since 2010, much more needs to be done in London. I want the police to declare war on this.”

The renewed concern about mobile phone robbers operating on bicycles and mopeds follows efforts to tackle the problem and a series of arrests and convictions. Despite these efforts, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show a 34 percent increase in knife robberies in London last year.

The total of 8,956 recorded offenses includes robberies carried out by two-wheeled offenders, representing an increase of 2,248 additional offenses compared to the previous twelve months and an average of 25 robberies per day.

Other statistics presented by the Met Commissioner to the London Policing Board in March show that robberies overall have also increased, by 20 percent, but the success rate in tracking down the perpetrators has fallen to just 5.7 percent. That was lower than the already low figure of 7.9 percent a year earlier and means that more than nine out of ten robberies remain unsolved.

Moped thieves have stolen 72 phones in six weeks

A pair of moped riders who stole 72 phones from Londoners during a six-week crime spree were jailed after CCTV footage helped police track them down.

Randy Kavungu, 21, and Darius James, 22, ambushed lonely commuters on their way to work in London. They ran towards the victims and grabbed the devices from their hands before fleeing, often driving dangerously fast. Video shown in court revealed the level of force used by the robbers.

On one occasion, the robbers threw coffee in their victim’s face, while another victim’s finger was broken and one witness was threatened with a hammer. The thieves covered the moped’s license plate before launching their attacks in late May and June last year. One controlled the bike, while the other grabbed the phones from his position sitting on the back.

Kavungu and James, who both admitted theft and other offences, were sentenced to four and a half years in prison at Hendon District Court in January.

Scotland Yard said that despite such statistics, theft and violent crime were a priority for the Met and intensive efforts were being made to tackle mobile robbers. A spokesperson added: “The Met is also working with phone networks and businesses in hotspots to break the cycle of stolen mobile phones entering criminal markets. We know that opportunistic criminals are targeting areas with high footfall and tourism, such as Westminster and Soho.

“To combat robberies, we have specialist teams of both uniformed officers and detectives who quickly attend robbery calls, work with victims and witnesses to search the area for suspects and help secure CCTV and forensic evidence.”

Examples of success highlighted by police include the conviction of a 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who was arrested while in possession of items linked to stealing mobile phones, including aluminum foil, grippy gloves and SIM card removal tools.

He was sentenced to a youth probation order and given 60 hours of unpaid work. The force also points to a decrease in the number of telephone robberies: 828 such crimes were reported in 2023, 102 fewer than the year before. However, that still amounts to an average of more than two telephone robberies per day.

Apple was contacted for comment.

A young woman from Brazil who had her phone ripped from her hand as she left work in the city said she now did not feel safe in the capital, which she fears is as crime-ridden as her home country.

Cleaner Hilda Mattos, 22, had just left an office in Finsbury Square at 7.50pm on April 16 when a thug on an e-bike rushed up to her and snatched her phone from her hand.

The theft was the second in the area near the building in a matter of days, reflecting a trend of thieves targeting commuters on their way to and from work.

Ms Mattos told De Standaard: “I was walking with a friend and the thief drove up on an e-bike. I wasn’t on the phone, but I was holding it in my hand. Suddenly the thief came forward and grabbed my hand very hard. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react and prevent him from picking up the phone.

Victim: Hilda Mattos (supplied)Victim: Hilda Mattos (supplied)

Victim: Hilda Mattos (supplied)

“I am shocked and angry. In London you expect the freedom to walk safely on the streets. London is becoming the same as Brazil in the number of thefts on the streets. These kinds of things happen to workers like me every day in London.”

She said she tried to track her phone through an app, but it was disabled and there was no trace.

Ms Mattos, who has lived in London for a year and lives in the Whitechapel area, added: “We have everything on our phones. My Travelcard was empty, so I had to borrow my friend’s to get home. I’m also more scared on the streets of London now.

“It all happened so quickly and I’m shocked it could happen here.” Managers at the building where she had worked as a cleaner have warned all staff to be vigilant when arriving and leaving work.

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