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Almost 90% of bike thefts reported to police closed without suspect identified

Data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats shows that a thief is charged in just 1.7 per cent of incidents

Eye-catching crime statistics unearthed by the Liberal Democrats showed that almost 90 per cent of bicycle thefts reported to the police were closed without a suspect even being identified.

The Guardian's Peter Walker reported the political party's findings, including that just 1.7 per cent of reported bike thefts led to someone being charged.

The concerning statistics come from crime data for England and Wales between July 2021 and June last year, with the Lib Dems concluding that it is indicative of under-funded police forces lacking the resources to investigate crimes.

During the year, 74,421 bike thefts were reported to police — although the actual total number of stolen bicycles is likely to be much higher considering the public's sense of police apathy towards the crime.

> Three quarters of Brits don't expect police to bother investigating bike thefts

Of the near 75,000 reported stolen only 1,239 resulted in a charge or court summons, while 66,769 did not even see a suspect identified.

The Lib Dems' home affairs spokesperson called the figures "shocking" and concluded that "if your bike gets stolen, there's very little chance of ever seeing the thief caught and punished".

"Local police forces are overstretched and underfunded," Alistair Carmichael said. "They simply cannot do their jobs properly without the funding and officers needed to investigate crimes like this properly.

"The Conservatives talk tough on crime, but they cannot even get the basics right and are set to miss their own pledge to recruit 20,000 extra police officers by next March."

University College London bike thefts (London Cycling Campaign)

A Home Office spokesperson insisted more than 15,000 extra officers had been recruited and another 5,000 will be in place by March.

"We understand the distress and disruption bike thefts cause victims," they said. "We want offenders charged and brought to justice, therefore we are working with partners across the criminal justice system to increase the number of cases being charged and prosecuted, and to speed up the process."

Postcode lottery

The data showed disparity in how likely a successful police response was depending on location, with areas suffering fewer thefts tending to perform better.

While Sussex topped the inaction charts with 96.1 per cent of reported bike thefts resulting in no suspect being identified, the Metropolitan Police's area (94.8 per cent), Hampshire (94.2 per cent), Surrey (91.5 per cent) and Cambridgeshire (91 per cent) came close behind.

bike theft.JPG

Of the four forces with the lowest proportion of cases closed without a suspect, Dyfed-Powys, Cumbria, Durham and Gwent had fewer than 300 reported bike thefts during the 12-month period.

The idea of regional variation between police forces backs up an August investigation by the Telegraph newspaper which found that between June 2019 and May 2022 of the nearly 24,000 neighbourhoods to have suffered at least one bike theft, not one case had been solved in 87 per cent (20,900).

> Police failed to catch a bike thief in 87% of affected neighbourhoods in past three years

Similarly, the Lib Dems' most recent finding of the national average of 1.7 per cent for a suspect being identified and charged is marginally higher than the Telegraph's figure of 1.4 per cent in 2020, both down on the 2.8 per cent in 2016.

The latest analysis comes just days after cyclists riding in popular areas on the outskirts of Greater London were warned to be vigilant following reports that bike thieves are heading out of the capital to target riders.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said he believes the thieves are attracted towards stealing high-end bikes because the potential money to be made from selling them on far outweighs the chances of getting caught.

"It is possibly perceived as a low-risk crime if the numbers of people being caught are so low," he said. "It may be seen as a high-reward, low-risk crime."

"There have been increasing concerns about people cycling out of London to the Kent and Surrey hills who have been victims of muggings or robbery. There are a limited number of routes where people would cycle out of London.

"Somebody has posted on Strava what they are doing on their ride. The criminals will know it is someone on a £3,000 to £4,000 carbon fibre bike who has unwittingly signposted the fact that they are likely to be heading out to Kent or the Surrey Hills."

Cycling UK confirmed that the Metropolitan Police Service, Kent Police and Surrey Police are all aware of the growing problem.

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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12 comments

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brooksby | 1 year ago
2 likes
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Awavey replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like

weird op-ed, well maybe it isnt for the Grauniad, but it seems to make the same point multiple times to pad out space and doesnt really have the conclusion at the end.

 

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hawkinspeter replied to Awavey | 1 year ago
2 likes

Awavey wrote:

weird op-ed, well maybe it isnt for the Grauniad, but it seems to make the same point multiple times to pad out space and doesnt really have the conclusion at the end.

I'd consider it more of a moan than anything.

Now this might sound like heresy, but bike theft would be way down my list of priorities if I were in charge of policing. Ultimately, it's property that can be replaced, so I'd rather that police put more effort into things such as road crime that can have devastating effects on people's lives.

However, as a means of transport, bikes are arguably more important than e.g. laptops, so maybe there should be some small effort put into stopping the thieves. I'd like manufacturers to start including built-in GPS devices to track stolen bikes or ideally, the police could set up honeypot bikes in known theft hotspots to track and arrest the scrotes.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
0 likes

Maybe if there were boring cheaper bicycles everywhere there'd be less incentive for thieves?  Possibly not says this other article.  Obviously "premium" machines would still be an attractive target and likely with a bigger market...

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 1 year ago
0 likes

Data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats shows that a thief is charged in just 1.7 per cent of incidents

that's actually more than I expected. According to my data, in over 4 decades of owning bikes and having some stolen, my recovery / charged rate is 0%. 

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Hirsute | 1 year ago
1 like

How does this compare with buglaries ? Might give a bit of context.

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Username | 1 year ago
2 likes

Your second photo is the public bike parking at UCL Hospital, and yes it is a notorious black spot for thefts.

We know the police and courts don't take road crime seriously and it is no surprise that they likewise don't take bicycle thefts seriously either but seeing doctors and nurses at UCLH regularly in despair at losing their source of transport reminds us that bikes are not Sunday morning toys, they are vital transport for many in the community.

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Dnnnnnn replied to Username | 1 year ago
0 likes

Username wrote:

Your second photo is the public bike parking at UCL Hospital, and yes it is a notorious black spot for thefts.

Tenuously linking... I parked my bike on the racks in the headline photo for a couple of years. No trouble, fortunately - but the police response to previous thefts (linking to your other para) elsewhere was that it wouldn't be worth reporting anyway.

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brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like

Scarily, isn't that rate of prosecution (approx. 1%) about the same as the UK's prosecution rate for rape...?

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jh2727 replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like

brooksby wrote:

Scarily, isn't that rate of prosecution (approx. 1%) about the same as the UK's prosecution rate for rape...?

1% is (according to some reports) the percentage of rapes that are recorded by police (or were, in 2021). 

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Dnnnnnn replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
0 likes

brooksby wrote:

Scarily, isn't that rate of prosecution (approx. 1%) about the same as the UK's prosecution rate for rape...?

The figures for cyber crime are similarly close to zero.

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RoubaixCube | 1 year ago
0 likes

wouldnt surprise me if the police turned around and said the cyclist was fully at fault as he had advertised he was going for a ride. 

-- This seems to be the most common response from the police these days.

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