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Cycling UK hails "clever" policing after bait bicycle used to track down £130,000 bike theft gang in one shift

Local bike thefts fell by 90 per cent following the arrests, with 11 people now sentenced — the cycling charity encouraging more forces to "sit up and take notice" of "substantial results" from "clever policing" without "massive intelligence or money"...

Cycling UK has urged more police forces to consider the "substantial results" that can be yielded from "sensible, clever policing" to tackle bike theft, without needing "massive intelligence or money". The comments come after City of London Police managed to track down a bike theft gang in a single shift, the thieves found with a huge collection of stolen bicycles totalling £130,000 in value, the haul believed to be the biggest of its kind in the force's history.

Last week we reported that four more men had been jailed for their role in the organised crime operation which saw the prolific theft of bicycles in the City of London during 2020, police ultimately bringing the gang down in November of that year by tracking a bait bicycle, left in the area with the intention of getting it stolen so officers could track the thieves back to their base.

Cycling UK's head of policy, Duncan Dollimore, has encouraged more police forces to "sit up and take notice" of their London colleagues' success.

"I accept policing concerns about resources and priorities, but this wasn't an operation that needed massive intelligence or money," he told road.cc. "It required some sensible, clever policing with a reasonable amount of resources — but it yielded some pretty substantial results."

"Bikes in the office, bikes in the toilet, bikes hanging up on rails, bikes stacked up everywhere"

Celebrating one of his force's more successful day's work, Detective Constable Matt Cooper this week spoke to the Daily Mail and recalled the moment they tracked the bait bike back to a plant hire business in east London where £130,000 worth of stolen bikes were discovered.

Stolen bikes (City of London Police)

"I was just shocked," he said. "We had tracked one stolen bike to a plant hire business in East London — and found about 60 more. Bikes in the office, bikes in the toilet, bikes hanging up on rails, bikes stacked up everywhere. There was about £130,000 worth. It was hard to take in.

"We bought a relatively high-value bike and left it locked up in Rood Lane, off Fenchurch Street. This is an area targeted by bike thieves — but there is also a lot of CCTV coverage. We left it there in the morning and it was stolen by thieves, who cut through the lock with an angle grinder, at 2.30pm."

Once the gang had been tracked to a warehouse on a business estate in Tower Hamlets, two members were arrested at 3.12pm on the same day, with stolen bikes and mobile phones seized.

"It took three of our biggest police vehicles to transport all the bikes to Bishopsgate police station — and colleagues in the property store are still emailing me to ask when they can go," the detective constable continued.

"The CCTV footage shows some of them arriving four or five times a day, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, each time with a new bike. And it shows Baldwin [Louey Baldwin, the mastermind behind the operation who was last week jailed for two years and nine months] handing out angle grinders complete with new blades and new batteries, as well as cash. The thieves knew there was a safe place where they could sell stolen bikes and that there was always money available."

In total, 11 people have now been sentenced for their role in the thefts, City of London Police explaining that reported bicycle thefts in the part of the city referred to as the Square Mile fell from 68 per month at the height of the gang's spree in August 2020 to seven in January 2021.

That number stabilised at around 19 bike thefts per month in 2023, a level the police force says is considerably lower than when the gang was in operation, with 20 of the stolen bikes now returned to their owners.

Last month, the Liberal Democrats warned that bike theft has been effectively "decriminalised" as analysis of Home Office data found nine in 10 cases reported to the police since 2019 had gone unsolved.

Bike theft hotspot sign (Bikmo)

Of all bike thefts reported to the police since 2019, 89 per cent (more than 365,000) have gone unsolved, the analysis of Home Office data showed, pointing to more than eight reported bike thefts an hour and 200 per day going unsolved in England and Wales over the past four years.

"Years of neglect under this Conservative government have emboldened criminals and left frontline police officers without the resources they need to investigate crimes like bike theft properly. The government needs to restore community policing where police are visible in their neighbourhoods and can focus on solving local crimes," the party's home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said.

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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10 comments

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Sriracha | 1 month ago
9 likes

Policing "without needing massive intelligence" - do I detect a subtle dig at the police?

Avatar
mikewood replied to Sriracha | 1 month ago
7 likes

I read it as meaning that they didn't spend huge hours collecting data (known as intelligence) by trawling through CCTV etc and just looked to the hotspots before setting the trap.

Unfortunately this will develop as it has with cars and the perps just use a different MO next time. Assume it has a tracker and stash it somewhere neutral. If it gets found, they don't get nicked for it!

Avatar
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP replied to mikewood | 1 month ago
2 likes

I have 'intelligence' that what thieves are doing is stealing expensive bikes and then locking them in a public place, say half a mile away, and waiting a few days to see if the owner has a tracker and finds the bike. If not, then the bike is 'disappeared' and sold. 

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 1 month ago
2 likes

BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP wrote:

I have 'intelligence' that what thieves are doing is stealing expensive bikes and then locking them in a public place, say half a mile away, and waiting a few days to see if the owner has a tracker and finds the bike. If not, then the bike is 'disappeared' and sold. 

This is an interesting approach as the thieves now need multiple locks unless they are only stealing two bikes a week. There is also the risk that their stashed bike will be stolen from them by other thieves, leaving them down by the cost of a lock.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to mikewood | 1 month ago
1 like

mikewood wrote:

Unfortunately this will develop as it has with cars and the perps just use a different MO next time. Assume it has a tracker and stash it somewhere neutral. If it gets found, they don't get nicked for it!

That would take more determination from the police. Presumably they could pursue the neutral property owner for storing stolen goods or they could set up surveillance to catch whoever is going to or from there with a bike.

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mark1a replied to Sriracha | 1 month ago
2 likes

Sriracha wrote:

Policing "without needing massive intelligence" - do I detect a subtle dig at the police?

Quite possibly, the inverted commas from Cycling UK and road.cc would indicate that but the quotes from the police indicated they were "on to something here." 

Next up - unmarked panda car outside The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, there's been a tip-off that a couple of wrong-un twin brothers met there on occasion. 

Avatar
mark1a | 1 month ago
18 likes

I think if leaving a traceable bait bike in an area known for prolific bike theft is considered "clever policing", we really have reached a low bar.

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Sriracha replied to mark1a | 1 month ago
2 likes

Yeah, hard not to read it as thinly veiled sarcasm. But how will the police fend off the advice - argue that they can't muster even that degree of cleverness; I wouldn't put it past them. Or maybe that it was not the great success it's made out to be - all they recovered were bikes.

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chrisonabike replied to mark1a | 1 month ago
7 likes

Almost - the low bar would appear to be Lancs police carefully targetted inaction.  Do just enough that the PCC is happy to let the complaints die, not so much that anyone apart from wtjs bothers reporting / complaining again.

Or Police Scotland where they're happy to investigate if you fill out lengthy paperwork AND do an interview - the investigation being asking the driver you've worked to identify / locate the fiendish question "do you remember anything like this happening?" and carefully recording the answer "No".

I suspect the police are currently busy working out how they're going to be seen to be doing "every theft must be investigated" with what they've currently got.

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wtjs replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
3 likes

Do just enough that the PCC is happy to let the complaints die, not so much that anyone apart from wtjs bothers reporting / complaining again

It's not quite like that. The PCC and the Police have worked out a system: PCC refuses any complaint that refers to incidents that haven't been through the complete Police system, including complaining to the LC Scarlet Pimpernel Professional Standards Department; The Police don't respond to any complaints from cyclists (or, at least, from this cyclist) at all and Professional Standards don't reply either. Reports that accidentally are not rejected and are allocated a Lancashire Constabulary incident number are immediately closed by an un-named officer. What the police don't like is hard evidence and people who keep a record of written communications (they don't like being seen to be lying in print) and who refuse telephone communications

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