• Tuesday, April 23, 2024

News

London mugging spree alarms Indian business community

Rising incidence of thefts of cash and Rolex watches sparks concern over police response

Mayfair, which attracts the Indian business community, is the favourite hunting ground of muggers

By: Amit Roy

INDIANS are becoming victims of frequent muggings in London, especially for Rolex watches in Mayfair, with police allegedly doing little to respond to their appeals for help.

The traumatic experience of senior lawyer Vijay Goel, founder of the Indo-European Business Forum, as relayed to Eastern Eye, appears to be fairly typical.

Goel, who is part of the group that goes for early morning walks with Gopi Hinduja in St James’s Park, revealed: “I had my phone snatched from my hand. The thief was on a bike and disappeared in seconds. The police do nothing.

“One of my clients from Mumbai had his bag snatched by a man who pushed a gun into his stomach. He had £20,000 in cash. Another man had to hand over his watch. I can give you 10 such cases among Indians.”

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told Eastern Eye: “Robbery is a priority for the Met. We are working hard to identify the offenders by collaborating with local businesses and partners to prevent these offences from taking place in central London.

“Across London, officers are conducting targeted patrols in robbery hotspots to identify, apprehend and deter potential offenders. We also have dedicated teams out on intelligence-led operations to target repeat offenders.”

But complaints about street assaults, as the police like to call them, rather than “muggings”, have been escalated to an intergovernment level.

The affair has been taken up by, among others, the Financial Times, which carried a recent report stating: “India’s business elite sounds alarm over Rolex thefts in London’s Mayfair. Executives said the police have been slow to respond to a spate of muggings in the UK capital.”

India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar, David Lammy and Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow foreign and business secretary, respectively

The FT said last week: “While negotiators in London and New Delhi haggle over a bilateral trade deal, India’s business elite has been raising a very different concern: the fear of being mugged in Mayfair.

“David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, is in the Indian capital for talks on geopolitics and commerce, but had his ear bent over the risks of Rolex watch thefts in the British capital.

“Devin Narang, a renewable energy entrepreneur, listed crime in London as one of the biggest concerns of the country’s chief executive class at a meeting held between Lammy and Indian businesspeople.”

“People are being mugged in the heart of London, in Mayfair,” Narang, a member of the executive committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said at the meeting.

“ All CEOs in India have had an experience of physical mugging and the police not responding,” he added.

Narang told the FT: “Indians do carry expensive things, but the police not responding is a matter of concern.”

He said that he understood attacks often took place in Mayfair, citing cases of people having expensive bags stolen or watches being cut off their wrists in the street.

“London is a walking city,” Narang said. “You don’t want to look over your shoulder all the time. You don’t want to go to a city where you’re likely to be mugged in the streets. It doesn’t make you feel comfortable. You can walk anywhere in Delhi and you won’t be mugged.”

He claimed that the police were often uninterested in such crimes, or had been slow to respond.

Lammy said that during his short spell in the Indian capital, the issue of crime in London had been raised several times.

London’s reputation as a safe city is certainly being damaged.

The capital has been hit by a wave of street crimes, with“theft from a person” – a category that includes stealing watches, handbags and mobile phones – rising 27 per cent last year, compared to 2022, the FT said. Around 72,756 such incidents had been recorded in the capital in the year to December 2023, compared to 57,468 in the previous 12 months, according to Metropolitan Police data.

The district of Westminster, where Mayfair is located, has been particularly affected, with theft from a person rising 40 per cent last year. There were 25,650 such incidents in 2023, compared to 18,310 in 2022.

Police have reported a spate of mobile phone and watch snatchings carried out by moped and e-bike gangs.

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, who supervises the Met, told the FT: “The Met have stepped up their response to robberies – which are rising nationally – and have specialist teams out proactively targeting the most prolific offenders and robbery hotspots.”

Even allowing for a degree of exaggeration, British officials confirmed that the prospect of being mugged on London’s streets – and losing Rolex watches and other luxury goods – ranks alongside immigration delays at Heathrow as a constant bugbear of India’s elite.

The Met has previously said that specialist undercover units targeting crime hotspots in three boroughs in central London had succeeded in reducing watch robberies during a six-month operation in 2023. The number of such incidents fell to 361 between March and October 2023, down from 429 during the same period in 2022.

Rolex watches, most favoured

Indian tourists travelling to London for the summer – they number hundreds of thousands – are often unaware that it is dangerous to carry large wads of cash, or wear luxury watches. The Met Police want to sound a warning that thieves are attracted to high-value items.

Police have said that anyone who is a victim of a robbery, or witnessed one taking place, should call 999 immediately. They have emphasised that the first hour after a robbery has taken place is critical to catching suspects and where possible, reuniting victims with their belongings.

The police are also encouraging people to take some commonsense precautions: “Stay aware of your surroundings and pay attention to who is around you; keep valuables such as mobile phones, watches and cash out of sight; and make sure to plan your route home.”

Scotland Yard said: “Tackling robbery in all forms, particularly personal, streetbased robbery that is knife-enabled, is an absolute priority for the Met and it is committed to targeting and deterring robbers who fuel violence on the streets of London.

“Every robbery incident has a devastating impact on the victim, which can have long-term implications.”

It pointed out: “Robbery suspects look for easy opportunities and are often known to use e-bikes, mopeds and pedal cycles to assist in committing crimes, though some do it on foot.”

New information has been released by the police. “In the six-month period prior to October 2022 (April-September 2022) there were over 300 luxury watches stolen across the three boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham. Intelligence showed suspects targeting victims leaving pubs and nightclubs, most of whom were intoxicated and in a vulnerable state.

“The suspects’ method of operation was to offer drugs or sex workers before taking them to quiet side streets to rob them, or approach them from behind before violently attacking them.”

Undercover officers wearing luxury watches and posing as ordinary members of the public have been trying to catch the gangs red-handed.

Ben Russell, commander for Met intelligence, said: “This is a rare chance to give the public insight into the work done by our undercover officers, which resulted in 31 robbers arrested in a 12-month period, all caught red-handed trying to steal high value watches in the heart of the West End.

Fourteen have already been sentenced, with more awaiting sentencing and other cases pending.

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