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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

London’s moped menace as gang targets Oxford Street Rolex shop

The “moped menace” is a serious problem in the UK capital

Metropolitan Police have charged a 50-year-old man with the murder of a pregnant woman in London
Metropolitan Police have charged a 50-year-old man with the murder of a pregnant woman in London

Shocking footage has emerged of an armed moped gang robbing a watch shop on Oxford Street.

With their faces hidden by helmets, two members of a moped gang ran inside and ransacked the store while the remaining four waited outside on the pavement with the weapons to scare away bystanders.

The scene of menace and panic was captured by a passer-by on a smart phone as the thieves made their getaway after ramming into the shop a second time to free two thieves who initially got trapped inside.

The thieves wearing crash helmets and wielding machetes and an axe were seen breaking into Watches of Switzerland, a shop which stocks Rolex and Cartier time pieces, using a moped scooter to force the door open in broad day light on Saturday morning.

The brazen act has brought into focus London’s problem with moped-enabled crime, which has risen dramatically in just three years, from 4,000 reported incidents in 2015 to 17,000 in 2017.

Police in Hackney, one of the London boroughs worst hit by the so-called “moped menace”, warned local business owners over the weekend to be aware of criminals using such a method.

Tony Campbell, Chief Executive Officer of the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA), which is supporting the Metropolitan Police in making it harder for thieves to steal scooters, described the rise in moped crimes as a “London-centric issue”.

“What we’re seeing is very unique to London. That’s not to say it won’t spread to other cities.”

Gangs either steal a moped or commandeer a stolen moped before setting off in the street with one thief driving the scooter while another rides pillion. Obscured with helmets, the gangs mount pavements and snatch mobile phones, laptops and sometimes jewellery from unsuspecting pedestrians.

“They loiter outside tube stations because the first thing people do as they come out of the station is check their phones,” Mr Campbell explained to The National.

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Former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne described his shock when a moped gang attempted to steal his phone in May 2017 as he walked along a pavement.

"I was physically unharmed but felt shocked and stunned. The incident happened so quickly that I barely registered what had happened until afterwards,” Mr Osborne said in a witness statement.

"The scooter was so close that it almost brushed past me. Had it hit me, I have no doubt I would have been seriously injured."

Thieves have also been known to target shops before Saturday’s robbery on Oxford Street. London’s flagship Apple store on nearby Regent Street was ransacked in November by a scooter gang who threatened a security guard with a hammer before quickly making off with thousands of pounds worth of iPhones, iPads and watches. While another branch of Watches of Switzerland was targeted just weeks before in a similar robbery.

“A Powered Two Wheeler [moped] is a very effective way of getting away from the crime scene, which is why they are used in the first place,” Mr Campbell said.

The Metropolitan Police and the MCIA have advised moped owners to lock, chain and cover their bikes in a bid to reduce the number of mopeds being stolen and thus curb the number of crimes committed using stolen vehicles.

The Met is also looking for ways to make officers feel more able to pursue thieves on mopeds without fear of being prosecuted if something goes wrong.

The MCIA will soon launch an initiative to get manufacturers to sign up to a best practice where they will supply more security products with new motorcycles and scooters.

Mr Campbell said: “We’re concerned that people are being put off buying a scooter or motorcycle, which is a very efficient and low-cost way of getting around town.”