Stealing costly watches and promoting them on the black market has change into a legal enterprise “more lucrative than drugs”, in keeping with a former vendor pressured to retire after being violently robbed thrice.
Paul Thorpe mentioned every week’s price of stealing high-end watches in London might make “more money than some people would earn in a lifetime”.
“It’s an industry all in itself. And I think in many areas, it’s actually overtaken drugs as the crime of choice for some criminal gangs,” he mentioned.
“Drugs are obviously very dangerous to carry or to transport, whereas watches are very small and very rarely questioned. As an example, you can’t get on a plane with a kilo of cocaine, but you can get on a plane with a million pounds worth of stolen watches and I very much doubt anyone will even bat an eyelid.
“The legal gangs know this, they usually use that to their benefit.”
Since 2015, the variety of stolen watches recorded in England and Wales has almost doubled – from 6,696 then to 11,035 final yr, information from Watchfinder.co.uk shared with Sky News reveals. More than 6,000 have been in London.
The enterprise has been bolstered by hovering demand for second hand watches, which has seen the worth of those items almost double in just some years.
‘Is he going to kill me?’
Nick Triggs and his spouse have been robbed of their Rolexes whereas spending the day in South Kensington final January. He feared the gang would kill him.
“A black BMW screeched to a stop beside me. The door opened, the guy gets out and smashes me – I think with a knuckleduster – on the left cheekbone,” he recalled.
“I fall backwards, down to the car, and I look up and there is another person showing me a 15-inch machete with a grey gun metal blade, and serrated edges.
“I look as much as him, I’m groggy, I’m disorientated, and I feel ‘is he going to kill me?’
“The first guy then shouts: ‘Give us your watches!’ – so we hand them over, and they race off.”
Mr Triggs’s cheek was damaged in three locations, he misplaced a number of tooth and was left with everlasting nerve injury. But he mentioned the psychological injury is probably the most extreme.
“It’s a mental scarring that lives with you in the back of your mind,” he mentioned. “All for the sake of a couple of watches.”
Gangs ‘wait exterior eating places and bars’
Mr Triggs’s spouse was capable of take down the BMW’s quantity plate, and – after a police helicopter chase by central London – the gang have been caught and later convicted over a rampage of violent robberies.
They are as a result of be sentenced in June, however they’re only one gang amongst numerous others who’ve caught on to a profitable mannequin.
Mr Thorpe mentioned thieves most-often use spotters to focus on rich areas, ready exterior high-end bars or eating places, and even watch outlets to see who leaves with a bag, earlier than confronting them on the street or following them house.
Sometimes spotters work as waiters, or drivers, and textual content forward to the gang to allow them to know who to focus on. Others will stalk social media websites, looking for anybody posing in an costly watch, with their location clearly seen.
Once the crime has been dedicated, watches are small, simply hid, and could be resold at a sizeable revenue, with demand and worth having rocketed for the reason that pandemic.
EXPERT AND POLICE ADVICE FOR EXPENSIVE WATCH OWNERS
- Avoid tagging your actual time location on social media, or the place the place you retain your valuables
- Wear lengthy sleeves over your watch whereas travelling
- Be conscious of people that is perhaps paying ‘an excessive amount of consideration’ to you or your watch
- Keep to busy, well-lit streets, walkways and paths which usually tend to be coated by CCTV
- Only take licenced taxis or minicabs booked by cellphone or app
- If you promote objects on-line, meet patrons in public locations and inform trusted associates or household when and the place you are going
‘People are getting focused’
At his retailer, Diamond Watches London, proprietor Danny Shahid shares a sapphire encrusted Daytona for £275,000, which final yr was going for £200,000.
The watch he is carrying was £100,000 earlier than the pandemic, however would now go for £185,000.
“Not a lot of watches were produced [during lockdown] so the value of them increased massively,” he mentioned.
“Sadly, that now attracts the wrong attention, and so the people who wear these watches are getting targeted.”
Sky News understands some homeowners are so scared they’re hiring bodyguards, and personal safety groups, to guard themselves in high-risk areas.
Alex Boden, of Sagacity Security, instructed Sky News: “We offer services of picking up watches for clients if they don’t feel confident going shopping, or we can accompany clients to pick up their pieces.
“Whether it is simply an hour, earlier than escorting them again to their door, or just a few hours in the event that they’re out on a procuring journey.
“We also make sure at the end of the day they haven’t been followed home.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for private theft, Commander Richard Smith, mentioned such crimes have a “devastating impact” on victims and depart them with “long-lasting trauma”.
“We continue to proactively target those habitual criminals who can be responsible for a large proportion of offending, alongside engaging with communities to improve education around keeping yourself safe,” he added.