Undercover officers are carrying luxurious watches as bait to catch robbers red-handed as they aim rich guests to London’s West End.
Footage launched by the Metropolitan Police reveals unwitting thieves being tasered, rugby-tackled and wrestled to the bottom in Soho after making an attempt to tear the high-value timepieces from their wrists.
The drive has revealed the tactic for the primary time and says it has pushed down robberies after 300 watches value round £4m had been stolen throughout three boroughs within the capital between April and September 2022.
Investigators pinpointed “hotspots” in South Kensington, Chelsea, Soho and Mayfair the place criminals had been focusing on victims – 98% of whom are males – as they left bars and nightclubs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between 11pm and 4am.
The targets could be supplied entry to intercourse staff or medication earlier than being led down a aspect road or approached from behind.
Police mentioned the “opportunist” crime gangs know precisely what they’re in search of – Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet watches that may be value a whole bunch of hundreds of kilos.
Ben Russell, the commander liable for covert operations, praised the “immense professionalism and dedication” of the undercover officers “volunteering to stand alone in a dark street in the middle of the night waiting to be robbed”.
In one clip, an undercover officer who had earlier been requested if he needed to go to a brothel, walks with a robber as he’s adopted by 4 of his accomplices.
They encompass him and pin him in opposition to the wall earlier than working off when the police pounce, tasering one of many thieves as one other is rugby-tackled to the bottom.
Another robber is seen falling to the ground as he’s tasered in a special clip after he and an confederate, each carrying Nike baggage, tried to rob an undercover officer they’d earlier supplied hashish to.
One officer is seen having the watch ripped from his wrist after being taken right into a aspect road by two males who had befriended him and in a fourth clip the officer falls to the bottom as his colleagues pounce.
There had been practically 2,000 robberies – together with 300 watches value round £4m – throughout the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham, between April and September 2022 – up 4% on the earlier six-month interval.
Some 31% of these occurred in Soho, an space recognized for its nightlife, however which occupies simply 1% of the full measurement of the three boroughs.
Police mentioned two undercover operations noticed reductions in watch robberies with the quantity throughout the three boroughs in the summertime of 2023 half that of the earlier 12 months.
A complete of 27 males had been arrested, all of whom have been charged, with 14 of the 21 convicted to this point sentenced to a complete of 26 years in jail.
Since 2015, the variety of stolen watches recorded in England and Wales practically doubled – from 6,696 then to 11,035 in 2022, in keeping with information from Watchfinder & Co that was shared with Sky News final 12 months. More than 6,000 of those thefts had been in London.
High-profile targets embody Songs Of Praise presenter Aled Jones, 52, who was robbed of his £17,000 Rolex watch by an adolescent who threatened him with a machete.
Former world boxing champion Amir Khan, 36, was pressured handy over his £70,000 Franck Muller watch in a gunpoint theft exterior the Sahara Grill restaurant in Leyton, east London, in April 2022.
And Formula One driver Lando Norris, 23, had his watch stolen as he left the Euro 2020 last at Wembley Stadium.
‘We don’t need individuals combating again’
But police mentioned that whereas gangs might watch celebrities for days or even weeks earlier than they strike, many robberies are opportunistic – though the criminals do set out with the intention of figuring out susceptible individuals who could also be drunk or intoxicated exterior bars and golf equipment in Soho.
Mr Russell mentioned carrying a high-value watch in central London was a “personal choice” however suggested individuals to concentrate on their environment and put on garments with lengthy sleeves.
He additionally warned in opposition to strolling round along with your bag on show if the model title is seen after shopping for a brand new watch and mentioned it’s best to get insurance coverage and take an image.
“It’s so easy to be distracted by headphones when you’re on your mobile phone, when you come out of the station, when you come out of the venue,” he mentioned.
He mentioned it is onerous to inform somebody to not hand over a £100,000 watch however added: “We don’t want people fighting back, we don’t want people to be seriously hurt or injured.”