I always wondered why, given the high rate of bike theft in London, I had never actually seen one in action. I always make a point of looking at people unlocking bikes and checking on bike stands, so it seemed odd, just as I have never been called for jury service.
But today that changed. I spotted my first thief in full action. Well, not quite. At the bike stand opposite Russell Square tube station, a young man, about 25 with black sweater and jeans, was busily undoing the coil of one of those cables that fit through a D lock. But I thought he looked suspicious and nervous, and spotted that the coil was cut through. He jumped on the white Marin bike and headed off, though he circled around first, oddly. What to do?
I unlocked my bike that was on the stand next to where the Marin had been, and headed off in pursuit, expecting that he would be out of sight. But he was not. Quite the opposite. He was in the next street, accompanied by a younger man in a pink sweater. I stayed a bit behind following them and called 999. I got through straight away to a helpful lady who, though, did not know the area as she had no idea of the street names I was giving.
The two young men were going slowly and then separated and I followed Black Sweater on the bike. He was going very slowly, and I kept giving the street names to the operator, while hoping the cops would come quickly.
Then Black Sweater met up with Pink Sweater, and gave him the bike. Although Blackie had done the cutting and stealing, I decided to stay with the bike in order to ensure there was evidence. They had not noticed me following, and Pinkie went very slowly through a couple of council estates. I kept the 999 line open which the operator was happy to do.
Eventually, after crossing a couple of main roads, he stopped outside a block of flats in Northdown Street, a side road off Pentonville Road [‘spell that for me please’, said the operator] and pushed the bike in just as the cops arrived. They went into the block but as they had come with sirens blaring, Pinkie had disappeared, but the bike was in the courtyard of the flats. The cops tried to go after Pinkie but I suspect they did not find him as there was a back entrance. I asked the cops where they would take the bike and they said Holborn police station.
I returned to the scene of the crime and left a message to the victim on his lock. The chap, Ian, called me a couple of hours later and I told him the story. He was convinced he had locked the frame of his £350 bike to the stand with the D lock, but he has just retrieved his bike from the cop shop ‘minus one spoke’ – so silly fellow had locked his wheel with the D lock. A lesson to us all. Best to lock both cable and D lock through the frame.
Ian told me that he had already lost one bike from the stand opposite Russell Square, so clearly a dangerous area and requires two locks. The stands outside the Renoir cinema around the corner are, I think, another dodgy area.
A word of praise for the 999 operator who was willing to keep the line open and did not say it was too dangerous to follow them – though she did say, rightly, not to put myself in danger but I am a big 6ft 2ins old chap who can look intimidating, I am told – if I try. And good for the cops, too, for sending a couple of vehicles, though the first one went straight past me wasting a precious few seconds that might have got pinkie caught. At least they took the matter seriously, though they rather left it to me to try to get the chap’s bike back to him. Anyway, a partial victory.