London lockdown bike theft surge: 31% increase in Waltham Forest

14th June 2021
Nick Titchener headshot

Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

Police data has revealed which areas in London saw a surge in lockdown bike thefts in London last year, with North East London being worst affected. Waltham Forest is the borough with the greatest increase at almost one third (30.88%), followed by Haringey (27.52%) and Southwark (23.92%).

london bike theft

In London, just 1.1% of bike thefts result in the thieves being caught according to the latest data on criminal sanctions, falling to just 0.96% in Waltham Forest. The borough where you’re least likely to identify a bike thief and recover your stolen bike is Bexley, with just over a 1 in 200 (0.65%) chance of the thief being identified. This is followed by Harrow at 0.68%, and Bromley with a 0.69% chance. 

The data, collated by London criminal defence solicitors Lawtons, was released on 3rd February 2021 and reveals statistics up to September 2020. The data encompasses the first 6 months of Covid restrictions and the peak spring/summer cycling season. 

The five boroughs that saw the greatest increase in bike thefts are:

  • Waltham Forest – 30.88%
  • Haringey – 27.52%
  • Southwark – 23.92%
  • Islington – 23.9%
  • Wandsworth – 20.66%

While some boroughs saw a rise in bike thefts, other areas that typically have higher rates for the crime experienced a fall – the borough of Westminster has had the highest rate of bike theft in previous years, though there was a -7.77% decrease last year. Redbridge saw bike theft fall by -30%, and Hounslow by -27.21%. This is probably attributable to people not using their bikes to commute and then leaving them unattended for periods of time.

In an effort to avoid public transport, many Londoners living in zones 2 and 3 took up cycling throughout the UK’s lockdowns. This autumn, journeys by bike were up by 22% in Greater London and 7% in Inner London compared to the previous count by TFL in spring 2019. Criminals have seen this bicycle boom as a new opportunity, targeting the property of new cyclists who bought bikes during the lockdown. Experts warn that this is a trend we can expect to see continue as we head towards spring and improved weather, alongside the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

In which boroughs are you more likely to get your bike returned?

With only 1.1% of bike thefts resulting in prosecution, according to the latest data, criminals are taking advantage of what is a seemingly “low-risk” crime. 

Although chances are still slim, the borough that you’re most likely to have your bike returned is Hackney, with 2.83% of bicycles found. Next highest is Westminster with 2.63%, followed by Tower Hamlets with 2.23%.

Nick Titchener, criminal defence solicitor at London law firm Lawtons Solicitors, says: 

“Bike theft is definitely becoming more of a problem, and the numbers are a testament to this. Unfortunately, suspects aren’t being identified because there’s usually no relationship between themselves and the victim and it’s a relatively low-priority crime. On top of this, owners often don’t document the ownership of their bike, making it difficult to prosecute even if the perpetrator is caught. 

“It’s essential that you document your bike to help you recover it in the case of theft. Keep your receipt, make a record of the serial number and register your bike with a bicycle marking and registration scheme. This will enable the police to trace your bike back to you if it is stolen and recovered.” 

What actions can you take to maximise your chance of recovery if your bike is stolen? 

Chris Smith, MD at Pendle Bike Racks, says:

“Hopefully you will have registered your bike with BikeRegister and placed a security mark on your bike. The mark serves as a visible deterrent, because the owner of a marked bike can be traced and the odds of arrest/prosecution are significantly higher. It also makes the stolen bike much more difficult to sell. If you happen to find your freshly stolen bike on a social media marketplace, resist the urge to go vigilante! As tempting as it might be to bang down the door and take back what is rightfully yours, the police are there for a reason.

“Lock all parts of your bike (not just the frame) to a secure bike rack using a top-quality lock. We recommend looking for the ‘Sold Secure gold or diamond’ class locks. Also make sure you check out the bike rack. Cunning thieves have been known to cut sections out of steel stands and cover the gaps with stickers – then pluck a locked bike away with consummate ease. 

“If you can’t get your lock around them, remove all quick-release items from your bike and take them with you – for example your seat post, lights or your front wheel. Quick release is a great system for the rider, but unfortunately it is great for the thief as well.”

Top tips to improve bike security

The London Borough of Waltham Forest says the following steps will help residents keep their bikes secure:

  • Use a heavy-duty D-lock that is ideally Sold Secure rated. Buy a lock that costs a third of the value of your bicycle
  • Use two different high-quality locks. This would make it more awkward for thieves as they would have to use different types of tools to remove them. The council recommends a heavy-duty D lock and a robust chain or cable
  • Lock both the frame and wheels to the cycle parking
  • Secure your bike as close to the stand as possible. Your bike needs to be difficult to manoeuvre with no leverage points for thieves
  • Take any quick release parts with you e.g. quick-release saddles and wheels
  • Remove your lights
  • Register your bike. The sticker will put thieves off. It will also make it easier to find, should it get stolen

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