Bike theft is still a very large and ugly business, especially in the capital city. Many of these stolen bikes (and scooters) are used to commit further crimes, or either broken and sold on as spares, or the parts are swapped onto cloned bikes and sold on. An estimated 80% of these cloned bikes end up in the legitimate dealer network, they’re then sold on by the unknowing dealer and it’s often the end customer who loses his, or her bike (and money) when it’s later discovered that all is not quite as it seemed. Thankfully the new industry backed MASTER (Motorcycle and Scooter Tagged Equipment Register) Scheme is helping to make life harder for thieves by providing a tagging scheme backed by many of the major manufacturers.
We’ve recently spoken to a victim from London who had his brand new Vespa GTS 300 stolen from a locked, CCTV covered underground car park beneath his London apartment…he’d only owned the scooter for seven hours when it disappeared. Apparently the thieves used a fire brigade key to access the car park. The limited edition (just 26 in the UK) scooter later turned up for sale on eBay and was spotted by us. The advert (and scooter) were instantly recognisable as a stolen and dodgy machine. The seller claimed he’d ‘Professionally resprayed the scooter and fitted the latest ABS/ASR himself’ it also claimed to be a 300cc scooter, registered as a 125. We contacted the owner, he alerted his case officer and the thief was arrested. Sadly the scooter wasn’t recovered. Worryingly the scooter was replaced by the insurance company before the arrest and the thieves returned on two seperate occasions to try and steal that one as well. Since then we’ve spotted and reported a few more dodgy looking adverts.
Our roving commuter, Wookie has recently been speaking to a London based scooter recovery driver. Here’s what he had to say…
Living, working and studying in London gives me an opportunity to talk to lots of different people on a daily basis. One such conversation with a scooter recovery guy definitely opened my eyes, and should open yours too. We got talking about the theft of scooters in London and the guy told me about his involvement with the City of London police and how he helps them with recoveries and trade-knowledge on the workings of scooters. Some of the facts are eye-watering. At the moment there are around 100 scooters being stolen just from the Camden area every week! This number is almost echoed around the other London boroughs, again on a weekly basis. With the police vehicle pounds becoming full to bursting, there really is a serious problem arising.
I couldn’t possibly divulge the methods used to pinch the scooters, but I can say that if there isn’t at least a basic chain just through a wheel, even if its not connected to anything else then really and truly, you are asking for it. Don’t think for one second that a nice new, immobilised scooter is safe, these are the worst affected and can be stolen within 6 minutes, even by an amateur. This is the truth and not a scare-fact as I’ve seen it done (in a controlled situation of course) and the scooters are simply being ridden away in broad daylight from bike bays in central London. If it can happen as blatantly as this here, then I’m sure it can happen just as easily anywhere else.
The majority of scooters are recovered (for now) but a very high percentage are damaged, usually beyond the value of the scooter itself, leading to people not bothering to collect their bikes. This in turn keeps the vehicle pounds fuller for longer and of course puts even more pressure on insurance companies and increased policy costs.
Please carry and use a chain, even if its just through a wheel. The hassle it causes to a thief of cutting one off in these situations nowadays is not worth it, as there are usually a dozen or so scooters around them without chains. Again, a nice new shiny immobilised scooter is more attractive to thieves and with the rising number of ram-raids and snatch-and-grabs involving the use of scooters, its not just the new shiny ones that are at risk either. The worst news? (for me anyway) It’s mostly Vespa’s that get stolen, with the GTS and PX being particular favourites.
The Motorcycle Industry are tackling the epidemic as much as possible and claim that Motorcycle thieves are now avoiding St James’s Square in London, thanks to a series of anti-theft initiatives.
The Square was identified as one of four ‘hotspots’ for motorcycle theft by Westminster City Council, with around 52 motorcycles or scooters stolen each year from its parking bays – around one a week. £1 million worth of motorcycles, scooters and mopeds have been stolen from the whole of the City of Westminster since April 2014 – a total of 191.
Since September though, none have been taken from St James’s Square, as a result of a series of measures put in place by Westminster City Council through working in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and security marking specialists Datatag. This could be rolled out to other ‘hotspots’.
Westminster City Council and Datatag advertised a day in September to offer riders the chance to get their motorcycles security ‘tagged’ on site for just £50, including fitting. This resulted in a steady queue of riders taking advantage of this offer.
Tagging involves applying a combination of highly visible and hidden security markers, which deter thieves but also help the police recover vehicles if they are stolen. Fitting takes around 25 minutes to complete.
The Metropolitan Police were also on hand to check the Police National Computer to make sure the bikes weren’t stolen in the first place. After the tagging took place, warning signs were put up to let thieves know that users of the parking bay had security marked their bikes.
Community Protection Officer for Westminster City Council Paul King, who has led on this project explained: “We are determined to reduce motorcycle theft in the City of Westminster and to give parking customers the best possible experience, which includes coming back to find your bike where you parked it. We have applied a combination of measures in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and Datatag, which alerts riders as to the risk and gives them the means to avoid them.
“We aim to repeat the opportunity for riders to have their motorcycles and scooters marked in the New Year for riders who use Berkeley Square parking, as we feel this provided a turning point in St James’s Square, which we would like to repeat for other theft ‘hot spots’ in the City.
“We would also urge any rider who parks near an anchor point to make sure they use it. All these measures clearly work, but only if riders stay vigilant.”
Steve Kenward, CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Association, which invented the MASTER* Security Scheme – the UK’s first national, official tagging scheme for new bikes, says this concerted effort by Westminster City Council proves that marking works.
“We are delighted to hear the part security marking is playing in eliminating theft in St James’s Square and applaud Westminster City Council’s systematic approach in dealing with it and would like to see other London councils making such an effort.
“The underlying message gained from this exercise is that thieves like easy pickings. Make it as hard as possible for them to steal in the first place and if they do, make sure your bike is marked. This makes it easy for the police to secure a prosecution when they find a stolen motorcycle or scooter and helps them return it to its rightful owner.
“Riders who don’t want the inconvenience of having a motorcycle or scooter stolen have a number of options. They now have a huge choice of new bikes which are automatically MASTER tagged, and they can have older bikes security marked retrospectively. We feel this is clearly acting as a huge deterrent to thieves, who are switching their attention to unmarked bikes. Thieves are looking for easy pickings, so make sure your bike doesn’t fall into that category.
“Over 70,000 new bikes have been marked since we introduced the MASTER scheme, which makes these bikes far less likely to be stolen. It makes sense to make sure your motorcycle is tagged, either by buying a new model, which fits this as standard, or by retro fitting it.”
Westminster City Council has since added 78 ground anchors to the parking bay, which offer an additional highly visible deterrent. When riders secure their bikes to anchor points it makes it difficult for thieves to just lift up a scooter or motorcycle and put it into a van – a common way for thieves to steal an unsecured bike.
Over the past few years an average of 24,000 motorcycles have been stolen annually in the UK, half of which are taken from London streets. Of all vehicles stolen in Westminster, 55% are motorcycles. This is becoming much less of a problem for newer bikes, as most major manufacturers have signed up to the MASTER scheme, which means bikes are tagged from the beginning. This was developed two years ago with Home Office backing, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police force and with support from the Association of Chief Police Officers. Over 70,000 new motorcycles and scooters have now been protected and registered with the MASTER Security Scheme since January 2013.
First year figures for the scheme show that between January 2013 and January 2014 only 185 MASTER tagged motorcycles were stolen across the whole UK. 31,000 new motorcycles were protected by MASTER Scheme during this period, which represents a theft rate of 0.6%, compared to an historic rate of 2.4%. Unfortunately the problem is shifting to unmarked bikes. Motorcycles or scooters which are unprotected by security marking or any visible means of security are now far more likely to be stolen than those which are protected.