Recently, I had a bike stolen. Like many other theft victims, I felt confused, empty and disappointed (I tried avoiding anger).
I followed all the advice – reporting the theft to the police, creating alerts on the eBay’s/ Gumtree’s and keeping an eye out. The bike surfaced on eBay. A combination of low priority and lack of cooperation between the Sussex and Metropolitan police resulted in no bike and no prosecution.
Initially, I wanted to have faith in Sussex police. But, ultimately, I ended up disappointed, slightly bitter and agreeing with everyone who told me the police don’t prioritise bike crime.
Click here for a guide on how to lock your bike up correctly
My experience with the police opened my eyes to the contradiction extant in government. Government is encouraging us to take up social, energetic activities with an emphasis on cycling. Cycling has been identified specifically for its versatility. It’s open to all and can be done for commuting, social and exercise while improving health, reducing strain on overburdened government resources and reducing carbon emissions.
But, that’s only half the story. If people are to use bikes more, becoming more reliant on them, surely the government also needs a cultural shift in thinking, becoming more serious about bike crime?
My bike was stolen. I rode into work locking my bike in the same spot I always do. Walking back to collect it at the end of the work day, my thoughts were disturbed when I noticed there was no bike. Confused, I thought it might be my view and it would be there when I got closer. But, no, it wasn’t. And, even though, I was holding my helmet I questioned whether I had cycled in that morning. Like I said, the absence of bike greatly confused me. Then it sank in. If I had cycled in, if I did have my helmet in hand and if my bike wasn’t where I had locked it… It. Was. Stolen.
I registered the theft through Sussex Police’s website and was assigned a case number. I joined as many local Facebook groups as I could find and posted a ‘stolen bike’ advert.
A friend made a ‘stolen bike, reward for recovery’ Gumtree ad, which received an anonymous tip the bike was being stored locally. I passed along all information to the police who took me, the stolen bike and tip seriously. Within 24 hours, the police visited the address, but, unfortunately, the tip was false.
There was still hope…
A few days later, the bike surfaced on eBay and was being sold in Central London. Again, I passed everything to the police. The reply tried establishing any additional information – did I know the seller and had I tried contacting them. Follow up emails from the police pressed me to investigate the listing further and try get the seller’s details. I was also advised to notify eBay the listing contained stolen property – something eBay will only allow if you’re a member of the police with proof of being a police officer. That the police gave this advice was a bit of a red flag.
I, then, received a text from a police officer asking me to respond to his email. He had picked up the case from when I reported the bike surfacing on eBay. Problem was, even though I had been communicating with police through email all this time, he still got my email wrong. Had he not texted, the case would have been closed due to a non-response from me!
Despite this initial misstep, I was hopeful. Particularly, when the officer replied, ‘I cannot guarantee that your bike will be returned but I will do all I can to make this happen for you.’ This turned out to be an empty promise.
The new officer I was dealing with directly at Sussex police got the seller’s details from eBay, then requested the London Met to visit the person and recover the bike.
By the time the Met visited the address, the bike had been sold. The seller gave a second location where the bike could be. It took a request from Sussex Police to go to the second location, as if this wasn’t a natural follow up for the London Met. As related from my contact, ‘They received some information that came from the suspected seller, that the bike was now at a hostel in Croydon. They obtained the address, but didn’t act on it or make a request for the address was visited, so I have just asked them to do that!’ The bike was never recovered.
Once I got word the bike wasn’t recovered, I turned my attention towards the eBay account holder. Listing the bike on eBay was an inerasable digital record tying stolen property to them. The police pushed back. To charge the account holder, the police would have to prove they knew the bike was stolen, but that was easy:
- The photos used in the listing were taken at Haywards Heath train station (about 0.2 miles from where the bike was stolen and maybe 30 miles from where it was being sold) – a toughie to explain!
- The eBay listing was the first time the bike surfaced on the internet. My friend set up search filters through reselling sites and we did regular searches ourselves. There was no way this person could have scraped the photos from a previous listing that escaped our attention. They either took the photos after stealing the bike or were given them by the thief.
- All the accessories on the bike were identifiably mine, same Halfords computer, bottle cages, pedals and saddlebag.
- Plus, they knew of the bike as they gave police the address of the person they sold the bike to!
I pressed the police to take action against this person – either fining or arresting them. This is where things fell apart. I was told the eBay account holder would only get a slap on the wrist and, ‘unfortunately the Met are not the most supportive when it comes to requests from other forces. To complicate this further we would request The Met to arrest him or invite him for an interview and I know for a fact from previous experience they are highly unlikely to do this on Sussex’s behalf. Therefore, I would have to ask Sussex officers to travel into London, find the suspect, take him to the nearest custody centre, interview him and either release or caution him… the decision has been made that this investigation is not proportionate to pursue further.’ So, because police force a doesn’t get on with police force b, it’s too expensive to pursue this.
This whole exchange took place over a two-week period! 2 Weeks! No wonder the bike was sold and unrecovered!
What does this mean?
People lose faith in the police and more broadly in the mesh which is supposed to be there to guide and protect us. It sends out a terrible message that, if you decide to nick someone else’s bike, the chances are you’ll get away with it. But, where the government lacks enthusiasm to help you recover your bike, never fear, they’re there to guilt you into buying another. Do it for you, for the country and for the environment.