London, a city renowned for its bustling public transport system, is grappling with a concerning surge in pickpocket thefts on the London Underground, sending a cautionary note to both residents and tourists. Recent data from the British Transport Police (BTP) reveals an alarming uptick in these incidents, particularly on the Central Line, the busiest of the London Underground, with pickpocket thefts on the London Underground doubling since 2021. The figures surpass pre-pandemic levels of thefts on the transport network.
In 2022, the total number of pickpocketing incidents across the Underground soared to a staggering 7,899. The Central Line, the backbone of London’s transport network, bore the brunt of this surge, with over 1,200 thefts reported in the past year. The Northern Line came in a close second, registering more than 1,100 thefts.
Approximately 50% of the incidents occurred on trains, while 23% transpired on train station platforms and 7% at station entrances and exits.
A noteworthy detail within the data is the day-of-the-week pattern. Fridays emerged as the most common day for pickpocketing offenses, while Thursdays recorded the lowest incidents.
1. Worst hit boroughs revealed
According to data collated by London criminal defense solicitors Lawtons, the boroughs most impacted by pickpocket incidents over the past year were as follows:
- Westminster: 20,871
- Camden: 5,301
- Southwark: 4,287
- Kensington & Chelsea: 2,962
- Islington: 2,820
- Hackney: 3,160
- Lambeth: 2,591
- Haringey: 1,894
Westminster stood out as the epicenter of pickpocketing, with an astonishing 20,871 incidents in the past year—equivalent to two thefts occurring every hour. “Westminster’s figures have shot up dramatically in the past two years, with levels nearly twice what they were in January 2021”, the report indicated. This number is more than triple the incidents reported in the second-ranked borough, Camden, which recorded 5,300 thefts, followed by Southwark, with 4,200 incidents.
“The safety of our customers and staff is our top priority, and London’s transport network remains a safe and low crime environment”, said Siwan Hayward, Transport for London’s Director of Security, Policing and Enforcement. “We are also using our data to help the police identify pick-pocketing gangs and will continue to work closely with the police to ensure that our transport network remains a safe environment to work and travel”, Hayward continued.
2. Rising concerns and safety measures
The surge in pickpocketing cases over the past two years is a cause for concern. “At the height of the pandemic, the crime was almost non-existent in the borough, with only 100 pickpocketing incidents reported in Westminster in February 2021”, reads the report. In response to these worsening pickpocketing issues, London officials urge individuals to take proactive steps to avoid becoming victims when navigating crowded areas.
“Pickpocketing covers theft of items directly from the victim, but without the use of physical force, and so easily accessible items like mobile phones and wallets tend to be the most targeted”, Nick Titchener, a criminal defense solicitor at London law firm Lawtons Solicitors, cautioned. “Keep an eye on your bags and any other valuables and be vigilant around other passengers”, he added.
Travelers are reminded to remain vigilant and safeguard their valuables, especially in crowded tourist hotspots where thieves can easily blend in. In the event of a pickpocketing incident, victims and witnesses are strongly urged to contact the police immediately, as the first hour after the incident can be crucial in apprehending suspect.
“Reporting the incident and canceling your cards can help your cause in these circumstances”, Nick Titchener advised.
For tourists planning to visit London in the future, the Metropolitan Police offers some valuable safety tips to avoid falling prey to pickpocket theft:
- Carry bags in front of you or diagonally across your chest.
- Promptly return cards to your purse or wallet and securely fasten it.
- Use a purse that is difficult to open, preferably one with zippers or snaps.
- Consider using a money belt if carrying a significant amount of cash.
- Keep a separate list of contact numbers, separate from your wallet and phone.
- Maintain photocopies of essential documents, such as airline tickets, passports, and credit cards, in case of theft.
The British Transport Police also highlight common pickpocket scenarios to be cautious of, including thieves working in teams to create distractions, employing “dirty tricks” such as random hugging to easier reach pockets and bags, or taking advantage of crowded spaces to discreetly access them.