Phone snatch city: Victims' plea after surge in muggers on two wheels in London

A purge on weapon-wielding muggers using e-bikes and mopeds to rob Londoners of their phones was called for on Friday as the capital’s Victims’ Commissioner warned of the trauma that the crime spree is inflicting on the public.

Claire Waxman said muggings were leaving victims suffering from long-term trauma and creating fear in public spaces and could have a “serious impact on a person’s sense of safety”.

The menace was brought into sharp focus earlier this week when a prolific mugger riding a high speed e-bike was brought to justice. Sonny Stringer, 28, from Islington, snatched mobile phones from 24 people in a day-long crime spree across central London.

He was caught when police made “tactical contact” with the rear wheel of his bike and knocked him off.

The Government’s policing minister, Chris Philp, echoed Ms Waxman’s call as he warned that phone muggings in the capital were “far too high” despite declines in such offending elsewhere in the country.

Mr Philp, who has already met the tech giant Apple to press it to make it easier to trace and disable stolen phones, added that he wanted the Met to “declare war on this crime type”.

Scotland Yard sources said the Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley also wanted phone manufacturers to thwart the muggers, often wearing masks, by installing “kill switches” which would allow mobiles to be disabled as soon as a theft is reported.

Gone in a matter of seconds: an American tourist is targeted by a mugger who snatches her phone in Marylebone (ES Composite)
Gone in a matter of seconds: an American tourist is targeted by a mugger who snatches her phone in Marylebone (ES Composite)

Sir Mark met the tech giants in the autumn with London Mayor Sadiq Khan to press for action and is understood to be disappointed with the slow pace of progress. He believes that the phone companies could go further and faster in “designing out” the crime.

The focus on Friday, however, was on the plight of victims following a continuing spate of violent and distressing muggings carried out in the capital by knife-carrying robbers on two wheels.

Recent incidents include the one featured on our front page today in which a balaclava-clad robber on an e-bike mounted the kerb in Albany Street, Marylebone, and grabbed a woman’s mobile phone from her hands.

A student who tried to help said: “She was a tourist from America and was distraught. She was in shock and had lost everything on her phone… It’s not a good look for London.”

In another attack, two muggers on e-bikes were seen on CCTV riding side-by-side along Oxford Street before one peeled off to target a couple at a bus stop, grabbing a phone before the two bikes and their riders sped off.

Brought to justice: Sonny Stringer was knocked off his bike and arrested after stealing phones from 24 people in a single day (City of London Police)
Brought to justice: Sonny Stringer was knocked off his bike and arrested after stealing phones from 24 people in a single day (City of London Police)

Ms Waxman said such crimes were causing great distress to victims as well as putting their safety at risk and that more action was needed to address the problem.

“Robberies are not just an inconvenience for their victims, but can have a serious impact on a person’s sense of safety, causing shock and leading to fear in public spaces,” she said.

“When violence is involved, the impact can be even more profound and long-lasting. If not tackled properly, it will affect victims’ and the public’s trust and confidence in the police.”

Mr Philp said solutions included more hotspot policing in areas targeted by robbers, as well as the use of facial recognition to trace offenders and changes by the tech giants to make it easier to make stolen phones inoperable.

“Mobile thefts in London are far too high and that’s why we are asking police to follow all lines of inquiry to catch the perpetrators, including always running the CCTV of perpetrators through the facial recognition database. I also want phone manufacturers, particularly Apple, to do more to make these phones unusable following theft.”

How to beat the muggers

* Be aware of your surroundings and only use your mobile when it feels safe.

* When you’ve finished using it, put it away.

* Use your phone’s security features to stop someone using your phone if it’s stolen. Choose a strong PIN, passcode or password.

* Get your phone’s IMEI number by typing *#06# on your phone keypad. The IMEI can help track the phone down.

* Set up a tracking app so you can see where it is from another device. Use it quickly, before thieves have a chance to disable it.

* Turn off message previews, so that thieves won’t see any messages about reset codes.

Mr Philp added: “Although mobile phone theft is down 70 per cent across the country since 2010, in London a lot more needs to be done. I want the police to declare war on this.”

The renewed concern about mobile phone muggers operating on bikes and mopeds follows attempts to crack down on the problem and a series of arrests and convictions. Despite these efforts, the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show a 34 per cent rise in knifepoint robberies in London last year.

The total of 8,956 offences recorded include muggings carried out by offenders on two wheels and amounted to an increase of 2,248 additional offences compared with the previous 12 months and an average of 25 muggings a day.

Other statistics presented by the Met Commissioner to the London Policing Board in March show that robbery overall has also increased, by 20 per cent, but that the success rate in detecting the culprits has fallen to just 5.7 per cent. That was down on the already low figure of 7.9 per cent recorded a year earlier and means that more than nine out of 10 muggings are going unsolved.

Moped thugs grabbed 72 phones in six weeks

A pair of moped-riding thugs who stole 72 phones from Londoners in a six-week crime spree were jailed after CCTV evidence helped police hunt them down.

Randy Kavungu, 21, and Darius James, 22, ambushed lone commuters on their way to work in London. They sped up to victims, grabbing the devices from their hands before making their getaway, often driving dangerously at speed. Video shown in court revealed the level of violence used by the robbers.

On one occasion, the robbers threw coffee in their victim’s face, while another victim had their finger broken, and one witness was threatened with a hammer. The thieves covered the number plate of the moped before launching their attacks in late May and June last year. One would steer the bike while the other grabbed the phones from his position riding pillion.

Kavungu and James, who both admitted robbery as well as other offences, were jailed for four and a half years at Hendon magistrates’ court in January.

Scotland Yard said that despite such statistics, robbery and violent crime were a priority for the Met and that intensive efforts were being made to tackle mobile muggers. A spokesman added: “The Met is also working with phone networks, and businesses in hotspots to break the cycle of stolen mobiles entering criminal markets. We know that opportunistic criminals target areas of high footfall and tourism, such as Westminster and Soho.

“To combat robberies, we have specialist teams of both uniformed officers and detectives who attend robbery calls quickly, search the area with victims and witnesses for suspects, and help to secure CCTV and forensic evidence.”

Examples of success highlighted by the force include the conviction of a 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, arrested while in possession of items connected with stealing mobile phones including tin foil, grippy gloves and sim card removal tools.

He was sentenced to a youth rehabilitation order and given 60 hours of unpaid work. The force also points to a decline in phone robberies with 828 such offences reported during 2023, 102 fewer than the previous year. That, however, still equates to an average of more than two phone muggings a day.

Apple was approached for comment.

A young woman from Brazil who had her phone ripped from her hand leaving work in the City said she now did not feel safe in the capital, which she fears is becoming as crime-ridden as her home country.

Cleaner Hilda Mattos, 22, had just left an office in Finsbury Square at 7.50pm on April 16 when a thug on an e-bike sped up to her and prised her mobile from her hand.

The theft was the second near the building in a matter of days, mirroring a trend of thieves targeting commuters on their way to and from work.

Ms Mattos told the Standard: “I was walking with a friend and the thief rode up on an e-bike. I wasn’t speaking on the phone but holding it in my hand. Suddenly the thief came up and grabbed my hand really hard. It was all so quick I had no time to react to try to stop him getting the phone.

Victim: Hilda Mattos (Supplied)
Victim: Hilda Mattos (Supplied)

“I’m shocked and upset. In London you expect to have the freedom to walk the streets safely. London is becoming the same as Brazil with the number of thefts on the streets. This type of thing now happens to workers like me every day in London.”

She said she tried to track her phone via an app but it had been turned off and there was no trace.

Ms Mattos, who has been in London for a year and lives in the Whitechapel area, added: “We have everything on our phones. My Travelcard was on there so I had to borrow my friend’s to get home. I am also more scared on London streets now.

“It was all so quick and I’m shocked it could happen here.” Managers at the building where she had been working as an agency cleaner have issued an alert to all staff to be watchful when arriving and leaving work.