Phone theft effectively decriminalised in London
There's basically no hope you'll get your phone back, new figures show
Morning — good luck if you get your phone nicked in London these days. New figures show there’s barely any hope you’ll get it recovered, with hundreds of thefts in the capital each day. We dive in after your Thursday round-up below.
Plus: quite a few key legal cases this week — on London’s air pollution rules and the Grenfell Tower fire. Meanwhile, some Londoners are proving even the King isn’t immune to a bit of NIMBYism.
Phew: it seems Elon Musk has seen the light and lifted Twitter’s soft ban on Substack newsletters like the Spy, as we moaned about in our last issue. Onwards and upwards!
What we’ve spied
🏚️ Vetting for prospective tenants is getting even more extreme in London’s rental crisis, with landlords now demanding photos, CVs and character references. Renters told the Observer they’re being encouraged to “put their best foot forward” by including as much personal information as possible in their applications, with details such as having attended Oxbridge or a Russell Group university and high salaries seen as an advantage.
📊 The latest census may have overestimated the transgender population of some London boroughs because the question was too convoluted, an Oxford academic claims. Newham and Brent recorded the highest proportion of transgender people in England in the census, at 1.5% and 1.3% respectively. But sociology professor Michael Briggs says the question’s wording may have confused the high number of residents who speak English as a second language in the boroughs. The Office for National Statistics confirmed it was working with its regulator over the issue and said it was “possible” respondents misinterpreted the question.
💨 A legal challenge to the expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone is going ahead later in the year. A judge has ruled there are grounds for the case, which is being brought by four borough councils in outer London plus Surrey, in a bid to stop Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand ULEZ to the entire city. Hillingdon, Bexley, Bromley, and Harrow will argue in the High Court that the mayor is acting beyond his powers and that he failed to consult on the scrappage scheme drivers can use to replace their polluting vehicles.
🎤 Speaking of Khan, he’s done a big interview with the Financial Times this week. The key takeaways are:
He finds the idea of a road use charge — where Londoners pay for every mile they drive — “quite exciting” but says “the technology’s quite a long way off”
He’s still backing a six-month rent freeze
He wants London-only worker visas to deal with Brexit labour shortages in the capital
When asked if Muslim and Hindu communities could clash in London, as they did in Leicester last year, he replied: “You must never be complacent. You’ve got to work at multiculturalism”
He has “an open mind” when it comes to legalising cannabis
⚖️ Families, survivors and residents will receive damages relating to the Grenfell Tower fire. The payout for their civil claims covers 900 people — but it does not rule out the potential for criminal charges to be brought in the future. There’s also still the long-running inquiry into the fire, which is due to report back later in the year. Decent news for Londoners living in other tower blocks with unsafe cladding though, as more than half of developers have now reportedly signed up for a government repair scheme. Related: Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen’s new film on Grenfell is now showing at the Serpentine Gallery in central London, and has received much critical acclaim.
🚇 A bit of confusion around a report TfL might charge cheaper tube and bus fares on Fridays. The i newspaper reported that Friday could be classified as off-peak travel like the weekend, in a bid to get as many people using the network as before the pandemic. But TfL denied the report was true, and others have dug out previous TfL research finding fare cuts don’t really boost passenger numbers. Hmm — watch this space…
🚆 In other transport news: plans are progressing for the West London Orbital rail project. The service, which would be part of the London Overground, would link Hounslow up to Hendon and could be opened in the early 2030s. Engineers are now starting on a detailed design.
👑 King Charles’ coronation route through London was revealed earlier this week, but not everyone is happy. Westminster council documents show neighbours kicked off at plans to cordon off parts of Green Park, St James’ Park and Hyde Park for the event. Objections ranged from claims that there “far too much noise in this area already” and that the plans were “FAR TOO INTRUSIVE”.
🏨 The Ritz has issued an apology after a job applicant was sent a grooming policy that banned ‘spiky or Afro-style’ hair at the five-star hotel. Jurelle Jules was left “shocked and disappointed” when he received the document, though the Ritz later said it was sent erroneously.
🛑 A London socialite has been added to the UK government’s Ukraine sanction list. Tatiana Evtushenkova once partied with the likes of model Naomi Campbell, but she now faces an asset freeze, travel bans and transport sanctions in relation to her father, Vladimir Evtushenkov, a Russian oligarch close to President Putin’s inner circle.
🍸 Soon you’ll be able to get cocktails in the National Portrait Gallery. It’s been temporarily closed while undergoing a £35m refurbishment, but is set to reopen in June with a bar, open late into the evenings.
Phone stolen? Don’t hold out…
📱 Just one in fifty stolen phones ever get recovered in London, with a theft every six minutes. These are statistics revealed by the BBC this week, obtained from the Metropolitan Police via Freedom of Information.
It shows that just 2,000 phones were recovered by police in London in 2022, out of 91,000 reported stolen. That works out as a recovery rate of 2.1% and an average of 248 phones stolen a day.
Westminster saw the most reported thefts, with around one for every 50 people spending time in the borough during the daytime. Camden, Southwark and Hackney were close behind with one theft for every 100 people. All of these boroughs also saw below-average recovery rates.
The data also shows a growing number of these thefts in London now involve motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles — around 40 a day last year — with thieves quickly grabbing the phone and escaping.
It’s yet another blow to trust in the Met. Some victims are attempting to take things into their own hands, tracking down their stolen devices themselves using their phone’s in-built GPS data, yet the crime remains unsolved.
The findings have gone down like a lead balloon with the independent inspector for police forces, His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. It told the BBC: "Phone theft is not a minor crime, it strikes at the heart of how safe people feel in their own communities.
"There needs to be a concerted drive to address this because it directly affects the public's confidence in the police's ability to keep them safe."
For its part, the Met said policing the crime is "difficult" and that "daily operations" continue to take place.
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