As Coronation weekend approaches and tourists prepare to descend on London, visitors are warned to remain vigilant due to rising crime levels in the city.
Police data obtained by the BBC show that a phone is reported stolen every six minutes in the capital, for a total of 91,000 reports in 2022. Fewer than 2,000 of these devices have been recovered.
The boroughs of Westminster (25,899), Camden (7,892) and Southwark (5,690) have seen the highest number of phone thefts, and these form the central belt of the city where most visitors will reside over the coronation weekend.
In January 2023 alone, there were more than 8,500 reported phone thefts in London, with just 119 devices being returned to their owners.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMCIFRS) Chief Inspector Andy Cooke said: ‘Phone theft is not a minor crime, it cuts to the heart of how safe people feel in their communities. .
“There needs to be a concerted push to address this because it directly affects public confidence in the police’s ability to keep them safe.”
According to Crimestoppers, this represents a 151% year-on-year increase in phone thefts. Around 54% of these incidents involved thieves operating pedal bikes and 65% of phone thefts occurred between 6pm and 1am. The most likely day for the phone to be stolen is a Wednesday, according to his records.
The rest of the world is taking note. An article in the New Zealand Herald offers advice on how to avoid getting mugged in the UK capital. “Resist the temptation to talk on the phone while walking,” he suggests, adding, “Need to check a map? Do this, holding the phone with both hands, then put it away and continue.
In the Sydney Morning Herald, an article describes the problem as a “mobile phone epidemic” and says that phone thefts are “the norm in modern London”.
Meanwhile, referring to London’s persistent problem with knife crimes, an article published this week in France-based Euronews asks: “Why are so many British children stabbing each other?”
Long standing reputation
It could be that London’s reputation for crime against tourists will soon overtake Barcelona, which has a long-standing reputation for pickpockets, particularly around the central pedestrian thoroughfare Las Ramblas, but it appears to be tackling the problem successfully. As part of Operation ‘Summer’, Barcelona’s city council last year deployed more police officers on the busiest streets and announced tougher sentences for repeat robbers; thefts in the Catalan capital decreased by 26.6% in 2022, compared to 2019, and muggings decreased by 19.1%, according to barcelona.cat. Telegraph Travel’s Barcelona expert Sally Davies noted the decline in thefts, but added: “The new trend seems to focus on high-value items, such as jewelery and luxury watches.”
In London, however, phone thefts are on the rise and the overall number of crimes committed in 2019/2020 (March to March) was 76,355 compared to 76,199 in 2021/2022, according to the Met Police, showing no improvement in period. The number of knife crimes is also high in London, although there has been a drop from 15,928 police-recorded incidents in 2019/2020 to 11,122 between 2021/2022.
As for how
Putting the two cities side by side, Barcelona comes in 12th place for personal safety in the Economist’s Safe Cities Index 2021 (its most recent study), while London is no less in 14th place. However, a number of cities with positive reputations for personal safety ranked below the UK capital. Zurich finished 15th, Tokyo 16th, Melbourne 18th, Hong Kong 21st and Dubai 25th. The safest cities for personal safety according to the index are Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Brussels.
VisitBritain expects 35.1 million tourists to travel to the UK in 2023, five million more than last year’s figure but still down from the 40 million recorded in 2019. That said, the figures suggest London is recovering faster than the rest of the country, and the Coronation weekend (6-8 May) will bring an economic injection of £1.2bn to the city, although VisitBritain CEO Patricia Yates says most part of this figure will come from internal tourism.
Could negative headlines about crime surges hamper London’s efforts to catch up to pre-pandemic tourism numbers? Overseas experts at Telegraph Travel believe not. They confirmed that the city’s reputation remains largely positive, particularly when compared to the likes of the United States.
Mark Chipperfield, a Telegraph Travel contributor based in Sydney, Australia, said: ‘I know about knife crimes [problems] because I read UK newspapers and visit London often, but most Australians would be totally unaware of how widespread it has become. Law and order is a major issue in every major city, including Sydney (we have a surge in domestic violence and gang killings). I can’t imagine anyone canceling a trip to London (or not accepting a job offer there) for security reasons. Despite its problems, London is generally seen as a very safe, civilized and welcoming city. While not as strong as they once were, Australia’s cultural and emotional ties to London remain strong.”
In Toronto, Canada, public opinion is more focused on crime below the border. Telegraph Travel’s Toronto correspondent Doug Williams says: “In general, the Canadian media do not report petty theft, knife crimes or phone theft in London, so Canadians do not hear about them. Our newscasts are too full of weekly American shootings in the South. For this reason, Canadians regard London as a safe place to visit, a reputation bolstered by our nostalgic view of Britain as a whole due to our connection to the Commonwealth.”
Nikki Bayley, a North American-based Telegraph Travel expert, echoes this point: “I’m on my way to Seattle for the weekend and have had moments of gun-related anxiety, something I wouldn’t even consider when I come.” returning to the UK to visit friends and family. I have never heard anyone mention safety as a concern when they are planning a trip to the UK,” he said.