Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Society prepares the crime;...

...the criminal commits it.
Henry Thomas Buckle

I came across a sad little news story recently about the theft of a gold necklace:

At about 11.30am on Saturday, the elderly woman was waiting at the bus stop in Bridge Street. A woman approached her and took hold of her hand, placing two gold rings in it and telling her they were free. The victim said she didn’t want them and the woman then placed a necklace over her head. The victim again said she didn’t want it and started to remove it. The woman then took the necklace off the victim, removing the victim’s own gold chain at the same time, before walking off.

Something about this rang a bell, so I did some digging around and tracked down a report from the Clacton Gazette in July 2010:

The woman approached the victim, who is in her 90s, and offered to sell her a necklace which she held it up against the elderly woman's neck. But when the pensioner got home she realised her gold necklace - worth about £200 - had been taken and that she was wearing the cheap necklace the woman had tried to sell her.

 A Google later and I had a surprising number of these thefts; for example, the Echo this week reports that there have been five cases in Southampton so far this year:

In the latest case on Wednesday May 4, just before 1.30pm, a woman was targeted on Portswood Broadway. When she said she did not want the necklaces around her neck, the women took her gold necklace worth around £1,400* and left her with a cheap one.

In fact, a brief trawl turns up a similar case in Kent in November, six cases in Ipswich and Lowestoft in December and others in Nuneaton (January), Bromsgrove and  Redditch (February) Camberley (March), Farnborough (April) and Sheffield (May) – and that’s only the ones reported online picked up by searching ‘theft +necklace’.

Perhaps the MSM haven't reported it because it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi of sensation - no violence, no trauma; just elderly women losing a bit of jewellery - but surely there must come a point when the sheer number of such crimes make them a news story? It’s all very strange – the local papers carry warnings to be vigilant but never mention that they are reporting more than a single isolated incident or localised cluster.

The modus operandi is virtually identical in each case. In only five of the 20 cases was the thief alone; all the other crimes were committed by pairs of women – on several occasions, it seems, the same pair - approaching a lone, often elderly victim at a bus stop in broad daylight and carrying out the same distraction routine.

Now it occurs to me that our town centres these days are positively heaving with CSOs, especially on Saturdays, so why has no-one picked any of them up?

Two reasons spring instantly to mind; the first is that Police forces do not seem to pool information on such trivial matters – except where thefts took place in the same police area, they have been reported as if without precedent. Thus a Kent sergeant could say 'This is quite a unique distraction technique’ when Lowestoft, Clacton and Ipswich already had cases on their books.

And secondly, there’s the small matter of the descriptions; the women are, without exception, of 'Asian' or 'middle eastern' appearance’ or ‘darkly tanned’ and most mention headscarves. But how does a CSO go about the surveillance of pairs of women ‘of Asian appearance’, however closely they match the descriptions?

Or more to the point, in today's Britain, who is going to take the risk of issuing that order?

*This has caused much speculation in the comments – who wears a £1,400 necklace to go shopping in Southampton?


  1. That description could just as easily be that of Romanian gypsies, who are often quite dark, wear headscarves and are well known for distraction-thefts.

    That pretty much guarantees the police won't touch them!

  2. You're probably right; whoever they are, I suspect that if they were collared, there would be serious official trouble quicker than you could say 'ethnic diversity coordinator'.

  3. That's going straight into Orphans sidebar now.