Feeling the pinch

Thieves rubbing their hands ahead of Olympics

Last Updated: 17/07/12 3:05pm

Special Report - Pickpocketing

With the eyes of the world on London 2012 this summer, pickpockets are coming from far and wide in the hope of stealing a fortune from visitors to the Games, Special Report has learnt.

Passports, iPhones and cameras will all be targeted - the pickpockets passing the goods on to middle-men who off-load to various contacts.

In England and Wales, someone is mugged every minute and many of the criminals boast of being able to turn profits of up to £1000 per day.

Vasiliy and Lolo are career pickpockets from Barcelona in Spain - and are relishing the chance to use their tricks in England this summer.

Vasiliy, 22, told Special Report's Kaveh Solhekol: "If pickpocketing was in the Olympics, I'd win a gold medal. I'm going to go to London on the bus because if I do that, I'll be able to rob on the way. If I take a plane, I won't be able to.

"On a bus, when we stop at a petrol station, I can help myself. I'll probably stay for a month and I'll be aiming to make £10,000. It depends though, because I have to pay for hotels.

"The first thing I'm going to do in London is get a lawyer, because I know that the first time the police catch you, they have to let you go. Once I get the money, it doesn't matter."

Lolo added: "There's a lot of unemployment here. The economic situation in Spain is really bad and what I'm doing is really fun. The people should go and have a good time and make sure their pockets are nice and open."

Victims

The results of their work can not only damage victims financially but emotionally, as British tourist Eric Wilson revealed after being targeted by pickpockets during a recent holiday.

Wilson said: "I felt gutted. The feeling when you first turn around and realise your rucksack has disappeared, there's a real sinking feeling that you've had a good holiday that's just been totally ruined."

Andrew Gwatkin of the British Consul General added: "Very often, people don't have any money and don't have their mobile phone or passport.

"They come here in an agitated and distressed state. We want to assist them in every way we can but they're very concerned that not only have they been a victim of crime, but they need to get home."

Some claim that the problem is largely the work of Romanians, but Ambassor of Romania Ion Jinga insists: "There were pickpockets in London before the Olympics and there will be pickpockets in London after the Olympics. In every important airport in Europe, you hear it announced to be careful of them.

"Pickpocketing is not an activity limited to Romanians - not at all."

Profits

Kaveh was able to meet with a known middle-man for the pickpockets - known only as 'Jags.'

When quizzed on how much he hoped to make during the Olympics, Jags said: "If the police don't catch the people, I can make between £5,000 and £10,000. Some people will make £20,000.

"I've got some people's phone number and they come quick because people need iPhones and laptops. It's very easy to sell.

"They've got little businesses, shops etc. They've been in this country a long time. For a £500 camera we can sell easily for £200. For an iPhone 4s we can get around £250. It'd take about 15 minutes. I'd go to the shop and they'd give me the money straight away.

"A passport takes longer because we need to see who needs it. Someone will give you £500 or someone will give you £100. It used to be that people would give you £1000."