Indian business elite fears London Rolex Ripper crime wave

Visiting CEOs from India say crime is their biggest concern when coming to UK capital, despite reassurances from mayor that city is safe

A luxury watch advert on the streets in Mayfair, where thieves are ripping such items from people's wrists. Getty Images
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Business executives from India are voicing their concerns about visiting even the most high-end parts of London due to the fear of having their expensive watches and handbags stolen.

Devin Narang, the founder and partner at Sundev Renewables and an executive member of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told The National a lot of senior executives of Indian companies had been "mugged right in the heart of [London's upmarket district of] Mayfair" creating a fear of the so-called Rolex Ripper crime wave.

"These are issues which need to be addressed," he said.

"People will travel – and people are travelling – but you need to look over your shoulder, you need to be careful what you're wearing."

Mr Narang raised the issue of crime in London during a meeting in Delhi with the UK's shadow foreign minister David Lammy.

Police recently released dramatic footage of undercover officers acting as bait to arrest gangs of thieves responsible for some of the millions of pounds' worth of luxury watch robberies in central London.

The officers posed as members of the public wearing luxury watches and were targeted by gang members, who engaged them in conversation and then attempted to rip the timepieces from their wrists, before police moved in swiftly to arrest the thieves.

CCTV footage of four robberies were released by the Met Police at a time when the theft of luxury watches has been grabbing the headlines in the UK, with research showing the total value of the stolen items passing £1 billion in a year for the first time.

Fear and statistics

According to figures from the Metropolitan Police (the Met), there were 72,756 incidents of what is called "theft from a person" – which refers to watch, mobile phone and handbag snatching – in London last year, a 27 per cent rise on 2022.

However, within the district of Westminster, which contains areas such as Mayfair, such offences rose by 40 per cent in 2023, compared to the previous year.

A representative for Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said: "The Met have stepped up their response to robberies – which are rising nationally – and have specialist teams out proactively targeting the most prolific offenders and robbery hotspots."

"Latest figures show that on average you’re less likely to be a victim of violent crime in London than the rest of the country."

Meanwhile, research from the national tourism agency VisitBritain found in 2022, a total of 516,484 people visited the UK from India, and 86 per cent of departing Indians (excluding British expats) said they were "extremely likely" to recommend Britain for a visit, which beat the 82 per cent average across all markets.

But while London's authorities use statistics to paint a picture of the UK capital as one of the world's safest cities, the fear of crime seems to be having a bigger effect on would-be business visitors from India.

"One incident does spread like wildfire," Mr Narang told The National. "So women would make sure they are not wearing expensive jewellery and carrying expensive bags and people would not wear expensive rings or watches.

"People I know have had their handbags lifted and a friend, within a second, his watch disappeared."

'Not a priority'

Despite the publicised police stings, a perception lingers that in the event of a crime the police don't do enough, or "perhaps the police are focused on larger crimes", Mr Narang said.

One factor could be underfunding of the police from central government, which the mayor's office claims is to the tune of £240 million, a gap City Hall officials say is being filled using local council tax and business rates.

“The mayor is also investing record sums to reinvigorate frontline policing to prevent crime in our busy high streets, tourist locations and transport hubs," Mr Khan's representative said.

"Sadiq [Khan] will continue to do all he can to support the Met and hold them to account on tackling robberies and supporting victims to build a safer London for everyone.”

Mr Narang feels it is sad that offences and the fear of crime have escalated in London. He recently spent some time in New York and said did not have to look over his shoulder.

"We walked everywhere, I had no problems," he told The National.

Yet the next time he comes to London he will certainly "be very careful" if the crime issues have not been addressed.

Updated: February 07, 2024, 3:45 PM