A lawyer said he was forced to turn “vigilante” to recover his girlfriend’s stolen bike after police failed to respond to nine requests for help.
Charlie Jacobs, 31, spotted the bike being advertised on Gumtree and forced the teenager who was selling it to hand it back after posing as a buyer and turning up at his house.
Mr Jacobs first noticed the black Condor road bike was missing from outside the Islington home he shares with tech designer girlfriend Anneke Glasius, 29, on Easter Monday, April 17.
She had bought it for £400 about 10 days earlier – to use on their cycling holiday in France this summer – after seeing it advertised on Gumtree and checking it was being sold by its legitimate owner.
The bike had been locked to a rack in a gated area outside their home but the thief cut through the rack to remove it.
Mr Jacobs, a partner at Jacobs Allen Hammond solicitors, reported the theft to the Metropolitan police but was told the following day there would be no investigation because the theft was not caught on CCTV.
An officer told him to keep an eye on online sites. He found it being sold for £500 on Gumtree two days later by a seller named John from Leytonstone.
The police said they were “uninterested” unless he had a full address and advised him to feign interest to obtain John’s home details. John asked “which one?” when asked about the bike – and could not meet until the evening as he “had school”.
Mr Jacobs said he became “utterly frustrated” after three further calls with the police, during which he was advised not to confront the seller.
Wearing a protective boot after ankle ligament surgery, he set off with Ms Glasius and two friends to John’s home.
John turned out to be “no more than 16”. He claimed he had bought the bike the previous day on Gumtree but was selling it because it was “too fast”. John’s father demanded proof that the bike belonged to Ms Glasius before allowing it to be handed over.
Mr Jacobs said: “I have got a lot of sympathy for the police. They clearly don’t have enough bobbies on the beat. But at the same time I felt I spent a lot of time on the telephone, getting more and more reference numbers. It seemed a vast misallocation of resources – they have everyone on the phone and no-one out solving crimes.”
He described the recovery of the bike as “vigilante justice” and criticised the lack of police interest as running counter to efforts to get more Londoners on bikes.
He said Ms Glasius was delighted to get her bike back. “I think she was more frustrated with the police than I was,” he said.
Sean Caulfield, criminal defence solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “Legally there is nothing stopping Mr Jacobs from taking matters into his own hands but he did put himself at risk of being involved in a more serious incident such as assault.
“However, it is somewhat of an open goal for the police to investigate this case given that the evidence trail is so clear. It also appears that this thief may have been involved in a number of thefts, so the police missed an opportunity to potentially solve a number of matters at once. People rightly expect the police to investigate every crime that is reported but this case reflects that the police are clearly under resourced to do so.
“If, as it appears in this case, the thief is aged under 18, he may receive a youth caution or appear in the youth court but would be very unlikely to receive a custodial sentence. However, if he is aged over 18, the police would use the number of adverts placed as evidence of the level of offending and sentencing will depend on the number of bikes stolen and their value.
“The maximum sentence for theft is six years and for handling stolen goods it is 14 years however, for such sentences to be handed down the crimes would have had to have been carried out on an industrial scale.”
The Met said inquiries were continuing but no arrests had been made. A spokesman said: “Police were called by a victim of crime who told police he believed he had located his stolen bicycle for sale on a website and had arranged to meet the seller to confront him later that evening.
“Officers advised against approaching any potential suspects as, due to current demand and the unpredictable nature of policing, it would not be possible to guarantee police attendance at the location.
“In all instances, the Met would encourage victims or witnesses who are in possession of information about a criminal offence to provide that information to police and let officers progress it.”
- An edited version of this story appeared in the Evening Standard last week.