When my iPad was snatched by a thief in London – My personal story (with data)

As featured in the Guardian today by Simon Murphy, I told my story of how my iPad got snatched at a bus stop in November last year. The article looks at the wider epidemic and says

Across the UK as a whole, between 250,000 and 300,000 mobile phones are reported stolen each year, according to police figures. However, with many victims never contacting the police, the true figure is probably much higher.

And now my story, and how you can try to avoid it – in depth.

It starts at about 4:30pm on Friday afternoon, November 11. I was leaving City University on St John Street, Islington, after another day of lectures and getting assignments finished. I went to my bus stop, the one right opposite the university, and waited for my bus. The countdown app on my iPhone told me a bus would be along in 10 minutes. Options are either to walk to Angel station, or sit here and wait for the bus. I decided to wait, and in that time, decided I wanted to read the a newspaper iPad app.

That meant, of course, getting the iPad out of my bag and holding it. I know this sounds silly, and yes, it is silly, but it seemed OK at the time. There were people about that were from the university and I was under a bus shelter, protected from the world (or the rain at least). OK, it seems? No. Not a hope.

A young person on a bicycle then cycled past, reached out and snatched it.

It all happened in a split second. From what I can gather, he was cycling around and looking for easy targets – which could well include the whole of City University, seeing as most students these days have something valuable on them. He grabbed my iPad, and cycled off. I gave chase, which was pointless, because he was on a bike. I shouted out and nobody stopped him. I suppose thats for the better – who knows what else he might have been carrying?

The only 100% description I could give was from the back, but that didn’t stop the police. I called 999 immediately, and within two minutes an unmarked police car had picked me up and we were looking for him. Waste of time? No. Because I had a secret weapon.

My iPad was 3G enabled, which meant that I could still grab a lock on to it with my Find my iPad app i had on my iPhone. In the two minutes it took the police to arrive, I had locked on to it, and found out in which direction the thief was going. The police gave chase in the car, as well as two motorbikes working the area. This happens to them a lot, so they are skilled in this sort of theft. In fact, this sort of crime has seen a near 10 fold increase in the past year alone.

It’s the shiny devices that can be resold that are targeted. Thieves will go for iPads, iPhones, iPods, Laptops, other smartphones, and anything that looks like it could sell for a decent amount of money. The police explained to me that what they do is they will take it home straight away, wipe the device, reinstall the software on it so it can’t be traced apart from hardware configurations, and sell it on. This is a very common thing, and they could be stolen to order.

This meant my iPad had a short window to get it traced. I did trace it to a block of flats, and as far as the police knew, they had intelligence to say that someone was in their, but they didn’t know exact addresses, so they couldn’t go any further. (There is nothing worse from a Met police PR standpoint than smashing down the door of some innocent next door neighbour, all guns blazing, and it then appearing on the front of a national with disgrace as the headline).

So, they waited to see if they could find the assailant. They couldn’t, and took details, including serials, of my iPad. If it ever turns up, they know what they’re looking for.

The police that attended to my case were very helpful and very quick at doing their jobs. The problem is that this happens all too often – many times a day across London. The thieves are professional, and the police are trying their best.

This chart shows the increase across all London boroughs. The live data is available here. As you can see, the rise in theft from a person has risen dramatically, from 3,183 in November 2010, to 4,223 in November 2011.

Theft from a person chart (All London boroughs). Click to view interactive chart.

In Islington, where the theft happened, and where the Islington robbery squad are trying their best, which I know from all too unwelcome experience, the crime has gone up at pretty much the same rate. I have also included the other 4 London boroughs with higher personal theft rates as comparison. At 348 for November 2011 in Islington, that works out at 11.6 a day. Westminster had 27.5 a day.

Should I have used my iPad at a bus stop? Probably not. It was probably my fault, but the way I saw it, and still do, is that in a free society where we have democratic elections, accountable politicians, freedom of the press and freedom of information, why should I have to not use something i’ve worked hard to get and want to enjoy? Why should some scoundrel on a bike go past me and decide that whats mine is theirs. Why should this happen nearly every single day.


Because we are, it seems, slowly drifting into a lawless society where you have to do battle on the streets. People think that they can just take, and that is wrong, whichever way you look at it. Whenever a bike comes up behind you now, you always think “it could be…” – the same if someone starts running or quickening their pace.

The problem is that it has come to this – that I have to put on my blog the Metropolitan police recommendations for keeping your property your own in central London. By the way, they are:

  • Take care in crowded places. Try to be aware of what’s happening around you. Keep your mobile phone and other valuables out of sight.
  • Walking and texting at the same time can be dangerous, especially when crossing the road. You will be less aware of what is happening around you.
  • When you get off a bus or leave a tube or train station, don’t use your phone immediately, leave it a while.
  • Don’t make it easy for criminals. Think before you use your phone in public or on public transport – especially at bus stops, the tube or train stations.
  • Keep a record of your phone’s IMEI number – just type *#06# (star, hash, 06, hash) into your phone and it will display a fifteen digit number. You can use this number to register your phone at www.immobilise.com You stand a very good chance of getting your phone back when stolen, particularly if the matter is reported to the police quickly.
  • Don’t wait until you get home. Get someone to ring the police on 101, or speak directly to a member of your school staff or a police officer. Always call 999 in an emergency.
  • Many of the latest mobile phones have apps that can help you find your phone. Make sure you download these and have them on your phone as they are free. If your phone is stolen, tell the police about your app.
  • If you do have your phone stolen, remember don’t fight back; it’s much safer to give them what they want than get hurt or injured.

So, that’s the story. Remember, don’t get your phone stolen. It’s quite simple. I only wish i’d thought more at the time. Also, be nice to the police. They’re doing a good job, but face a tough enemy.


http://maps.met.police.uk/tables.htm – The live data for the Metropolitan police, updated as and when new stats are available. Tables break down into boroughs, wards, and financial years.

http://safe.met.police.uk/personal_theft/get_the_facts.html – Get the facts on Personal Theft from this safety sheet from the Metropolitan Police.

5 thoughts on “When my iPad was snatched by a thief in London – My personal story (with data)

    • Hello,

      No, I didn’t. They couldn’t raid the house because it was flats with multiple occupants all flagged up, or not sure of address. Can’t raid everyone to find one thing. Besides, they would have wiped it to stop it being traced by now, and sold on. Not a good thought, but reality.

  1. Hi! This happened to me two days ago with my iphone4 :( Some kid on a bike too so I could only describe them from the back… I doubt it will be found as they turned off the device within about 2 mins.

    Top marks for the the friendly officers of the Islington Robbery Sqd who were really considerate and helpful in my time of need/confusion.

    • Hi Gavin,

      Such a terrible thing to happen. Sadly, as you know the hard way now, these thieves know exactly what they’re doing and how not to get traced. The Islington Robbery Squad are very friendly. I see them out and about a lot, so even though it means they’re busy chasing people, they are very fast and reactive, and in many cases proactive. I saw them at Angel stopping people texting in the street warning them that thieves are around and will snatch phones.

      Hope you’re ok, not too shaken up, and sort out your phone pretty quick..

  2. it just happened to me today, i was travelling on a train going to london bridge, when the train stopped at deptford, a guy snatch my phone behind me while I was reading some news on my phone, then he ran off the train before the door shut.