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Police pursuing moped thieves in Islington are told: ‘Back off’

Figures reveal bosses let fewer than one-in-five chases go ahead

19 January, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Islington moped offenders last year Photo: CPS

POLICE are told by their bosses to stop chasing moped criminals at least once a week, with permission to pursue granted in fewer than 20 per cent of cases, new figures reveal.

Officers in Islington radioed to their superiors requesting authorisation to follow a suspect 65 times in 2017, but figures obtained by the Tribune show they were told to back off in all but 10 occasions.

The rise in moped crime, in which suspects use stolen bikes to commit a range of offences including phone snatches and smash-and-grab raids, has been a thorn in the side of the Met in recent years.

Islington is among the worst-affected boroughs, with an average of more than 10 offences reported each day.

The Tribune understands some street-level police officers often feel frustrated that their bosses do not allow them to pursue chases.

Caledonian ward councillor Paul Convery, the Town Hall’s former community safety chief, said he was “amazed at how low” the ­figures for authorised pursuits were.

Cllr Convery said: “It’s pretty plain moped- riding criminals are aware that the Met are apprehensive of giving chase and this has emboldened them, paradoxically.

“We need a more sensible approach where the default should be the police should pursue unless there is a very, very good set of reasons they should not.”

The pursuit numbers, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, show a 20 per cent dip in the number of requests approved between 2016 and 2017, while moped enabled crime soared, especially over the summer months.

Out of 37 requests made by officers in 2016, 13 were authorised.

Henry Hicks

The figures show the number of times officers in marked and unmarked vehicles requested permission for a “spontaneous” pursuit and do not include planned operations.

Cllr Convery said: “It’s hard to exactly interpret those numbers. The change in attitude occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Henry Hicks fatality. Tactically, the Met have been very cautious in authorising chases.”

Henry Hicks was a popular Angel teenager who crashed his moped and died in Wheelwright Street, near Pentonville Prison, while being followed by police in 2014. Thousands turned out for his funeral near Exmouth Market.

A police misconduct panel held last year cleared the four police officers in the two unmarked vehicles behind Henry of gross misconduct, but the results have been contested by his family.

Met guidelines dictate police officers must seek authorisation from central command, where a supervisor carries out a risk assessment before a pursuit is given authorisation

Between January and September 2017, there were 3,587 reports of “moped-enabled crime” in Islington alone, with a further 4,147 in neighbouring Camden.

Asked by the Tribune last year about the approach to moped pursuits, Superintendent Mark Payne said: “The Met Police pursues all criminals. Just because we are not riding around in fast cars behind them doesn’t mean we are not pursuing the criminal.

“We use DNA. If we have got their face we do facial recognition. It may well be that we break off a pursuit because we think we have the evidence.”

He added that it was a case of “we know who you are and there’s no point taking that pursuit any further today. We’ll go and bang on your door at 2am tomorrow when we know we can get you in bed.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman also said that officers rely on methods other than pursuits to catch moped criminals.

“We can and will undertake pursuits in any situation where it is necessary and proportionate to do so – in line with nationally-approved guidance on pursuing motorcycles and in line with approved tactics.”

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