The Met have today released details of an innovative undercover operation to target watch robbery using its new, more precise approach to tackle crime affecting London’s communities.

The data-driven, intelligence-led operations pinpointed hotspots where a group of men were causing misery to those passing through central London boroughs.

In the six-month period prior to October 2022 [April-September 2022] there were over 300 luxury watches stolen across the three boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham.

Intelligence showed suspects targeting victims leaving pubs and nightclubs, most of whom were intoxicated and in a vulnerable state.

The suspects’ MO was to offer drugs/sex workers before taking them to quiet side streets to rob them, or approach them from behind before violently attacking them for their property.

In response to the rocketing number of offences, officers from the Met Covert Policing Command and central London robbery team set up two operations to identify the robbers.

These featured undercover officers** wearing luxury watches and posing as members of the public at the times and locations we knew these criminals operated in, with the aim of catching them red-handed.

The operations ran from October to December 2022 and March to October 2023 within Soho – which along with the other hotspots of Mayfair and the south part of Kensington and Chelsea, accounted for 40% of all watch robberies in London at the time.

Overall both operations resulted in 31 arrests and 27 successful charges, leading to 21 convictions to date. Of this group of 21, 14 individuals have so far been sentenced to a total of 26 years overall, with other cases pending.

They also successfully reduced the watch robbery rate across not just the borough of Westminster (which Soho is part of) but also the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham as well.

The first operation from October to December 2022 saw a drop of 28% in watch robberies across the three boroughs by the end of that three-month period – [43 watch robberies in Oct 22 came down to 31 in Dec 22].

Whilst the second operation from March to October 2023 reduced watch robberies by 15.8% [361 robberies from March-Oct 2023 compared to 429 over same period in 2022] across the three boroughs.

Furthermore, comparing summer 2022 – before the operations started – to summer 2023, the number of watch robberies was halved across those same three boroughs – 113 in July 2022 down to 55 in July 2023.

Ben Russell, Commander for Met Intelligence, said: “This is a rare chance to give the public insight into the work done by our undercover officers, which resulted in 31 robbers arrested in a 12-month period, all caught red-handed trying to steal high value watches in the heart of the West End. Fourteen have already been sentenced, with more awaiting sentencing and other cases pending.

“Using data and intelligence, we identified the locations and times where these crimes were taking place and deployed undercover officers into the area, as part of our precision-based approach to fighting crime.

“By targeting the people causing the most harm and the locations most frequently linked to crime, we are having a greater impact on keeping our communities safe.

“Undercover operations will always carry an element of personal danger and, while we risk assess all our operations thoroughly, all the officers involved demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination.”

The Met has also released CCTV clips of four incidents during the two operations in Soho that dramatically display the bravery of the UC officers who took part.

UC deployments are just one of a wide range of measures the Met has employed to bear down on personal robbery offences. These include proactive patrols in hotspots across the capital and working with local and pan-London teams to develop insightful intelligence.

The Met is also keen to help educate the public to enable them to do all they can to minimise their chance of becoming a victim. When out and about, it is important that people remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings.

We would advise owners of high value watches to photograph for insurance purposes, consider property-marking and registering on a property register database, which can help increase the chances of retrieval of stolen items.

Our ‘Look Up, Look Out’ campaign encourages members of the public to pay attention to who is around them, keep valuables out of sight, and where possible plan their route before travelling.

We would advise anyone who is a victim of a robbery or who has seen a robbery take place not to risk their personal safety but call 999.

Further guidance can be found at:

NOTES TO EDITORS: **NB: For clarity, UC refers to Met officers working in covert policing, carrying out full time police undercover work. This differs from officers working in plain clothes.

Additional statistics:

General robbery offences:

-Between April and September 2022 there were nearly 2,000 robberies across Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.
-The Soho area accounted for 31 per cent of all those 2,000 offences – to put this into perspective this area is about one per cent of the size of those three boroughs put together.

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