Happy news for bike thieves - police give up checking train station CCTV

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Stolen: my bike in the local station cycle hub
Stolen: my bike in the local station cycle hub

I think I know why so few cycle thefts lead to a conviction. Last year there were roughly 237,000 bikes reported stolen and only around 2% of cases led to a suspect being charged. Last week I became one of the statistics.

I’d left my bike locked in the dedicated cycle hub at my local station and returned to find it gone. It had cost me more than £500, and with a £250 excess on my insurance, so it was an expensive loss.

I reported the theft to the British Transport Police and because the hub is covered by CCTV I optimistically held out some hope that the culprit might be identified. No chance – because the police now only look at CCTV footage if the owner was away from their bike for two hours or less, and I was away from my bike for three hours.

“We don’t investigate any bike that’s left for over two hours,” an apologetic officer told me. "If you park your bike in the cycle store at say 9 o’clock and you came back at 11 then we would be able to investigate and check the CCTV, anything over that, if you came back at 12 o’clock, then we wouldn’t be able to check the CCTV because two hours is the maximum time. It’s the amount of footage and officer’s time tied up looking at it.”

I pointed out that almost everyone who leaves a bike at a station is likely to be gone for more than two hours because they’ve probably commuted to work.

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“It’s one of the policies now unfortunately,” said the officer. “People like myself and colleagues have complained about this because most people who are away from their bikes go to work and come back eight, 10 hours later.”

A British Transport Police spokesman defended the pilot policy, saying: “We believe this is proportionate based on our assessment of previous CCTV data and recognition which, when taken alone, is rarely, if ever, sufficient to secure a sustainable prosecution.

"The pilot seeks to reduce wasted police time and ensure that resources are focussed on the prevention and investigation of offences that do have a realistic opportunity of progression. All crimes will be assessed on a case by case basis. The changes are only in relations to volume crime offences such as theft and criminal damage.”

I'm not sure that it makes sense to argue that, say, eight hours of footage is too time-consuming to watch. It would be easy to skip to the four hour mark. If the bike in question is still there, then it must have been stolen between the four and eight hour mark, so now check at six hours. Bike gone? Then it was stolen between four and six hours. Check at five hours. Bike still there? Then it was stolen between five and six hours. In a few moments the search time can be hugely narrowed down.

I wanted to see if this was possible, so I contacted South Western Railway, who own the cycle hub where my bike had been locked, and asked if I could view the footage myself. Of course not, silly question. Data protection.

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Andrew Penman

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