India’s business elite feel unsafe in London due to expensive watch muggings

UK

India’s business elite feel they have to “look over their shoulder” while visiting areas such as Mayfair in London due to the risk of being mugged for their expensive watches, a New Delhi entrepreneur has said.

The theft of high-value timepieces to be sold on the black market has become a criminal enterprise in the UK capital in recent years – with one former watch dealer telling Sky News it is “more lucrative than drugs”.

The number of stolen watches nearly doubled in England and Wales between 2015 and 2022 – from 6,696 to 11,035, data from Watchfinder & Co showed last year.

More than 6,000 of the thefts in 2022 took place in London.

High-profile targets include former world boxing champion Amir Khan, who was forced to hand over his £70,000 Franck Muller watch in a gunpoint robbery in east London in 2022.

The concern among high-flying Indian businesspeople about the problem has emerged after the UK shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, who is in New Delhi for talks on geopolitics and commerce, attended a meeting of members of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday.

Indian renewable energy entrepreneur Devin Narang, who chaired the meeting, told Sky News: “We were discussing how to increase business between our two countries and areas of concern, and I mentioned that there were a lot of concerns about Indian CEOs getting mugged. It’s happened to a lot of people I know.”

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Mr Narang said Mr Lammy responded by saying it was an “issue that would be addressed”.

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1:28

From January: Undercover Met officers catch watch thieves

The New Delhi-based entrepreneur has not himself been targeted on his many visits to London – but said between five and eight Indian businesspeople have told him they have been mugged in the past few years.

“One of them got his watch taken, his wrist got slashed and his watch was taken away, where the American embassy used to be in Mayfair,” he said.

“Another had their bag picked up and taken while they were in a store in Oxford Street.”

Tourists wary

Mr Narang said friends and family who have visited London in recent years feel like they have to “look over their shoulder” while visiting upmarket places in the city.

“It’s not only Indian people,” he added. “I am told that people from other countries have also stopped wearing expensive watches and bags, as well as jewellery that might be taken.”

Mr Narang said the muggings are not deterring Indian businesspeople from coming to London – but believes it has made them feel they have to be more careful.

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0:22

Camden thieves snatch Rolex watch from man’s wrist as he walks with wife

The entrepreneur added that. in his experience. New Delhi does not have the same problem with muggings, saying: “We don’t have to look over our shoulder.”

British officials have reportedly confirmed that the possibility of being mugged on London’s streets ranks alongside immigration delays at Heathrow as a concern for India’s elite.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, who supervises the Metropolitan Police (Met), has insisted the UK capital is “one of the safest global cities in the world”.

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From June 2023: Why watch thefts are on the rise

They told Sky News: “The Met have stepped up their response to robberies – which are rising nationally – and have specialist teams out proactively targeting the most prolific offenders and robbery hotspots.

“The mayor is also investing record sums to reinvigorate frontline policing to prevent crime in our busy high streets, tourist locations and transport hubs.

He [the mayor] will continue to do all he can to support the Met and hold them to account on tackling robberies and supporting victims to build a safer London for everyone.”

In January this year, the Met revealed that undercover officers had been wearing luxury watches as bait to catch robbers red-handed as they target wealthy visitors to London’s West End.

Footage released by the Met shows unwitting thieves being tasered, rugby-tackled and wrestled to the ground in Soho after trying to rip the high-value timepieces from their wrists.

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