Chileans are the most professional thieves at large in London, according to uncover Metropolitan Police officers who pursue pickpockets in the West End. The gangs from Chile concentrate on wealthy targets. They stalk their victims diligently, waiting for the opportune moment to seize a handbag or remove a wallet, before making a fast exit.
Other gangs of international thieves actively pickpocketing in London include groups from Romania, Bulgaria and Algeria. But the Chileans stand out.
Often they spend no more than a weekend stealing in London, before using budget airline flights to move on to other major European cities crowded with affluent shoppers and sightseers, such as Paris and Milan. They are hard to convict unless they are caught in the act. This is because by the time police have identified them using CCTV or forensic evidence, they have often left town.
‘They go after wealthy tourists’
PC Darren Bond’s patch is Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street. He told Vice News that he rates the Chileans most highly. “They are intelligence led. They don’t go after anyone but wealthy tourists – and operate in mixed teams of three to six, often middle-aged,” he said.
“They will look like a family or group of businessmen to fit in. It allows them to walk through hotels unchallenged, sit down and have breakfast, and then walk out with bags, laptops. They are so hard to trace.
“They will be here on a six-month visa, go off on a European tour, then pop up again in London later. We have to trawl through weeks of CCTV footage just to keep track of what members are in any Chilean gang at any one time. You are constantly creating a web of info.”
Recently the Metropolitan Police pickpocket team arrested two Chilean women clad in burkas who stole from rich Arab visitors. Police officers found €130,000 (£95,800, $142,868) and £20,000 in cash in their baggage, together with items of jewellery.