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How the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook group is battling back against the thieves





With a significant number of bikes stolen on a daily basis in and around Cambridge – sometimes by gangs travelling from London for the purpose – one man is doing what he can to fight back.

Omar Terywall set up a Facebook group last September called Stolen Bikes in Cambridge.

Omar Terywall, founder of the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook group. Picture: Keith Heppell
Omar Terywall, founder of the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook group. Picture: Keith Heppell

Describing himself as a “bit of a vigilante when it comes to bike theft in Cambridge”, he says the group has helped to reunite people with their stolen cycles.

“Sadly, we can’t help everybody but we try and help as many as possible, and the good thing is now people are helping each other,” he told the Cambridge Independent.

“On a daily basis I’m getting so many messages from people saying, ‘There’s this person here that we believe is selling stolen bikes’. People are looking out for each other. Victims of bike thefts, even if they haven’t been able to get their own bike back, are trying to help other people out, and that’s been really nice to see.

“People get some sense of comfort in knowing they are helping out, when the police have told them ‘Sorry, it’s nothing that we can help you with’ and by the following day, it’s case closed.”

Cambridgeshire police have been accused of not doing enough to tackle the crime .

CyclePoint at Cambridge railway station . Picture: Keith Heppell
CyclePoint at Cambridge railway station . Picture: Keith Heppell

Omar, who lives in Cambridge, said: “I liaise with the police quite often and now it’s got to the stage where I receive so much intel that I’ve said, ‘Look, it’s too much for me to keep emailing you and sending you these pictures. If I could just arrange a WhatsApp group and forward the information on...’

“But I do fully appreciate that there’s only so much they can do with their resources. If, for example, you were able to identify somebody on Gumtree who had posted a picture of your stolen bike and it has distinctive features, the police still won’t be able to send anybody around. At this stage it’s still just speculation, until you’re able to see the serial number underneath and positively identify it. That can be really frustrating.

“If it’s a £400 bike and it’s being sold for £50, you know that you’ve only got a matter of hours before you can actually get that bike back, or it disappears for good. So you do understand from the police perspective that they can’t just send somebody round there based on your hunch.

“A victim of any kind of theft is passionate about it.”

Omar advises anyone who thinks they may have seen their stolen bike used by someone else to take a picture of it with their phone and send it to the group.

Bikes at a Cambridge college (41807119)
Bikes at a Cambridge college (41807119)

But how would he advise securing your bike?

“I certainly wouldn’t use a chain,” he said. “I posted a video the other day of someone very easily snipping through with bolt-cutters quite a decent-looking chain.

“Use a D-lock as thick as you can get and it should ideally go around the frame and the post you’re tying it to. If you’ve got two, even better, because it’s more of a deterrent. If it’s more hassle for the thief to get to it, then they just don’t bother.”

His Facebook group seems to have come just at the right time.

Cycling website yellowjersey.co.uk lists Cambridge, along with the City of London and Oxford, as the worst place in the UK for bicycle theft. It concluded that the “worst specific location in the country was Cambridge train station” based on figures of 113 bike thefts there in 12 months.

Omar says it is “shocking” – and he launched Stolen Bikes in Cambridge after helping a couple of cyclists get their bikes back.

“Last year, I stopped somebody from riding off with a £2,800 electric bike on their shoulder,” he said.

“They were riding a bike trying to balance this very expensive other bike on their shoulder. I stopped my car in front of them and asked to check the serial number, etc. After five or six minutes of talking to the guy and checking the bike over, my wife helped flag a police car down and they immediately recognised him as being a prolific thief and he ran off, leaving the bike there.

Bikes parked in Cambridge (41807131)
Bikes parked in Cambridge (41807131)

“From that moment, I thought there are so many cases where people are quite openly selling stolen bikes on Facebook and no-one’s able to do anything. So I thought I’d form this group and help identify or distinguish the legitimate sellers from the more fraudulent ones – and also help victims get their bikes back.”

Cambridgeshire Constabulary figures indicate reported bike theft is down year-on-year.

But Omar is not convinced.

“It’s big business at the moment and what we’ve noticed is that these bikes are being stolen and very quickly being taken out the city,” he said.

“So they’re not being sold so much locally anymore, most of them are being put straight into vans and being sold straight out to people in London. I managed to get one London seller to bring back three bikes that he’d purchased. He’d bought them in good faith, at £150 each, and went on to sell them in Ilford.

“I convinced him to meet me at Parkside police station, with the victims so that they could personally identify their bikes, and it was £2,000 worth of bikes that were brought back to Cambridge.”

The seller was able to identify the garage where the bikes were stolen from – but Omar said police took very little information from him.

“As far as they were concerned, it was case closed,” he said, although he hoped officers were investigating behind the scenes.

One weekend in August, 11 bikes were stolen from a locked bike shed in Trumpington. But very often, it is locations like Cambridge Park & Ride sites and Cambridge railway station which are targeted.

Omar believes bike thieves feel almost immune from prosecution

Omar Terywall, founder of the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook group. Picture: Keith Heppell
Omar Terywall, founder of the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook group. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It’s just easy money at the moment, and it’s almost risk-free as well,” he suggested. “I feel like there’s more and more people stealing out there . It feels like people are being trained up on how to steal bikes because there are a lot more new faces appearing.”

In 2019, Supt James Sutherland, head of crime prevention, told the Cambridge Independent that crime prevention was key in the fight against bicycle theft, saying: “All reports of cycle theft are reviewed by our investigations management unit. Where there are significant lines of inquiry that would likely lead to an arrest being made or property recovered, the crime will be allocated to a local officer for further investigation. However, it is true to say that in the majority of cases there will not be viable lines of inquiry.

“We know from experience that the possible presence of CCTV very rarely leads to the offence actually being captured on video and even in those rare cases, identification of a suspect is incredibly rare (due to counter measures taken by thieves to disguise their appearance to cameras).

“Compounding this problem is that the timeframes where bikes are stolen are usually several hours, which makes viewing CCTV by police officers a very costly and unproductive use of police resources – even utilising methods such as a ‘binary chop’ fails to take into account the time required to obtain and view the CCTV.”

A Cambridgeshire Constabulary spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “We have done a significant amount of crime prevention work to help people reduce their risk of becoming a victim of cycle theft, including holding a number of cycle marking events across the county.

Abandoned bikes at CyclePoint are being removed. Picture: Keith Heppell
Abandoned bikes at CyclePoint are being removed. Picture: Keith Heppell

“All cycle theft is recorded and assessed as to whether or not there is a proportionate line of inquiry to follow that may allow officers to solve the crime. All crime trends are reviewed and analysed to identify bike-theft ‘hotspots’.

“We urge cyclists to ensure their bike is secured with at least one decent lock, as well as being marked and registered to increase the chance of it being returned if it is stolen. More information is available on our website: cambs.police.uk/information-and-services/Cycle-crime.”

The spokesperson pointed out that figures indicate there has been a substantial decline in thefts this year – down 55 per cent from May to August across the county, compared to the same period last year.

In Cambridge, thefts fell 49 per cent in April-July 2020 (587 cases) compared to April-July 2019 (1,157), and while 232 bike thefts were reported in the city in July, that was down 28 per cent on the 324 reported in July 2019.

But Omar knows many crimes are going unreported.

“I mentioned this in the group,” he said, “and several people came on to say they didn’t bother reporting it as they thought it was pointless – which I guess it would be from a victim’s perspective.”

The police spokesperson responded: “If perception is higher than our statistics, it could be underreporting, which is why we always encourage people to report crimes of any nature.”

Read more of our coverage of this issue

Interactive Cambridge bike theft map 2020: How 95% of cases end with no suspect identified

Camcycle: ‘It’s clear police are not taking Cambridge bike theft seriously enough’

Abandoned bikes to be removed from Cambridge cycle park



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