Furious victims of phone thefts say they’re being ignored by police despite tracking down their stolen devices — and that they have no choice but to try to track them down themselves.
More than 90,000 phone thefts were recorded in London alone last year, with victims across the UK saying the issue has become ‘an unpunished crime’.
In 2022, only 2,000 mobile phones were returned to their rightful owners, equivalent to only two percent, and some devices even ended up in Dubai and China within days.
Victims are often able to pinpoint the exact location of their stolen phone, but say the police are “doing nothing” to recover it.
Shelby-Jade Murdock, 27, was visiting her family in the UK when her phone was ripped from her jacket pocket as she was walking down a road in central Manchester.
Shelby-Jade Murdock, 27, clinical data manager at the University of Utah, whose phone was stolen in Manchester
Scarlett White and her father (pictured) took it upon themselves to visit the location of her cell phone after police refused
She reported the incident to the police and told detectives the exact location of her phone, but her case was closed with no officers visiting to try to locate it.
Ms Murdock, a clinical data manager at the University of Utah, told MailOnline: ‘I didn’t realize it had been stolen until I got a notification through my Apple Watch a few minutes later.
“I then got a ping to a location on a nearby street. I went there but couldn’t find it. I went home and kept updating my computer to see if it was in the same location or moving.
“I filed a police report online and called them when I got a ping that it was in a storage facility. But the police told me it was kept in a private compartment and that’s why they couldn’t search it and retrieve my phone – they then closed the case.
Ms Murdock accused the police of not seeing the value of phone crime and two days later she had to catch a return flight to the US using her father’s old phone.
Despite accepting that she would never be reunited with her phone, she looked up the location “out of interest,” only to discover that a few days later it was in Dubai and then China.
Ms. Murdock had to spend $1,300 to replace her iPhone 13 Pro Max, along with a new case.
Scarlett White, 25, was walking to catch the last train home when she was pushed by two men at the entrance to Victoria station on Friday.
She was left shaken after the ordeal, before realizing her phone had been snatched as she boarded a train with friends.
Ms White, who lives in Cardiff and was visiting her parents in Bromley, said: ‘I had a complete meltdown. Our whole life is on our phones. I was full of paranoia and fear because I have photos of credit cards and details on my phone.
Last year alone, around 91,000 phone thefts were registered in the capital. Pictured: Two motorcyclists approach a man on his phone before snatching the device
Both incidents occurred when someone on a motorcycle or bicycle cycled near her as she was walking down the street, before snatching the phone from her hand (file image)
“I logged into my iCloud on a friend’s phone to mark it as lost, but they turned it off. I came home and couldn’t stop crying. I tried to cancel everything but it required my phone to log into my apps.
‘I didn’t sleep that night. I called the police to report it and while on the phone I saw the location but I was told the location was an apartment block and the police would not have a search warrant so they told me they are not visiting would come the location.’
When the phone was moved to another location the next day, she notified police, but was again told no officers would be looking for the device.
Instead, she and her father took it upon themselves to visit the location – an East London shop.
She added: “I had a lot of plans to catch up with friends over the bank holiday, but I panicked instead. My father and I visited the store on Monday, which was about an hour away, and parked outside.
“We asked the guy at the counter if he sold phones, but he just pointed us to other stores. We went into ten to fifteen different stores to find it, but we couldn’t.’
Ms White said she was afraid she and her father would put themselves in danger and had no idea what would be said if they found the phone.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max cost her £800 and she now has to pay £500 to find a refurbished older phone.
She continued, “MeIt’s a huge blow to me financially and it’s frightening to think that this has happened so many times before.’
Megan Kenyon, 25, who has had her mobile phone stolen twice in the past year in Islington, north London, said it feels like ‘a crime that goes unpunished’.
Both incidents occurred when someone on a motorcycle or bicycle cycled near her as she was walking down the street, before snatching the phone from her hand.
On both occasions she contacted the police, but this was “mainly because I needed the crime reference number” for insurance purposes.
She added: “I knew the police wouldn’t do anything about it.
“The first time it happened and I reported it, nothing happened. (This was) despite being able to track its location and see where it had been taken.
“On the second occasion, I had a conversation with a police officer who said there was nothing they could do because the thief was wearing a balaclava.
Ms Kenyon added: ‘It just feels like there’s no point in reporting it in the first place unless it’s necessary for your insurance.
“It’s just for evidence, not for any consequences. It is a crime that goes unpunished, the police seem to make no effort to prevent it.
“You feel very violated, your whole life is on your phone, you may not know what to do.”
The victims were concerned that ‘a small group of thugs’ are responsible for the ‘vast majority’ of thefts, with claims that ‘hundreds’ end up at the same addresses before often being moved abroad.
Sharon Browne-Peter, who runs a sickle cell anemia charity, recalled how her phone was snatched from her hand earlier this February by a man riding a bicycle as she waited for a bus in Islington, north London.
She tracked the device’s location and informed police, but her phone was never recovered.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Andy Cooke (pictured) attributed the number of offenses that went unsolved to ‘missed opportunities’ by increasingly inexperienced investigators
Ms Browne Peter told the BBC: ‘They told me there were hundreds of cases at the same address but there’s really nothing they can do. So after that point I kind of left it.”
It comes as HM Superintendent of Police Andy Cooke admitted ‘the statistics are hard to read’ as he attributed the number of unsolved offenses to ‘missed opportunities’ by increasingly inexperienced investigators.
He told BBC’s Today programme: ‘It’s not just a problem for the Metropolitan Police, but for the whole country. There are a number of facets, firstly the demand for policing is increasing and policing has finite resources so it needs to prioritize accordingly.
‘However, a recent inspection we carried out on volume crime – burglary, robbery and theft – showed quite clearly that the police were not always making the best use of the possibilities they had to catch those responsible.
“What we found during our most recent inspection was that from the first point of contact, when the first call came in, opportunities were not taken to first secure forensic evidence and second to provide good crime prevention advice.
“After that, the investigations themselves didn’t always come at the right time, so that golden hour to preserve the forensic evidence was missed.
‘Detectives, because the police have recruited a lot of people in a short time, there is a lot of inexperience.
“When you have inexperienced people you need very strong supervision and we found that was lacking in very many troops across the country.”
It is believed that the iPhones will likely be stripped for parts and filtered into legal markets, or turned into “Frankenstein phones.”
The Met Police said officers “carry out day-to-day operations to deal with offenders.”
A police spokesperson added: ‘Recovering phones is difficult because those who steal them pass them on to be sold very quickly.
“Police are conducting day-to-day operations to deal with offenders and are working with thrift stores to crack down on stolen mobile phones being resold.
“Specially trained agents focus their attention on hotspots, but also on key moments of the day, to prevent those who want to steal from mopeds and other means of transport.”