Advantage police over ticket touts

WIMBLEDON tennis authorities appear to be winning the war against the ticket touts despite the emergence of a new aggressive breed of operator.

Black market prices outside the All England Club were at rock bottom yesterday as the first week of the tournament came to an end. Many touts said business had never been so bad.

Chris Gorringe, chief executive, of the All England Club, said: 'We are winning the war against the touts on three fronts.

'There are fewer touts on the streets, fewer adverts in the papers for tickets before Wimbledon and less unofficial corporate hospitality near the grounds,' he said.

In the suburban streets around the club ground in south-west London, the touts were still out in large numbers. Along the mile-long walk from Southfields underground station to the club, visitors were being accosted up to 20 times.

Police said the touts, especially near Southfields station, were more aggressive, with a new, younger type of entrepreneur harassing tennis fans to buy or sell tickets.

Chief Inspector Phil Coates, who is in charge of the police operation at the championships, said: ''They stand in your way and try to intimidate you into a sale - they are more of a football match type of tout.'

Some of the old-hand Wimbledon touts with their suits, mobile phones and ample stomachs - known as 'bellies' to the young upstarts - said the newcomers were giving touting a bad name.

'They are 'Millwalls' who don't know how to operate and just put you off by getting in your face,' said one man in Ray-Bans who was clutching a mobile phone, who nevertheless gave his profession as 'greengrocer'.

Mr Coates said police had put new emphasis on prevention and intervention aimed at ensuring money did not change hands.

'We are succeeding in stopping street sales. We are making the touts' life very difficult and they don't like it,' he said.

The police said only 18 people had been served summonses by the local council for touting activities in the first five days - a measure of how police and guards from Wimbledon security firm Shorrock had suppressed business.

'Having pushed the touts back towards Southfields, we have now put extra officers there to drive them even further away,' Mr Coates explained.

The asking price on the streets for a pair of centre court tickets for men's finals day next weekend, which have been selling for more than pounds 2,000 in the run-up to the tournament, had dropped to pounds 500 today.

'Prices have fallen to the floor - there is nothing happening. The punters are too nervous,' one tout said.

'This is the quietest Wimbledon I have ever known. I have hardly made a sale.'

Others raged against what they saw as the unfair rules on ticket sales imposed by the All England club. 'You can sell Ecstasy, you can sell cocaine, you could even sell your kid into slavery on the streets of Wimbledon - but can you sell tickets? No,' one disgruntled free- marketeer said.

But there have been some successes for the touts - police said one foreign tennis fan paid pounds 400 for a pair of stolen centre court tickets - they did not gain him entry.

In addition to the police anti-tout squad, Shorrock guards patrol the queues equipped with cameras producing a 'rogues' gallery' of suspects used later for identification purposes.

There has been only one arrest so far - when a man objected to having his photo taken by a Shorrock guard and smashed the camera.