Buggy burglars, scourge of yummy mummies

Trend for designer pushchairs has spawned a growing black market
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The Independent Online

If you go down to the shops today, be careful where you park your buggy.

Britain's seemingly insatiable demand for designer pushchairs has helped fuel a multi-million pound industry that has turned the contraptions into four-wheeled status symbols. But it has also made them a particularly attractive target for criminals.

According to figures released today by an insurance company, thefts of luxury pushchairs have doubled in the past year. It seems that a growing appetite for souped-up kiddie-rides is fuelling a spate of thefts up and down the country, with criminals targeting parents who own some of the most popular models.

Whether it's a Bugaboo Chameleon in "off white" or a hand-built vintage Silver Cross with "snowdrop lacquer finish", there's no doubting that for some parents a pram is as much a fashion accessory as it is a mode of transport for their little ones. Gone are the days when a pushchair was simply a mechanism for getting junior from point A to B – and gone, too, are the days when people could leave their buggies outside a shop unlocked.

Halifax Home Insurance polled 2,000 parents, 5 per cent of whom said their pram or pushchair had been stolen in the past 12 months – almost double the number who reported losses the year before. Meanwhile, the theft of buggies costing more than £500 increased by 40 per cent.

If the figures were representative nationwide, as many as 315,378 baby buggies would have been stolen in the last year, fuelling an illegal industry worth somewhere in the region of £60m.

Unlike a commonly stolen item such as a car, which loses its resale value the moment you hand over your cash, buggies seem to retain their value. That makes them an attractive and easy acquisition for thieves.

A quick glance at the myriad of second-hand models currently available on eBay, for instance, shows that the average second-hand buggy sells for about £20-40 less than its original price. Yet despite the fact that many buggies cost more than a middle-of-the-range bike, many parents still forgo a lock.

Yesterday The Independent contacted four police forces across the country, but none of them said that the thefts of prams had reached a point where they warranted specific attention.

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police said: "We get asked to write public appeals for thefts all the time and I cannot remember the last time we had to do one for a missing buggy. That's not to say they don't get stolen, but we're not aware it's a specific problem."

However, local press reports from over the past six months show that buggy thefts have been a regular occurrence up and down the country in towns as diverse as Huddersfield, Leicester, Plymouth, Dudley, Cheltenham and Watford.

According to Halifax's figures, the most common place for a pram to be stolen is at home, with 22 per cent of thefts reported inside a house and a further 11 per cent just outside. Thieves also regularly target locations such as car parks, cafés and child-friendly restaurants.

The most frequently stolen models included the Bugaboo Bee Plus (worth £459), Silver Cross 3D (£250), Quinny Zapp (£150) and the Maclaren Techno XT (£196).

Travelling in style

Silver Cross Heritage: Around £1,000

For those with serious money to burn, Silver Cross's Heritage range is the Rolls-Royce of the pram world. The Yorkshire-based firm was favoured by George VI and Queen Elizabeth and is still the choice of celebs such as Gwen Stefani and Madonna.

Bugaboo Chameleon: Around £650

Over the past five years Dutch company Bugaboo has become the Apple of prams with an emphasis on style and a loyal following. Their most expensive model is the Chameleon, described on the company's website as a "versatile, modular and multi-terrain" vehicle.

Kid Kustoms The Roddler: Around £2,100 plus shipping

California-based Kid Kustoms does for prams what MTV's Pimp My Ride does for cars. Each "stroller" can be customised, with pearl paint jobs, retro fenders, and alloy wheels. The seriously wealthy can even have a DVD player and iPod built in.