Criminals use dating and selling apps to find targets for violent robberies and carjackings

Exclusive: Senior police officer asks people to ‘take precautions’ amid fears true scale of attacks is unknown

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 07 April 2019 15:40
A toddler was in the back of a car stolen by a man proposing as a prospective buyer in London in January
A toddler was in the back of a car stolen by a man proposing as a prospective buyer in London in January

Criminals are using dating and selling apps to find targets for violent robberies and carjackings across Britain, The Independent can reveal.

Victims have been stabbed, thrown from cars and held at knifepoint after arranging to meet people through Grindr, Gumtree and escort websites.

Police said some victims are too embarrassed or intimidated to come forward, meaning offenders cannot be tracked down.

Recent weeks have seen a spate of attempted carjackings at meetings arranged using the LGBT+ dating app Grindr in Greater Manchester, with one victim stabbed several times for his car keys.

Other violent robberies have taken place at locations where victims thought they were meeting escorts, or prospective buyers for vehicles or high-value goods sold online.

Assistant Chief Constable Sarah Boycott, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for robbery, urged people to “take precautions”.

“Criminals are very resourceful, and it is an opportunity if someone is meeting them in a dark or quiet place,” she told The Independent.

“My advice is to take three simple steps – know who you’re meeting as much as possible, let somebody know who and where you are meeting, and meet somewhere in daylight that is very public.”

Ms Boycott stressed that robberies only make up a “tiny minority” of dates or purchases arranged online but admitted that the number of incidents is not being recorded nationally.

There are fears some victims may not be reporting crimes because they are embarrassed by the circumstances.

“It’s important that we know about these incidents and have an opportunity to investigate,” said Ms Boycott.

“I would really encourage people to come forward either through police or Crimestoppers, and not to be embarrassed about it at all. Those channels enable us to understand what’s going on and also offer help and support.”

The most recent spate of attacks came in the Manchester area, starting on 25 March.

Police said the first known victim, a man in his 50s, was threatened in his own home “by a man armed with a knife who demanded he hand over his car keys”.

70-year-old woman dragged to ground in violent street robbery

An hour later, a man in his 40s was held at knifepoint by a man who again demanded his car keys and cut his throat, back and arm.

The following day a man in his 20s picked a man he met on Grindr up in his car and was stabbed several times after the passenger demanded his car keys.

Grindr was used earlier in March to target men who believed they were going on dates in Birmingham.

“The victims were separately attacked and robbed by a group in Yardley after being contacted for potential dates,” a spokesperson for West Midlands Police said.

Chief Inspector Sarah Tambling told a public meeting she was “convinced there have been a lot more than three” attacks and encouraged any other victims to come forward.

In London, police believe several people have been robbed after arranging to meet escorts.

Sakyle Brown, 20, was jailed on 25 March after he admitted robbing a man who thought he was visiting a woman in London.

“As he arrived at the planned location, he was approached by Brown and another male suspect,” the Metropolitan Police said.

“Brown then pulled out a meat cleaver from his jacket pocket and threatened the victim, ordering him to, ‘Give me everything you’ve got’.”

The victim handed over his possessions, cash and a debit card, which was used to withdraw “a large amount of cash” before he was let go.

Sakyle Brown, 20, was jailed for robbing a man who arranged to meet a woman on an escort website in London

DC Dan Jenkins praised the man’s “courage and fortitude”. He added: “We believe that there may be other victims out there who have been subject to a similar type of robbery and we hope that this sentencing encourages them to come forward.”

Gumtree has been used to target vehicles in several robberies, with a manhunt launched for a toddler who was in a car stolen in London in January.

Seventeen-month-old Maria Tudorica was later abandoned by the suspect who has never been found.

Her father said the robber, posing as a prospective buyer for the £4,650 vehicle, asked to take a test drive before he “jumped up in the driver’s side and – boom – straight away he went”.

Several robbers have been jailed after using Gumtree to set up meetings with unsuspecting victims.

Abdullahi Ahmed, 18, launched six attacks in London last April to steal items including designer shoes, laptops and phones at knifepoint.

In Dewsbury, 25-year-old Shezan Shabir arranged a “test drive” in a £9,000 Audi A3 that was being sold on Gumtree.

“But he tricked the owner into looking at a mark on the roof and drove off,” Bradford Crown Court heard.

A week later, he arranged another test drive before telling the student “he had to get out of the car because he had a knife and he was going to kill him”.

Shabir then opened the passenger door and pushed the car owner into the road.

Gumtree said it lists safety advice online and works with police and other authorities, while people using the site are advised to meet during the day in public and take someone with them wherever possible.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in