Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Undercover police officers luring Rolex rippers by wearing luxury watches in crime hotspots

CCTV footage shows how undercover tactics have helped snare 27 thieves targeting high value watches

Amy-Clare Martin
Crime Correspondent
Wednesday 17 January 2024 07:38 GMT
Met Police officers pose as ‘victims’ to tackle luxury watch thefts

Undercover officers are luring Rolex rippers by wearing luxury watches in crime hotspots, the Metropolitan Police has revealed.

The new undercover tactics have helped snare more than 20 robbers in the capital in the past year and were rolled out after 300 watches - with a total value of nearly £4m -were stolen in London’s West End in the six months leading up to October 2022.

Dramatic CCTV footage shows how undercover officers posing as members of the public wearing high-value watches were targeted by criminals who lured them to a quiet street before attempting to rip the watch from their wrists.

The force said its two covert operations were developed with precision tactics to target key times and locations where most watch theft takes place.

Data shows most robberies happen in London’s West End between 11am and 4am, with criminals targeting victims who had been drinking as they leave nighttime venues.

Often, the attackers – who have specialist knowledge of high-value watches - attempt to befriend a victim or offer them drugs before taking them to a quiet spot to mug them.

The undercover operations resulted in 31 arrests and 27 successful charges, leading to 21 convictions to date. Of this group, 14 individuals have so far been sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison, with other cases pending.

CCTV of an undercover officer wearing a luxury watch being followed by four thieves with their hoods up in London’s West End in October 2022. (Met Police)

Unveiling the results, Ben Russell, Commander for Met Intelligence, paid tribute to the “immense professionalism and dedication” of his undercover officers.

“They are volunteering to stand alone in dark streets in the middle of the night waiting to be robbed. I am immensely proud of their work,” he said, adding it requires them to be “courageous, calm under pressure and uniquely dedicated to the task”.

The first operation, which ran between October and December 2022, resulted in a reduction in watch thefts of 28 per cent across the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.

The second operation ran from March to October 2023 and saw a 15.8 per cent reduction in watch robberies compared to the same period the previous year.

Footage of one covert operation showed an undercover officer being followed by four hooded men in Soho’s Berwick Street in October last year.

An undercover officer, whose identity cannot be revealed, described the sting: “About 20 minutes earlier a gentleman approached the undercover officer and asked if he would like to go to a brothel.

“He’s taken him on a walk around Soho and taken him to a quiet street. During that time they are being followed by four other males. This resulted in a robbery and four men were convicted.”

The footage shows the men turn on the victim before police sprang into action to arrest the suspects.

A second clip shows an undercover officer being targeted in Soho’s Broadwick Street in March last year.

CCTV shows men attempted to rob a luxury watch from an undercover officer in London’s Greek Street in November 2022 (Met Police )

“Three males had approached him earlier noticed his watch and tried to befriend him and bring him back to their house, before they attempted to rob him and pull the watch from his wrist,” the undercover officer explained.

Other footage revealed similar operations in November 2022 and July 2023.

The officers said the robbers are targeting high value luxury Swiss brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe that retain value on the second hand market, which can be worth anything from £10,000 up to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Commander Russell added: “This a rare chance to give the public insight into the work done by our undercover officers, which resulted in 31 robbers arrested in a 12-month period, all caught red-handed trying to steal high value watches in the heart of the West End. Fourteen have already been convicted, with more awaiting sentencing and other cases pending.

“Using data and intelligence, we identified the locations and times where these crimes were taking place and deployed undercover officers into the area, as part of our precision-based approach to fighting crime.

“By targeting the people causing the most harm and the locations most frequently linked to crime, we are having a greater impact on keeping people safe.

“Undercover operations will always carry an element of personal danger and, while we risk assess all our operations thoroughly, all the officers involved demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination to keep Londoners safe.”

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