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Bristol woman 'steals' bike back from thieves in Facebook sting operation

Someone spotted Jenni Morton-Humphreys bike for sale after she posted about theft, so they concocted a plan

A Bristol woman revealed how she ‘stole’ her own bike back from a man who was attempting to sell it on Facebook, despite police advising her not to attempt to retrieve it.

The Cube Axial bike belonging to Jenni Morton-Humphreys was stolen on Sunday 9 April outside the Watershed multi-arts venue in the centre of Bristol, the story receiving attention after a friend of hers blogged about it earlier this month on the LiteLok website.

When she returned to find her bike had been stolen, Jenni reported the theft to police and also posted pictures of her bike to the Bristol Cycling page on Facebook alerting people to look out for it.

Within minutes, it had been spotted for sale on the social network, with a man named Chris sending her a screengrab of the listing that had been put up on Facebook Marketplaces by someone with the user name Bebop.

Jenni and Chris – who were total strangers, there first contact being when he alerted her to the Facebook ad – devised a plan to get the bike back.

Chris got in touch with Bebop and said his sister was looking at buying a bike, and a meeting was arranged for 9am on the Monday morning where Jenni would meet a friend of Bebop’s named Rocksteady to take a look at the bike.

Jenni contacted the police again, who said that while they would be interested in taking the investigation forward, they could not be present on the Monday morning and cautioned her against going along.

Undeterred, she took the day off and headed off to the meet-up point with a friend, Matt, who walked ahead of her so they did not look like they were together.

“I pretended to be interested and asked silly questions about the bike,” she told the Bristol Post of her meeting with Rocksteady.

“I said the saddle was too high, and asked if I could get on it to test it out.

“I made sure I had nothing on me, no possessions at all apart from the stuff in my hands – and they were a cigarette packet and a set of keys.

“I handed them to this guy as I got on the bike and said ‘here, hold my stuff’.

“That meant he let go of the bike for the first time.

“I wobbled off a bit on the bike and then when I was a couple of yards away I just went for it,” she continued. “I pedalled as fast as I could.

“I didn’t look back to see if they were chasing me.

“My main thought was that I was worried because I didn’t really know where I was, where I was going, or the area at all, and I was worried that I might have to go back that way or end up going round in a circle.

“But it was fine because quite soon, I hit a big roundabout and was able to find a different way back to the city centre, so I wasn’t scared at that point,” she added.

According to her friend Matt, Rocksteady appeared dumbfounded at her riding off, until someone shouted “She’s not coming back.”

The cigarette packet was empty but for a broken lighter and though he wouldn’t have known it, the keys were the ones to the lock that had been destroyed when the bike had been stolen the previous day.

Chris subsequently received a message from Bebop, who said: “ur bird has jus rode off on that bike!”

He added: “I need 95 quid lively Chris.”

Chris replied: “She’s probably took it straight home. Not surprised though, because it is her bike that was stolen yesterday.

The exchange concluded: “Lesson to be learned son. Don’t steal from the cycling community for a quick fix. You played yourself.”

Jenni explained that she got her bike back in a better condition than it had been in when it was stolen.

She said: “They had spruced the bike up a bit overnight – they’d even fixed the front light.”

She added: “The police had one of the guy’s numbers, but said they couldn’t do anything because he’d basically said he’d bought it the night before in a pub, so no one was actually brought to justice over it. I’m just glad I got it back.”

Around 2,000 bicycles are reported stolen each year in Bristol and with police resources stretched due to staffing and budget cuts – plus in this case, the uncertainty over who the actual thief was – it is perhaps understandable why not every incident can be fully investigated.

Two years ago, however, they did break up a bike theft ring, making five arrests – but the sad truth is that particularly in a major city, there is not going to be a shortage of candidates to take their place.

> Police in Bristol arrest five following year-long bike theft probe

Here’s’s Bike Locking Bible to help you avoid falling victim to the thieves:

• Lock your bike to a secure, immovable object. Trees and certain pieces of street furniture don’t make particularly good locking locations; trees’ limbs can be sawed through, and your bike can often be lifted over bollards and signposts.

• Your wheels are the most vulnerable part of your bike. Make sure that your lock goes through both wheels and the frame, or use two locks: one for each wheel. Alternatively you can invest in a locking wheel skewer for your front wheel.

• It doesn’t take long to steal a bike. Make sure that you lock your bike up properly whether you are leaving it for 30 seconds or half an hour.

• Bike lights and other items and accessories that are not secured to your bike are easy pickings for thieves. Take them with you whenever you leave your bike.

• No matter how safe you feel in your home, your bike is still at risk, especially if it’s in your garage or your shed. Lock it up at home like you would if you were on the street.

• Not all bike locks are cheap, but you really do get what you pay for. If you treasure your bike, buying the best locks that you can afford would be a wise investment.

• If you come back to your bike and it's got a mysterious puncture or damage, walk it home. It's probably been marked in the hope that you'll leave it there overnight.

• Consider using a registration service, such as Bike Register, to physically mark your bike with an identifying feature and link it to your identity on the police database. Certain councils and police constabularies offer free solutions, and there are alternatives to Bike Register.

• If it does go missing you must report it. The police will only take bike crime more seriously if they have reason to do so.

• If you're down to one lock, or are particularly worried about the security of your wheel, taking your front wheel with you eliminates half of the risk of theft immediately.

• Use secure bike parking wherever possible. Even for a price, your bike will be far better protected from theft inside a designated secure location rather than on the street, no matter how well you think you’ve locked it up.

• Make sure that you lock your bike up in as public of a place as possible. If you leave it in a secluded location, it will give any would-be thief time to work on your lock undisturbed.

• Make the lock mechanism itself hard to access. For example if you're locking your bike to railings, point the lock mechanism away from the street so it's harder for a thief to attack.

• Don't leave space in your shackle - any extra space gives evil bike stealing tools the room they need to do their dirty work. Don't give them that opportunity.

• If you’ve taken out insurance on your bike don’t buy any old lock. Make sure that the locks that you have purchased are featured on Sold Secure’s approved products list as many insurance companies insist on their use.

• But most importantly, wherever you’re going, please do not forget your lock!

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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