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Police stats reveal the UK's recorded bike crime hotspots - how does your area fare?

We stick bike theft data through the number-cruncher with some surprising… and not so surprising results

New figures obtained by car accessories and bicycle retailer Halfords show that more bikes are reported stolen to the Metropolitan Police each year than any other police force in the UK. No surprises there, but’s own analysis of the data shows that ignoring the unique case of the City of London, it’s Cambridgeshire that comes out as the bike crime capital of Britain in terms of reported theft by head of population.

Halfords obtained the data after making Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces throughout the UK, resulting in the following top ten police areas in terms of absolute numbers of recorded bike thefts.

Top 10 police forces for bike thefts in 2010 
Police area             Reported thefts 
Metropolitan Police         21,315
Thames Valley                6,060
Greater Manchester           5,185
Cambridgeshire               4,477
Avon and Somerset            3,895
West Midlands                3,222
Leicestershire               3,057
Lancashire                   2,727
Sussex                       2,668
Humberside                   2,440

Given the fact that the Met’s beat covers a much larger population than any other police force in the UK, it’s no surprise it comes out top, but the presence of areas such as Thames Valley and Cambridgeshire reflects the higher bike use there particularly in the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge, and consequently often easy pickings for thieves.

The Halfords data is based on police responses covering either the 2010 calendar year, the 2009/10 financial year, or the 12 months ending February 2011. 

In order to calculate the per capita rate of reported bike theft in each area, applied to the Halfords data Home Office statistics giving the size of population served by all the police forces in England and Wales (mid-year 2008, the latest available) plus additional sources for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The City of London, home to just 11,300 people but with thousands commuting there every day by bike to work in the Square Mile, came out as having by far the highest rates of reported bike theft in Britain, at 37 per 1,000 residents. However, with 423 bicycles reported stolen – a little over one a day – we suspect the true figure must be much higher.

Away from the City, it was Cambridgeshire that had the worst levels of reported bike crime, at more than double the level of any area other than Cleveland, in third place, and Leicestershire, in fourth. Obviously, the presence of the university in the county town and the fact it has Britain’s highest levels of cycling are a factor there, but that doesn’t apply for Cleveland or Leicestershire.

Have a look at the list below to see how your local area fares. Does it seem unusually high or low given your experience? And how confident would you be in your local police force getting your bike back for you if the worst came to the worst?

Police force           Thefts   Pop. (000)   Thefts/1,000 pop. 
City of London           423          11         37.43
Cambridgeshire         4,477         770          5.81
Cleveland              1,924         559          3.44
Leicestershire         3,057         983          3.11
Met Police            21,315       7,657          2.78
Thames Valley          6,060       2,202          2.75
Humberside             2,440         915          2.67
Avon and Somerset      3,895       1,595          2.44
Lothian and Border     2,026         844          2.40
Dorset                 1,703         711          2.40
North Yorkshire        1,885         788          2.39
Lincolnshire           1,639         696          2.36
Gloucestershire        1,355         586          2.31
Suffolk                1,504         711          2.12
Wiltshire              1,329         650          2.04
Grampian               1,054         520          2.03
Greater Manchester     5,185       2,580          2.01
Nottinghamshire        2,047       1,070          1.91
Lancashire             2,727       1,445          1.89
Sussex                 2,668       1,554          1.72
Warwickshire             878         533          1.65
Norfolk Constabulary   1,394         847          1.65
Cheshire               1,635       1,003          1.63
Tayside                  618         393          1.57
Bedfordshire             890         599          1.48
Herts Constabulary     1,604       1,084          1.48
South Wales            1,834       1,246          1.47
Northumbria            2,053       1,407          1.46
Central Scotland         393         273          1.44
Surrey                 1,567       1,101          1.42
Northamptonshire         959         679          1.41
West Mercia            1,664       1,187          1.40
South Yorkshire        1,796       1,307          1.37
Essex                  2,265       1,706          1.33
West Midlands          3,222       2,622          1.23
Derbyshire             1,205       1,001          1.20
Merseyside             1,607       1,350          1.19
Kent                   1,908       1,655          1.15
Cumbria                  549         496          1.11
West Yorkshire         2,312       2,207          1.05
Gwent                    580         559          1.04
Staffordshire          1,066       1,066          1.00
Northern Constabulary    291         300          0.97
North Wales              656         678          0.97
Strathclyde            2,081       2,245          0.93
Durham                   530         605          0.88
Hampshire              1,607       1,857          0.87
Dumfries and Galloway    121         148          0.82
Dyfed Powys              398         507          0.79
Devon and Cornwall     1,293       1,668          0.78
Northern Ireland         977       1,800          0.54
Fife                      78         350          0.22 

It should be borne in mind though that the data only relate to recorded bike theft, in other words those reported to police. Indeed, Halfords points out that with the latest figures from the British Crime Survey, which records people’s actual experience of theft and not just that reported to the authorities, suggesting more than half a million bikes are stolen in the UK each year, that means that four in five thefts go unreported.

Another factor may be the willingness of people to report the theft of bicycles to the police in the first place, although obviously if you have insurance you’d need to do so.

Those living in places where the police appear to give a low priority to bike crime may decide not to bother reporting a theft, while in areas such as Avon and Somerset where police initiatives to combat bike thieves feature in the local press, there may be more incentive to do so.

Halfords says that more than two thirds of bike theft happens in and around the home of the victim – again, that’s not always recorded in police statistics if it’s part of a bigger burglary – underlining the need to secure bicycles not just on the street but also once back home.

Paul Tomlinson from Halfords said: “The scale of the bike theft is quite staggering and it can be devastating when you have bought your dream bike only to have it stolen.

“It demonstrates the need for cyclists to take precautions. We recommend bolt-cutter proof locks, because heavy-duty locks are a much better deterrent, and bike marking for all cycles,” an important point since often police are unable to trace the owner of a stolen bike that has been recovered.

He continued: “It is clear that this is a nationwide problem and many initiatives are left to local forces. We urge customers to keep their bikes secure but we would like to see more co-ordination in tackling thefts once they have occurred.”

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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WolfieSmith | 12 years ago

As I live here it's nIce to see Merseyside well down a crime table for a change.

sam_bennett | 12 years ago

for in the home what kind of locks could you suggest and chains as well? we were robbed recently and it has destroyed me

Alan Tullett | 12 years ago

I and my family had bikes stolen in Cambridge 3 times last year, but none for about the 8 before that. For 2 of them I didn't bother telling the police. For the other we knew full well who'd done it but the police were too slow to act and then couldn't get enough evidence to prosecute.

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