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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Feb 2024  Farrukh Dhondy | Of Rolex watches and other thefts… Is London in grip of a crime wave?

Farrukh Dhondy | Of Rolex watches and other thefts… Is London in grip of a crime wave?

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Feb 24, 2024, 2:06 am IST
Updated : Feb 24, 2024, 2:06 am IST

Rolex Thieves Unmasked: Delving into the Ethical Quandary of Street Crime and Social Injustice

Pedestrians shelter from the rain under Union flag umbrellas as they pass the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known by the name of the clock's bell,
 Pedestrians shelter from the rain under Union flag umbrellas as they pass the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known by the name of the clock's bell, "Big Ben", at the Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, in London on February 22, 2024. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

“O Bachchoo, all that we leave behind

Is the imprint of the times we sought to be kind

Or does the collective memory dwell

On when we set loose a foretaste of hell

Of course, we’d rather the former were true

The memory of kindness from me and you

Should for His sake always surpass

The envies and hatred of religion and class…”

From Dhoka Kola, by Bachchoo

A masked villain mugs a London tourist and takes his twenty-five-thousand-pound Rolex watch. He justifies his action saying” “This fellow has a French villa, three Rolls-Royces and a yacht. I live in a hovel, don’t have an income and so need his watch more than he does.” How would you respond?

You might say: “These are the inevitable inequalities of our world. That doesn’t justify your crime.”

Suppose he then quotes Proudhon: that “all proper tea is theft”. (You’ve got that wrong, you idiot. Proudhon said: “All property is theft!” --Ed. Sorry yaar, wretched predictive text… --fd)

Or you may think this thief is working towards correcting the crass injustice of this world where people don’t get rich by working hard, but by making other people work hard. Or by gaming the system as Hedgie Sunoch did.

These thoughts, gentle reader, are prompted by a couple of experiences. The first was, I can proudly say, watching the documentary made for the BBC by my daughter Tir Dhondy. It was about the Rolex thieves and Tir boldly interviewed several of these face-masked, anonymous muggers and snatchers who spoke in great detail and quite menacingly about their operations.

They work in gangs and in several of the sequences in which Tir confronted them, alone or in clusters, they carried weapons -- guns, machetes and knives. She asked one of them whether he had any qualms about stealing a Rolex watch from an old, helpless lady. His reply, if I remember right was something like “It’s my job, morality doesn’t come into it, and if it did, I wouldn’t be doing what I do.”

Of course, several friends who saw the documentary remarked how courageous Tir was to get immersed in this murky and multi-million-pound criminal world. A jeweller from whom I bought a modestly-priced bracelet for Tir -- no! not as a reward for being courageous, but for her thirtieth birthday -- told me that there were diamond-studded gold Rolex watches worth millions of pounds. The one on his wrist may not have been one of those, but it did look large and expensive. As we talked, I pulled the sleeve of my jacket adequately over my right wrist to cover my nineteen-pound watch. I might add that I am not in the least ashamed of this instrument as it tells the time accurately, is absolutely water-proof as it resists being dipped in baths and swimming pools and doesn’t bore me or anyone else by telling me how much money I spent at the bar a few minutes ago or switching on the drawing-room lights without my going to the switch on the wall. Those functions, which other watch-owners boast about, strike me as a form of idleness.

The second trigger for these recollections of the criminal dialogue was an encounter with a rich young British Indian lady who lives occasionally in London and says she despairs at the amount of street crime on central London’s streets. She had several anecdotes of her friends, or acquaintances of friends, being mugged in open daylight for the earrings, necklaces or expensive watches they were wearing. She said she was very wary of going out onto London’s streets with any forcibly transferable adornment.

I have a lady friend who was mugged a few yards from her home in south-east London. She has long been a resident of south-east London and not a rich visitor. It was in the daytime when a young man passing her, riding a bicycle on the pavement, suddenly called her attention saying she’d dropped something. She looked down and was certain she hadn’t, but as her attention was on the pavement behind her, he snatched the two necklaces she was wearing and swiftly pedalled away.

The first young lady, who was wary of the London streets, insisted that London was now the most street-crime-ridden city in the world. I am not used to reaching for my mobile phone and checking on the Internet if this sort of statement can be substantiated or is manifestly false, so I didn’t contradict her. She was of the opinion that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was responsible for this rise in crime. In fact, the 2023 figures for street crime are higher than those in 2021, but they are still lower than those for 2018. They’ve fallen since. (OK. I did look it up later on my computer).

This prepossessing young lady is not alone in blaming Sadiq who does, with the home secretary, have some responsibility for, but limited powers of control over, the Metropolitan Police. Sadiq has for the past few months convened consultations on renaming branches of the network of the city railways, known as the “OVERGROUND”. From autumn this year, he has concluded, sections of this network will be called names such as The Windrush Line, The Suffragette Line, etc.

Dissenters and trolls on social media have accused him of unnecessary fiddling while London -- well -- burns?

Tags: farrukh dhondy column, city of london, mayor sadiq khan