London is killing me.
I’ve lived in the city all my 52 years – and it’s never felt so dangerous.
Crime is on the rise. The crime rate in the capital for 2022-23 was 100.9 crime offences per thousand people – compared with 92.8 in the previous year.
Crime did dip during the Covid lockdowns. But, since they ended, it’s started climbing. Knife crime has risen for the last two years. Violent crime – 260,000 offences from October 2022 to September 2023 – has gone up by 1.5pc over the last year.
I’ve given up on the Metropolitan Police – you barely see a single officer on the beat in Islington, my patch of north London.
But I have the answer to crime-ridden London – a series of measures that make me near-invisible to the crooks. And they’ve worked – while crime has climbed, I’ve never been a victim in the 15 years since I introduced an inconspicuous consumption policy into my life.
The policy is simple: don’t wear, drive or ride anything crooks find attractive, and they’ll never attack you.
Take expensive cars. A recent report showed that Range Rovers are becoming nearly impossible to insure in London as police forces fail to catch car thieves. Drivers can’t insure – or have to pay impossibly high premiums for – Range Rovers. One insurance quote in London for a Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic was for £22,515. In Sussex, 20 insurers offered insurance on the same car for £1,978 a year.
After Range Rovers, the second most popular brand for thieves to steal in the UK is another alluring marque, Mercedes-Benz.
The answer? Don’t buy flash cars. Or, in my case, don’t buy any cars at all. I rent cars in London whenever I need them and only pay the minimum insurance. I’ve been doing this for 15 years – and have never had a rental car stolen. That isn’t surprising – I always go for the cheapest, most unalluring, most unstealable model.
My transport of choice in London is a bike. Bike theft has been essentially decriminalised in the city, where over 90pc of thefts go unsolved.
I used to have bikes stolen the whole time: six over the course of 10 years. They were cheap – around £250 – but they had the pitfall of being new, and therefore attractive.
Thus my finest inconspicuous consumption ploy. Over the last decade, I’ve bought much smarter bikes – Boardman models – for around £700. But they’ve never been stolen because I have slopped white household paint all over them in an intentionally amateurish way (make sure to do it badly – a friend imitated my trick and her bike was stolen within days; her David Hockney-style paint job made the bike look even cooler).
My Boardmans work just as well as they did before I painted them, but their resale price has collapsed to near-zero. Yes, I’m in trouble if I want to sell them on – but I never will. The older they get, the more unlikely they are to be stolen. Oh, and the more white paint I pour on them, the more visible they are in the dark.
You needn’t get rid of the nice things in your life altogether – just use them in safe places.
I’ve stopped wearing my gold Omega watch, a bequest from my late godfather. But I still enjoy the watch – if anything more than I used to when I wore it all the time and was in a near-constant panic that it might be swiped. Now I leave it at home by my bed, where I gaze on its face lovingly before I go to sleep and when I wake up in the morning. Instead, during the day, I rely on a £27 Casio watch, which, handsome as it is, no self-respecting thief would ever nick.
The other thief magnet in London is the mobile phone. Several friends of mine have had theirs taken right out of their clutches by thieves on mopeds as they stand on the kerb, checking their emails.
My inconspicuous response? I never check my phone on a street unless I can turn away from the street and settle myself into an alcove, phone against the wall, body to the outside world as a barrier. I’ve never had a phone stolen to date.
I love Barbours and Belstaff jackets, but, as well as costing a fortune, they also signal to the world you’re a potential mugging victim. Instead of the £750 Belstaff, I buy very similar jackets from agricultural clothes shops in Pembrokeshire. Price? £30. They look just as good – often better, because they don’t have the brand names on them, which I always think are a bit naff and, well, a little too conspicuous.
Yes, it’s a depressing commentary on London crime and police shortcomings to have to take these measures. But they don’t depress me. I have long since incorporated them into my everyday life and don’t even think about them any more.
And they make for a crime-free, worry-free life in the city.
Range Rovers virtually impossible to insure in crime-ridden London
Harry Mount is author of How England Made the English (Penguin)