POLICE who uncovered the web of organised criminal gangs stealing mobile phones in Sheffield’s night spots have predicted a surge in thefts early this year.
Officers have issued a warning to revellers to be on their guard in the post-Christmas period, as those who received new gadgets during the festive season will be a prime target for thieves.
It comes after Operation Kreep - set up last July - uncovered a number of small gangs targeting the city’s night-time economy.
The operation has successfully helped to prevent crimes by putting undercover cops in pubs and clubs and intercepting gangs from areas such as Rotherham and Nottingham as they travel to and from Sheffield. Earlier this year, police and doormen in the city centre caught one man leaving a club with 10 stolen mobile phones. He received four months in prison.
Insp Darren Starkey, who leads Sheffield’s central safer neighbourhood team, said: “We initially thought it was down to individuals stealing phones but we received some intelligence that there were gangs planning regular thefts.
“They know what they are doing – they wait until they know places are crowded and people are drunk, and they go in, usually about 1am. They’ll try to get as many as they can in one night.
“In some incidents it is as bold as picking them up from tables or taking them from bags.
“Mobile phone theft is quite big business. More and more personal information is being stored on mobile phones and it causes a lot of disruption and upset when one is stolen.
“It has been effective in the sense we are starting to catch the people doing this, but it is ongoing. We’ve done a lot of awareness work with pubs and clubs and their security guards and doormen.”
Around 12 phone thefts are reported to police in an average weekend but South Yorkshire Police expect a spike in the first four to six weeks after Christmas.
Insp Starkey said: “We are expecting a rise. A lot of people get a new phone for Christmas and are usually keen to show it off. It is important to be on your guard and watch your things.”