Scooter theft, the scourge of the scooter­ing com­mu­nity. Whether your scooter is a brand new GTS or a clas­sic Lam­bretta, they are equally likely to be the ob­ject of un­wanted at­ten­tion from op­por­tunist thieves and ca­reer crim­i­nals alike. Si­mon Wells in­vesti

Scootering - - Contents -

The murky world of scooter theft and the dam­age it causes.

Gone in 60 sec­onds…

It was meant to be noth­ing more than an af­ter­noon out on their scooter for Paul and Kim Farmer. The cou­ple from East Grin­stead, West Sus­sex, had pur­chased their Vespa ‘twist n’ go’ GTS 300 in 2013 and had en­joyed many rides out on the ve­hi­cle. Liv­ing just 30 miles away from the south coast, week­ends were op­por­tune to catch the sea breeze and meet up with friends and other en­thu­si­asts.

With nu­mer­ous un­hin­dered trips un­der their belts, there was noth­ing to sug­gest that Sun­day, July 24, would be dif­fer­ent to any other day.

“It was pretty spon­ta­neous,” re­calls Paul to Scooter­ing. “We got up and as it was a sunny day we just de­cided to ride down to Brighton. We have a few friends down there and so we thought, ‘let’s just go and do it.’”

Ar­riv­ing on Brighton seafront they parked their ve­hi­cle at the ded­i­cated bay for bikes and scoot­ers on Madeira Drive. How­ever, noth­ing pre­pared them for the events that were to en­sue.

Paul Farmer: “We locked the scooter up and went off and had a drink in one of the bars nearby. We then walked into town for food. An hour and a half later, back at Madeira Drive, the scooter had gone. We knew ex­actly where it was parked, as the bike along­side it was still there. Ini­tially, we were think­ing some­one might have moved it. We asked a park­ing at­ten­dant who was walk­ing past if it had been towed away be­cause it might have been parked il­le­gally, but ob­vi­ously it wasn’t. It was at that point that we phoned the po­lice.”

Ar­riv­ing some 45 min­utes later, the po­lice in­formed Paul and Kim that the scooter had been seen as it was be­ing stolen and that the ob­server had called 999 as the theft had taken place. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the thief had bro­ken through the scooter’s steer­ing lock with a screw­driver, dis­abled the im­mo­biliser, and then driven the scooter away in a mat­ter of min­utes. De­spite no CCTV cov­er­ing the spot, the po­lice weren’t in any hurry to check any other cam­eras around the town to track the ve­hi­cle’s pas­sage out of Brighton.

With the heav­ens open­ing in tan­dem to their up­set, Paul and Kim had to en­dure a sorry and mis­er­able trip home on pub­lic trans­port. With coats, helmets and oth­ers pos­ses­sions locked into the bike, the loss was more than just fi­nan­cial.

None­the­less, dark events gath­ered in the wake of the theft. A few days af­ter the loss of their scooter, Paul re­ceived a speed­ing ticket, dated mo­ments af­ter it was be­ing driven away from the crime scene. Two weeks later, an­other ticket rolled in from north Lon­don. Ad­ding fur­ther in­sult to in­jury, while the wit­ness to the theft in Brighton had noted the num­ber plate of the thieves’ mo­tor­bike, it wasn’t un­til three weeks later that po­lice paid a call on a Sur­rey ad­dress given by the DVLA, only then to find out it was as­cribed to a va­cant build­ing. As if this wasn’t enough, two months later the cou­ple re­ceived a phone call from the po­lice say­ing the scooter – still car­ry­ing the orig­i­nal plates – had failed to stop fol­low­ing a traf­fic in­ci­dent.

In ad­di­tional to the un­fold­ing up­set, the in­surance process was hugely im­per­sonal. Hav­ing to pro­vide co­pi­ous pieces of ev­i­dence to sup­port the theft and their own­er­ship of the scooter, the cou­ple felt they were be­ing treated as sus­pects more than vic­tims.

“It’s not a nice process,” re­ports Kim Farmer, “be­cause you are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as to whether you are com­mit­ting fraud at the end of the day. You feel that you’re the crim­i­nal, not the peo­ple who stole the scooter.”

Ul­ti­mately, Paul and Kim’s in­surance coughed up a pro­por­tion of the tab for their stolen ve­hi­cle and they are now own­ers of a 2015 Su­per Sport. None­the­less, mind­ful of their pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, they tell me that they’ll never let the ve­hi­cle out of their sight ever again.

Sadly, Paul and Kim’s ex­pe­ri­ence is not unique and as any­one with an ear close to the com­mu­nity will tell you, scooter theft is in­creas­ing sharply. While the ma­chin­ery’s rel­a­tive porta­bil­ity has al­ways been of in­ter­est to op­por­tunist thieves, it’s the soar­ing value of the ve­hi­cles that has given a large de­gree of anx­i­ety to any­one own­ing a scooter.

So­cial me­dia

With so­cial me­dia re­lay­ing dis­turb­ing im­ages of thieves in ac­tion via CCTV cam­eras, it shows how easy it can be to re­move a scooter, and as has been wit­nessed, the thefts are of­ten com­mit­ted with an au­dac­ity verg­ing on brazen. While newer ve­hi­cles are of­ten re-em­ployed for ne­far­i­ous pur­poses by un­scrupu­lous crim­i­nals, oth­ers – es­pe­cially vin­tage or idio­syn­cratic ex­am­ples – will rarely sur­vive in their orig­i­nal form. With parts of­ten ex­ceed­ing the sum to­tal of a com­plete ve­hi­cle, break­ing up a scooter and sell­ing it on­line piece­meal is clearly a far safer op­tion for the crim­i­nal.

A true scooter­ing leg­end, 82-year-old Mar­shall ‘Chuck’ Swon­nell was an­other en­thu­si­ast who fell foul of op­por­tunist thieves. Mar­shall’s trav­els on his 1961 Se­ries 2 TV175 Lam­bretta read like a world at­las and the theft of his cher­ished ve­hi­cle was clearly a vile act on the oc­to­ge­nar­ian. Hav­ing pad­locked and cov­ered his Lam­bretta on the drive out­side his house in Car­shal­ton, Sur­rey, his dis­may was vis­i­ble on dis­cov­er­ing that it had been stolen. With a host of ral­lies on his cal­en­dar for the sum­mer around Europe, his plans were cru­elly short-cir­cuited.

“I pan­icked when I saw that it had gone,” re­ports Mar­shall to Scooter­ing. “I was com­pletely dev­as­tated. It would have meant I wouldn’t be able to at­tend the Lam­bretta meet-up in June.”

News of the theft ig­nited the scooter net­work. Util­is­ing so­cial me­dia, a cam­paign was launched to re­cover Mar­shall’s ve­hi­cle. Eyes and ears were primed for any­thing turn­ing up – es­pe­cially on­line – and news came in swiftly. When the thief at­tempted to sell the front part of the scooter, some­one recog­nised the iconic frontage of Mar­shall’s ve­hi­cle from a photo. With the com­mu­nity in de­ter­mined and res­o­lute mode, an on­line cam­paign was es­tab­lished. A tip-off led to the scooter – al­beit in bits – be­ing re­cov­ered in an al­ley­way in Penge, south Lon­don. Friends stepped in and the scooter was re­stored to its orig­i­nal state, al­low­ing Mar­shall to re­sume his trav­els. Mar­shall says: “If it wasn’t for the mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, I doubt I would have seen it again. I am very grate­ful for all the help I have re­ceived.”


The speedy ac­tion un­der­taken to re­cover Mar­shall’s scooter dis­played the tight­ness and good na­ture of the com­mu­nity. None­the­less, the in­crease in thefts is prompt­ing many to de­vote more thought to their own ve­hi­cles’ se­cu­rity.

“The best ad­vice we can give is to chain your scooter to a lamp­post and park it some­where where it’s busy,” says Trevor Peat, man­ager of Cam­bridge Lam­bretta. “We sell a big thick heavy chain for around £25. They’ve ob­vi­ously can’t get it over the lamp­post, so they’d need a cord­less an­gle grinder – but they won’t do that with a load of peo­ple around. It just means that some­one has to go to con­sid­er­able ef­fort to re­move it. The other way is to put a lit­tle light­weight cover over it. It might seem ob­vi­ous, but it’s a case of ‘what you can’t see won’t hurt.’ It’ll just make peo­ple think it’s just too much has­sle for them.”

“It’s be­come fairly fre­quent that we hear about scooter theft,” says Michael Green­smith, the Lam­bretta Club’s South­ern Area Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “The prob­lem is when your scooter is on its own, it’s a risk. If you’re go­ing to have a scooter of any de­scrip­tion, if you leave it out on the road you’ve got to have an an­chor­age point to se­cure it to. None of us would drive into Lon­don and leave it parked up for any pe­riod of time.

“Ac­tu­ally, it’s very rare we leave them when we’re not around. It’ll just get picked up and thrown into a van. Nine times out of 10 it’ll be bro­ken down and sold in parts be­cause all of the parts are in­ter­change­able. They know they can sell them quite eas­ily that way.

“Peo­ple have got to take mat­ters into their own hands when it comes to se­cur­ing their scooter, es­pe­cially be­cause the po­lice don’t ap­pear to be pri­ori­tis­ing scooter theft,” says Robin Quar­ter­main, pres­i­dent of the Vespa Club of Great Bri­tain. “When peo­ple in­sure their scoot­ers, it’s im­por­tant to get an agreed value with the in­surance com­pany, be­cause if your scooter does gets nicked you’ve got the peace of mind that you’re go­ing to get a rea­son­able amount of money back to help buy a re­place­ment.”

Be­yond the more hands-on ways of pro­tect­ing one’s trea­sured ve­hi­cle, digital tech­nol­ogy may well prove the great­est de­ter­rent in stalling the op­por­tunist thief. While ad­vanced GPS re­cov­ery sys­tems can be cost pro­hib­i­tive, TrackR is one digital de­vice that can pro­vide a small added de­gree of se­cu­rity at a rea­son­able price. Dis­creet and light, they can be se­creted into the scooter with lit­tle fuss. Linked to your phone via Blue­tooth, it can send im­me­di­ate alerts if the ve­hi­cle is moved out­side of a pre-set zone.

“The ob­vi­ous ben­e­fit of the TrackR de­vices is sep­a­ra­tion alert,” says Peter Doal of TrackR UK. “If you are sit­ting out­side a cof­fee shop and your app is run­ning with the Blue­tooth ac­tive and some­one moves your scooter, then you will re­ceive a sep­a­ra­tion alert on your phone which nor­mally ac­ti­vates be­tween 30ft and 100ft.”

With the po­lice clearly set­ting their pri­or­i­ties be­yond scooter theft, it’s painfully ap­par­ent that the in­di­vid­ual, and ul­ti­mately the scooter com­mu­nity, will have to take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the se­cu­rity of their ve­hi­cles. This adds cost and takes time but the ex­tra ef­fort is worth it if it means you can avoid the heartache that comes with the loss of a scooter. Words: Si­mon Wells

Thanks to World Video Hub for their help in this ar­ti­cle:­btesGkyug

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