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India’s business elite sounds alarm over Rolex thefts in Mayfair

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While negotiators in London and New Delhi haggle over a bilateral trade deal, India’s business elite has been raising a very different concern: the fear of being mugged in Mayfair.

David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, is in the Indian capital for talks on geopolitics and commerce but on Tuesday had his ear bent over the risks of Rolex watch thefts in the British capital.

Devin Narang, a renewable energy entrepreneur, listed crime in London as one of the biggest concerns of the country’s chief executive class at a meeting held between Lammy and Indian businesspeople.

“People are being mugged in the heart of London — in Mayfair,” Narang, a member of the executive committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said at the meeting.

“All CEOs in India have had an experience of physical mugging and the police not responding,” he added.

London has been hit by a wave of street crime, with “theft from a person” — a category that includes stealing watches, handbags and mobile phones — rising 27 per cent last year compared to 2022. There were 72,756 such incidents in the capital in the year to December 2023, compared to 57,468 in the previous 12 months, according to Metropolitan Police data.

The district of Westminster, where Mayfair is located, has been particularly affected, with theft from a person rising 40 per cent last year. There were 25,650 such incidents in 2023, compared to 18,310 in 2022.

Police have reported a spate of mobile phone and watch snatching carried out by moped and e-bike gangs.

A spokesperson for the mayor of London, who supervises the Met, said: “The Met have stepped up their response to robberies — which are rising nationally — and have specialist teams out proactively targeting the most prolific offenders and robbery hotspots.”

Even allowing for a degree of exaggeration, British officials confirmed that the prospect of being mugged on London’s streets — and losing Rolex watches and other luxury goods — ranks alongside immigration delays at Heathrow as a constant bugbear of India’s elite.

Narang told the Financial Times: “Indians do carry expensive things, but the police not responding is a matter of concern.”

He added that he understood attacks often took place in Mayfair, citing cases of people having expensive bags stolen or watches being cut off wrists in the street.

“London is a walking city,” Narang said. “You don’t want to look over your shoulder all the time. You don’t want to go to a city where you’re likely to be mugged in the streets.

“It doesn’t make you feel comfortable. You can walk anywhere in Delhi and you won’t be mugged.” He claimed the police were often uninterested in such crimes or were slow to respond.

The Met has previously said that specialist undercover units targeting crime hotspots in three boroughs in central London had succeeded in reducing watch robberies during a six-month operation in 2023. The number of such incidents fell to 361 between March and October 2023, from 429 during the same period in 2022.

Lammy said that during his short spell in the Indian capital the issue of crime in London had been raised several times. He added that “security and fighting crime” would be key priorities for Labour under Sir Keir Starmer if the party won the next general election expected this year.

The discussions came as Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, and Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, attempt to agree a bilateral trade deal ahead of Indian elections in April and May.

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