How does a car thief steal your car in 10 seconds? I found the answer to this question in May 2011 when I spent an hour alone in a holding cell with a car thief. I was returning from Southwark Crown Court to HM Prison Belmarsh after testifying in the criminal trial of the four police officers who were on trial for torturing me in 2003. A jury acquitted them in 45 minutes and then shook hands with them afterwards, but that is another story which you can read about later.
After being processed in the Reception area at Belmarsh by undergoing multiple strip searches, an officer accompanied me through the walkways to the holding cell outside House Block 3. He told me to wait there until I was collected by an officer from my unit. A few minutes later I was joined by another prisoner. Jake was white, with brown hair and soft-spoken. He was wearing blue tracksuit bottoms and a pair of black and white Nike sports shoes. There was nothing out of the ordinary about him.
Jake was also returning from a day at court. In prison you quickly develop the communication skills of being able to strike up a deep conversation with a complete stranger. We began by asking each other how our respective days in court went. I told Jake that I was in the witness box all day, Jake told me that he was on trial for stealing cars. By stealing cars, I don’t mean that he stole a car with his friends and went joy-riding in it. Jake was a professional car thief who stole expensive cars to order as part of an international car theft ring. He had been stealing cars since he was 11 years old – he was now 24.
Jake was a professional car thief who stole expensive cars to order as part of an international car theft ring.
While the two of us waited for the officers to get us and take us to our cells, I asked Jake about his career stealing cars. I began by asking him how he got into stealing cars at such a young age.
“I had some older mates who were doing it and sometimes they would take me along,” he told me. “I used to enjoy the thrill of it, the buzz, the excitement. We used to steal cars then take them to car parks and other places where we could drive them, do handbrake skids and have fun. But as I got older, I realised that I could make some pocket money by selling the cars onto older men.”
Soon Jake was stealing expensive cars to order: Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs, Audis. As soon as he stole the cars, Jake would deliver them to a friend who would pay him good money in cash for each one. I asked Jake what his friend would do with the cars.
“Within hours they would be in a shipping container leaving the country for Africa, China or some other far off place,” he replied.
But what if the car had a tracking device, as is common these days with expensive cars? “Oh, my friend has mechanics who can find the tracker and remove it in 60 seconds. And if ever they can’t find it, he ships the cars in these special shipping containers lined with lead that block the signal from the tracking device.”
Jake also told me that depending on the car, his friend might instead dismantle the car so it could be sold for parts. “Rare cars are worth far more as individual parts than as a whole.”
We then came onto how he actually breaks into expensive cars that had sophisticated alarm and immobilisation systems. “Oh it’s far easier these days than it used to be,” Jake replied. “Nowadays I never break into a car, I just open it with the keys.”
“Well, stupid question, but where do you get the keys from?” I asked Jake. “Do you have copies produced by corrupt staff at a car showroom?”
“Occasionally, but most of the time I just take them from people’s houses,” Jake answered. He told me that he drives round affluent areas looking for expensive cars parked outside the owner’s house. “Most people hang their car keys off hooks just inside their front door. I use a special long hook with a strong magnet attached that I insert through the letterbox, pick up the key and drive off. It takes seconds.”
Most people hang their car keys off hooks just inside their front door. I use a special long hook with a strong magnet attached that I insert through the letterbox, pick up the key and drive off. It takes seconds.
Jake then went on to describe that sometimes he would actually enter a house from an open window, steal the car keys, then go. “Once I even stole the car keys from under the noses of the owner as he slept in his bedroom with his wife. But I only did that once. Most of the time it’s far easier.”
I told Jake that my sister once had her Volkswagen car stolen from outside her house. It wasn’t a luxury car and the thief didn’t take the keys from the house. “He probably had a mate in the VW showroom who cut him an electronic key. But that is quite rare these days. Most of the time we just steal the keys.”
I then asked Jake for tips on how I and my family could protect our cars and homes from someone like him.
“Simple. As for cars, never hang your car keys in a place where they might be visible to a car thief looking inside the house. As for homes, fit security lights everywhere that turn on when someone approaches your house. We operate in darkness so when a security light goes on, it exposes us. But when the light goes on, make sure you check properly because most people just look from the curtain then return to sleep thinking that it was a fox or a cat. We know this, so we just hide in the blind spot until the light goes off, then we get back to work.”
And with that, a prison officer opened the door of the holding cell. “Ahmad A9385AG?” I nodded to the officer, bumped fists with Jake and I was gone.
Read about the trial of the police officers who assaulted me at tinyurl.com/babarspeaks.
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