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Metropolitan Police release footage of luxury watch robbers caught as they target undercover officers

Undercover officers are wearing luxury watches as bait to catch robbers red-handed as they target wealthy visitors to London’s West End.

Footage released by the Metropolitan Police shows unwitting thieves being tasered, rugby-tackled and wrestled to the ground in Soho after trying to rip the high-value timepieces from their wrists.

The force has revealed the tactic for the first time and says it has driven down robberies after 300 watches worth around £4m were stolen across three boroughs in the capital between April and September 2022.

Investigators pinpointed "hotspots" in South Kensington, Chelsea, Soho and Mayfair where criminals were targeting victims - 98% of whom are men - as they left bars and nightclubs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between 11pm and 4am.

The targets would be offered access to sex workers or drugs before being led down a side street or approached from behind.

Police said the "opportunist" crime gangs know exactly what they are looking for - Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet watches that can be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Ben Russell, the commander responsible for covert operations, praised the "immense professionalism and dedication" of the undercover officers "volunteering to stand alone in a dark street in the middle of the night waiting to be robbed".

In one clip, an undercover officer who had earlier been asked if he wanted to go to a brothel, walks with a robber as he is followed by four of his accomplices.

They surround him and pin him against the wall before running off when the police pounce, tasering one of the thieves as another is rugby-tackled to the ground.

Another robber is seen falling to the floor as he is tasered in a different clip after he and an accomplice, both wearing Nike bags, tried to rob an undercover officer they had earlier offered cannabis to.

One officer is seen having the watch ripped from his wrist after being taken into a side street by two men who had befriended him and in a fourth clip the officer falls to the ground as his colleagues pounce.

There were nearly 2,000 robberies - including 300 watches worth around £4m - across the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham, between April and September 2022 - up 4% on the previous six-month period.

Some 31% of those took place in Soho, an area known for its nightlife, but which occupies just 1% of the total size of the three boroughs.

Police said two undercover operations saw reductions in watch robberies with the number across the three boroughs in the summer of 2023 half that of the previous year.

A total of 27 men were arrested, all of whom have been charged, with 14 of the 21 convicted so far sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison.

Since 2015, the number of stolen watches recorded in England and Wales nearly doubled - from 6,696 then to 11,035 in 2022, according to data from Watchfinder & Co that was shared with Sky News last year. More than 6,000 of these thefts were in London.

High-profile targets include Songs Of Praise presenter Aled Jones, 52, who was robbed of his £17,000 Rolex watch by a teenager who threatened him with a machete.

Former world boxing champion Amir Khan, 36, was forced to hand over his £70,000 Franck Muller watch in a gunpoint robbery outside the Sahara Grill restaurant in Leyton, east London, in April 2022.

And Formula One driver Lando Norris, 23, had his watch stolen as he left the Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium.

'We don't want people fighting back'

But police said that while gangs may watch celebrities for days or weeks before they strike, many robberies are opportunistic - although the criminals do set out with the intention of identifying vulnerable people who may be drunk or intoxicated outside bars and clubs in Soho.

Mr Russell said wearing a high-value watch in central London was a "personal choice" but advised people to be aware of their surroundings and wear clothes with long sleeves.

He also warned against walking around with your bag on display if the brand name is visible after buying a new watch and said you should get insurance and take a picture.

"It's so easy to be distracted by headphones when you're on your mobile phone, when you come out of the station, when you come out of the venue," he said.

He said it's hard to tell someone not to hand over a £100,000 watch but added: "We don't want people fighting back, we don't want people to be seriously hurt or injured."