Edinburgh, Scotland – A gang of professional pick-pockets have been targeting tourists and shoppers in the city centre, with up to 30 thefts reported in recent days.
The thieves, understood to be foreign, manage to unzip bags to make off with purses or wallets, with many victims only becoming aware of the robberies later.
Police chiefs have sent extra officers into the area after a spike in incidents was first reported on Friday, when a dozen people said they had been pickpocketed.
After a handful of thefts between Saturday and Monday, the number of incidents rose again to a dozen on Tuesday.
The specialist crime reduction unit swooped on a group of suspects on that day, and five people were arrested and held overnight.
A further three such thefts were committed yesterday, but police could not say whether the offences were linked to the earlier crimes.
The thefts have been carried out in Princes Street, Lawnmarket, Waverley Bridge, High Street and Cockburn Street.
One of yesterday’s victims was media consultant Su Clark, 44, who had a purse stolen from her bag near Waverley Station.
Mrs Clark, who lost credit cards and photographs of her children, said an officer from British Transport Police told her the gang were “not from Scotland”.
Inspector Bruce Johnston, sector inspector for the city centre, said: “After help from members of the public and CCTV, our crime reduction unit were able to make five arrests on Tuesday.
“The city centre is very busy with tourists just now, more so than usual at this time of year. We are deploying extra high-visibility and plain-clothed patrols.
“We would advise people to conceal wallets and purses deep in their bags.”
The crime reduction unit has been successful in driving down thefts in the city centre. Since its creation, the unit has seen these offences drop from 5000 in 2004/05 to 2300 in 2006/07, with serial thieves targeted in particular.
Mrs Clark said she did not see the person who stole her purse. But she added:
“I lost cards, but it’s losing the photographs of my children that was distressing.
“I spoke to an officer and he said a gang of foreign pickpockets had been operating around Princes Street.”