Far from the capital’s epicentre of luxury boutique smash and grab raids and moped-enabled muggings, no flashing blue lights or crime detectives attended Abib Hussein’s burgled business address in west London for over 24 hours.
The ensuing probe seemed to have proceeded at snail’s pace with the first official appeal appearing on Facebook over a month later. But it was one of the biggest heists from a small business premises this year with the loss of two hundred thousand pounds and hundreds of devastated clients.
“Two hundred thousand pounds,” he declares solemnly. “That’s not a petty crime.” Abib Hussein has the troubled look of a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is the owner of Skymoon Travel Agency and Money Transfer which caters for hundreds of Somali diaspora in this close-knit community in Acton, west London.
Sandwiched between a fishmonger and a fruit and veg stall, the glass-fronted address is a nondescript financial hub with substantial cash flows to Africa. But his livelihood and the dreams of hundreds of his clients have been dealt a huge blow. He is the latest casualty of London’s crimewave that appears to be spreading from the central business districts to the capital’s suburbs like a virus.
In scenes reminiscent of the Hatton Garden heist in 2015 — the biggest burglary in English legal history — burglars cut their way in through the building’s fire exit in the early hours of 27 September, burrowed into a 200-tonne fire-proof safe and escaped with £200,000 cash deposited by hundreds of his clients, most of it cash remittances destined mainly for extended families in Somalia and other parts of Africa.
He had returned to work with the main entrance intact only to be enveloped by an acrid smell and ransacked premises with a hole in an upturned safe emptied of all its cash. Hussein recounts in a subdued tone: “There was a lot of dust. They must have been using heavy cutting utensils. They took everything, even the pennies. They cut the till. They didn’t leave one penny behind.”
But his initial experience reporting the burglary to the police left him even more confused about how the crime would be solved and the criminals apprehended.
Forensic officers attended the crime scene in the evening saying they had only been informed a few hours earlier whilst investigating detectives only showed up the following day. Hussein says he could not disguise his disappointment. “I told them I expected them to come in 15 minutes, but they made excuses about being short-staffed.”
He was told CCTV footage had yielded no leads and was then given two weeks to provide proof of the source of the stolen deposits. In the intervening period Hussein says he continued to remain in the dark. “They (police) just went quiet, completely quiet. They told me they were going to look at other CCTV. My neighbour’s shops, nobody asked them for CCTV, I was hoping for daily updates but nobody contacted me.
“As far as I know it’s a big crime, even the criminals were well-prepared professionals.”
PROFESSIONAL JOB: Both heists were meticulously planned and involved heavy drilling and cutting machinery.
He claimed he later learnt that the investigating officer had gone on holiday from one of his colleagues. “They told me the detective who came to interview me was on holiday.”
The first official appeal did not appear until over a month on 30 October, perhaps just enough time for the criminals to have covered their tracks. It was a blurred image of three male suspects posted on Ealing Police’s Facebook page. There was still no appeal on the Met’s main website, hence the incident has gone virtually unreported in the local press.
Hussein, 35, who took over the business in 2013 says the whole community has been traumatised by the incident. His business had been the focal point for money transfers with a lot of trust vested in him. “It is broken. It is broken, it’s not the same, people are shocked after seeing the way the safe was cut,” he laments about his predicament.
His clients are relying on him for information about progress on the manhunt, heaping even more pressure on him. “They are seeking answers from me everyday asking: ‘Did you hear any news?’
“It’s very hard, very tough,” he tails off. He carries on for the sake of his clients, some of whom have expressed fears for his wellbeing.
DEGREES OF BURGLARY
The Met police has stated in its crime assessment policy that cuts to its budget means it will no longer be prioritising thousands of burglaries and petty thefts. Crimes involving the loss of less than £50 will also no longer qualify for investigation unless a suspect is identified.
The guidelines also state that burglaries should only be probed if thieves use violence to gain entry or trick their way in. The Met is aiming to save £400million by 2020 which has also forced the closure of half of the capital’s 73 police counters removing the physical deterrent of speedy detection for criminals.
Under the cost-saving programme 37 police stations have been earmarked for closure. Residents recently mounted a last-ditch effort to save Notting Hill police station also marked for sale under the programme. There are plans to open a police counter near Grenfell Tower next year for two years, seen by critics as a meaningless token gesture after the fire tragedy in June. Most affluent neighbourhoods like Notting Hill, Kensington, Holland Park and many gated estates already fund nightly mobile patrols by private security firms.
According to available figures the Met solved eight percent of 493,257 recorded burglaries between 2011 and 2016 while failing to identify a suspect in 85 percent of those cases. Recently published crime statistics showed a rise of 5.7 percent in London to 774,737 offences in the year leading up to April 1, with a steep rise in both gun and knife crime.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons said: “We must prioritise our resources to be able to cope with the demand so our officers can be in the right place at the right time to help the public. The recently introduced Crime Assessment Policy is helping us to do just that.
“By empowering our officers and giving them a consistent policy, they are making judgements about whether it would be proportionate to continue further with an investigation in some lower level crime.
“We believe the Crime Assessment Policy is the right thing to do. We need our officers to be focused on serious crime and cases where there is a realistic chance that we will be able to solve it. We also want them to be available to respond to emergencies and go to those members of the public that need our help the most.”
Under the new plans officers will only analyse CCTV if the footage is clear and the crime appears within a 20-minute window. Crime analysts claim the changes will result in around 150,000 fewer crimes being investigated each year.
Ex-Met Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville told The Sun: “No consideration is being given to victims. The new principles will focus police attention on easy crimes where there is a known suspect.
“Few professional criminals target people who know them, so the worst villains will evade justice. Not investigating high volume crimes like shoplifting with a loss of under £50 will give junkies a green light to thieve.”
Ken Marsh, of the Met Police Federation, told the newspaper: “The public are getting a raw deal. And officers will be under immense pressure if a criminal who should have been caught goes on to commit a serious crime.
“I see people taking the law into their own hands.”
A spokesman for the Met Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Acton burglary and the new policy on break-ins before publication.
- Anyone with information about the male suspects in the Acton burglary are advised to call the Metropolitan Police on 101 with the crime reference number 2523626/17. Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.