Vigilante uses 'bait bike' with GPS tracker and catches Portsmouth thieves in the act

THIEVES were caught red-handed after a crusading crime fighter fitted GPS trackers to a decoy bike – and intercepted the thieves.

Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 9:41 am

Now Richard Marsh has promised to be a thorn in the side of Portsmouth bicycle thieves and continue to fit trackers to ‘bait bikes’ to combat the menace.

Unsuspecting teenagers cut through a £5.99 Halfords lock on Richard’s bike, which was fitted with a £25 tracker, outside McDonald’s in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, on Friday evening.

Engineer Richard had only put the cheap bike there eight hours before the 17-year-old boys struck - taking Richard’s bait bike on a ride to Stamshaw, through Buckland and stopping at North End.

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Police deployed to Powerscourt Road in Portsmouth to seize the stolen bike. Richard Marsh has fitted a GPS tracker to a bait bike and caught two sets of thieves stealing it from Commercial Road and Fratton train station. Picture: Richard Marsh

But they were dumbstruck when dad-of-one Richard, 34, arrived in his car at around 4.30am and challenged two boys on bikes - one of which was his - and a lad sitting in an open doorway.

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One boy claimed the bike was his, until Richard – who had informed police – pointed out the GPS tracker hidden on the seat.

Then on Sunday, Richard locked up the bait bike in Goldsmith Avenue near Fratton train station. In just 70 minutes it was gone.

Police deployed to Powerscourt Road in Portsmouth to seize the stolen bike. Richard Marsh has fitted a GPS tracker to a bait bike and caught two sets of thieves stealing it from Commercial Road and Fratton train station. Picture: Richard Marsh

‘I had barely walked home – at the point it had gone off I’d just walked up the main road,' he said.

This time Hampshire police sent out officers – blocking Clydebank Road as they tried to intercept the thief – all the while being directed by Richard.

Nine officers seized the bike from a home in Powerscourt Road as Richard watched them arrest a 25-year-old man.

Richard told The News: ‘I'll do anything to divide and conquer, split them up - provide anything that is going to associate bike theft with a sour taste in their mouth or a note of caution.

The saddle and TrackiSafe GPS tracker on the bait bike. Richard Marsh has fitted a GPS tracker to a bait bike and caught two sets of thieves stealing it from Commercial Road and Fratton train station. Picture: Richard Marsh

‘It's going to have the effect I want, which is to throw a spanner in the works.

‘I know I'm not going to unravel all or find some kingpin but it's just to throw a spanner in the works.'

Portsmouth was last year named among the worst 11 cities for bike theft. Hampshire saw 4,623 bikes taken, the National Police Chiefs' Council said last year.

Anti-bike theft campaigner Richard Marsh places a 'bait bike' fitted with a GPS tracker in North End. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (050120-25)

In August, Fratton station was named in Britain's 25 worst stations for bike thefts.

Richard, who has previously caught a teenage bike thief, said: 'I'm just a borderline obsessive, and bike theft is something that hit me quite hard when I got to Portsmouth in the days when I didn't have much money.'

He added: 'This time the tracker was in the saddle, next time it's in the frame, next time it's in the handlebars.

'I said (to the teenagers) you'll never know if it's a bait bike or not.

'I'll use cheap bikes, expensive bikes, e-bikes and folding bikes.

'My approach is to reduce the theft rate from a hot spot to a no-go zone for thieves, get Hampshire police to recognise that, and then get them to see the use of bait bikes.’

Police deployed to Powerscourt Road in Portsmouth to seize the stolen bike. Richard Marsh has fitted a GPS tracker to a bait bike and caught two sets of thieves stealing it from Commercial Road and Fratton train station. Picture: Richard Marsh

In the last six months of 2019 there were 19 bikes stolen in Commercial Road.

Richard, who said police were ‘fantastic' on Sunday, added: ‘There’s a new bait bike coming next week.

‘It's going to be a wide range of bikes. We’re going to continue to target the theft hotspots and people are going to continue to get caught.’

Police inspector Dave Ryan said Commercial Road was ‘not a hotspot’ but added: ‘We do not underestimate how upsetting the theft of any property can be to victims.

‘We encourage our community to report all crimes, which then allows us to better understand the nature and scale of problems in the city, and how best to deal with them.

‘Unfortunately, we cannot deploy to every report we get as we have to prioritise our resources so that we deal with the most serious crimes coming into us at any given time.

‘However, we use these reports to build a picture of what is happening in our area, so that we can put our resources where we need them most.’

Insp Ryan said his officers work with British Transport Police and recommend locking up bikes in areas covered by CCTV, buying sturdy locks and putting identifiable marks on frames.

He added: ‘Tactics including bait bikes have been used on occasion, and officers from the local beat team continue to be dedicated to the city centre to assist with a wide variety of issues, including theft.’

RICHARD’S BAIT BIKE STOLEN

:: 6.30pm on January 3 - locked up at McDonald’s in Commercial Road, Portsmouth.

:: 2.15am on January 4 - tracker pings Richard’s phone.

:: 3.24am - bike arrives in Jervis Road, Stamshaw, having travelled via Buckland.

:: 4.13am - bike arrives in St Marks Road, in North End.

HOW THE TRACKER WORKS

ALERTS were sent directly to Richard Marsh's phone when thieves moved the bike.

Using the GPS tracker linked to his phone he set up a bounded area on a map - getting an alert if the cycle moved out of the area he set.

He also set it to trigger a warning if the bike reached a certain speed.

Richard stayed up to intercept the bike and alerted police about both incidents.

The bait bike in Goldsmith Avenue in Portsmouth on Sunday, January 5. Just 70 minutes later it was stolen. Richard Marsh has fitted a GPS tracker to a bait bike and caught two sets of thieves stealing it from Commercial Road and Fratton train station. Picture: Richard Marsh
The GPS tracker shows the movements of the bait bike in the early hours of January 5. Richard Marsh has fitted a GPS tracker to a bait bike and caught two sets of thieves stealing it from Commercial Road and Fratton train station. Picture: Richard Marsh