Soho loses notoriety as London’s criminal gangs look east

Soho was once known for being the underbelly of London’s gangland, but criminals – much like the wave of gentrification – have moved east to trendier spots like Dalston and Shoreditch, according to the author of a book on global criminality.

Conor Woodman spent four years exploring the criminal underbellies of cities around the world, from the pickpocketing gangs of Barcelona to elaborate scammers in Mumbai who con tourists at the airport.

When it came to investigating London, the city Woodman calls home, he automatically began looking in Soho.

“Soho used to be this hotbed of vice and iniquity, it was where all the crime happened,” Woodman told the Hay literary festival in Wales. “When I started in London I looked in Soho and found actually it is not really there. It has moved east because most of the nightlife has moved east to places like Dalston and Shoreditch and a lot of the crime has gone with it.”

Woodman said he was hoping to uncover Eastern European and Turkish organised gangs, “but I didn’t find much evidence of that. I found a lot of addiction and a lot of poverty which was the motivation for crime. It is quite bleak.”

He said phone theft was a “massive phenomenon in London” because “for a thief it is a guaranteed £250-300 whereas a wallet might have nothing in it. There is a whole industry in knocked-off phones.”

To his surprise, Woodman said he also discovered that clip joints are still “a thing in London”.

Clip joints are clubs where male punters are promised cheap drinks and good- looking women but the bar bill invariably turns out to be astronomical. The nice but very large bouncer who let you in then becomes not so nice.

“It is called a clip joint because your wings have been clipped,” Woodman said. “I’ve investigated clip joints in different places around the world and I was surprised to find they are still operating in London, right in the centre of Covent Garden actually. London is full of surprises and full of crime.”

Woodman, who was discussing his book Sharks: Investigating the Criminal Heart of the Global City, also spent time in Barcelona with pickpocketing gangs who operate with ruthless efficiency in popular tourist areas like the Ramblas. They always target tourists because they are so unlikely to go to the police.

“It is nuts what’s going on in Barcelona, the laws on thievery in Barcelona are so lax that there is a queue of thieves trying to get in there to operate.”

Woodman said he was amazed by the amount of people who sauntered along with wallets in their back pockets. Also, he told the Hay audience, never walk along with the two zips of your backpack fastened so they meet in the middle.

“Pickpockets said to me it is the easiest thing in the world to open.

THEGUARDIAN.COM

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