Pickpocket thefts on Paris public transport rocket 33 per cent with ‘yellow vests’ blamed again

The number of pickpocket thefts in Paris has rocketed 33 per cent since the start of the year, with tourists the prime prey of gangs of mainly Eastern European minors, according to police.

Public transport authorities accounted the worrying rise to security agents being overwhelmed by violent yellow vest protesters in the French capital in recent months. They also blamed the rise on the difficulty in prosecuting, or expelling where applicable, the foreign, underage thieves they do catch.

The situation has got so bad that metro drivers now regularly make announcements to passengers when they detect gangs of pickpockets entering a train, telling them to hold tight to their belongings.

According to police cited by Le Parisien, gangs of mainly young girls, numbering between five to ten, pounce on a carriage when they spot unsuspecting tourists.

Locals are wise to their methods and simply leave a carriage when they arrive or stick to the walls. “Tourists come all the time but are loathe to file a legal complaint because they don’t want to waste time,” one public transport employee told the paper.

“We phone the police to come and intervene but as the thieves know perfectly their rights, they say they are minors and they are let go within 15 minutes.”

One police chief told La Parisien that the rise was down to the “gilet jaunes”, who have been causing havoc in central Paris every Saturday for months.

“The teams have been mobilised every Saturday during the yellow vest demos so couldn’t deal with anything else,” he said.

Some 56 per cent of suspected pickpockets arrested in Paris public transport are minors, he said, adding that the possibility of pressing charges were “limited”. Some 90 per cent are from Eastern Europe or North Africa (Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia).

The police chief warned against taking them on as “some don’t hesitate to use knives or gas”.

The rise comes despite attempts to warn tourists via multi-lingual brochures and introducing a simplified way of filing a legal complain in stations for insurance purposes. Paris police has also this year put in place a special “tourist plan” designed to safeguard metro stations.

There have been a number of high-profile court cases of pickpocket rings in recent years, notably of a notorious gang masquerading as tourists at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Versailles, who made an estimated €700,000 and wired the money back to Romania.

In an editorial, Le Parisien warned that turning a blind eye to the fact that most of the thieves were Eastern Europe would only play into the hands of the far-Right.