When a £3,500 bike was stolen in Clapham, its owner staged a successful undercover operation to get it back: Operation Lamppost.
Kofi B, 37, met up with an online bike seller under the guise of buying his stolen bike back, but came away with the prize without losing a penny.
In mid-January near Clapham Common, Kofi’s bike lock was severed by a thief who then rode away on the stolen bike.
Policemen chased after the thief but could not catch him.
“It hit me quite bad because I’ve never had a bike stolen in 15 years,” Kofi said. “I’ve been living in La La land.”
After excitedly identifying his stolen bike days later on Facebook Marketplace, Kofi posed as an innocent buyer and met up with the seller in Canary Warf, intending to buy the bike back for £500.
He wasn’t worried to begin with, but soon the hired cars that kept falling through seemed like a subliminal sign warning him off meeting someone that might have worse plans for him than bike theft.
However he felt his £3,500 American design that provided 13 years of good memories was worth the potential risk.
Yet when he met the man he changed his mind about the sale.
Kofi said: “I wanted the bike and a lot of my friends were telling me to just buy it back. I was prepared to buy a completely new bike! But, when I got there, and there was my bike and he wanted £500 for it I found I didn’t want to pay that much to get my own bike back.”
He asked for time to consider because he had a new plan and a few days later he met the man again and told him he was finally ready to buy the bike.
He took the bike for an agreed test ride and when out of sight he chained it to a nearby lamppost with a bike lock hidden underneath his clothes and then confronted the seller.
Kofi said: “I walked back and said: ‘You won’t believe what happened! Somebody stole your bike. That one is my bike. What are the chances of me finding my bike and yours being stolen at the same time?’”
The man looked at Kofi like he was joking, but Kofi said to him: “Let’s be honest: that bike isn’t yours.”
Kofi showed the man his receipt and told him he could vouch for the mark on the bike being caused by his accident years ago and the man apologised.
“He acted profusely sorry and said he was sorry for all the inconvenience. He told me he wasn’t working and he thought this would make a quick buck,” recalled Kofi.
The man said he got the bike from the bike thief and arranged to get a cut of the £500 selling price for selling it on.
He described a local culture of gangs identifying bikes to steal and moving them out the area quickly to sell them.
Kofi offered the man £50 for the bike because he felt sorry for him, but he refused.
The Clapham resident said: “When I heard his story, I asked if he really wanted to compromise his future for £500. I said to him he might be stealing the wrong person’s bike next time.
“He didn’t seem like a kid who was malicious. I had a lot of empathy for him.”
The man helped the bike into Kofi’s car before they parted ways.
Kofi wrote a humorous account of the rendezvous on Nextdoor, a neighbourhood app, and it gained lots of attention and was coined ‘Operation Lamppost’.
“I think it provided quite a lot of entertainment on Nextdoor. There were over 300 comments. I spent most of my time replying back to people! I’m just trying to educate people not to use cable bike locks,” he said.
You can read more about bike thefts going up over lockdown here.