"Deprive a thief of a safe and ready market for his goods, and he is undone"

- 1796, Patrick Colquhoun

This should fall under the heading of the perfectly bleedin' obvious to use an old English expression.

It certainly was to Patrick Colquhoun back in the 18th Century. He started the world's first ever preventative police force, the Thames River police which acted to prevent thefts from London's docks.

Colquhoun managed to get the whole thing funded by the notoriously sceptical London merchants and when the idea worked it was picked up by the Government of the day. In more recent years this approach has been negated by the difficulty of proving someone had knowledge of the fact that what they had bought was stolen. Convictions are almost impossible to achieve so police do not pursue them.

In the UK this is covered by section 22 of the Theft Act 1968. The problem with the act is that it is hopelessly out of date. Back in '68 the Internet was still a twinkle in the collective eyes of it's inventors. There was no easy way of checking whether or not something was stolen. There is now, it's called the Internet. We believe that the law should be updated to take account of twenty first century realities such as social media and open data access.


Who actually buys stolen goods? A survey for LV insurance published in 2012 said that a quarter of Britons would buy items knowing that they were stolen and that 29 per cent had been offered stolen goods for sale in a market or pub with 21 per cent finding what they believed to be stolen goods online at auction sites.

In the UK the market was worth an estimated to be £1.8 bn in 2013/2014 according to a Home Office report, Crime and the value of stolen goods from October 2015. Interestingly that represented a 74 per cent decline from 1995 when it was £6.9bn. The biggest reason for the decline was the drop in crime associated with vehicles which fell 88 per cent during this period.

Game Changers


Car crime fell because of improvements in technology such as the use of RFID keys and the reduction in the market for things like car radios with most new cars increasingly came prefitted with state of the art sound systems.


Criminal behaviour can also be impacted by psychology using a process known as social contagion. This works by making a certain way of behaving socially unacceptable. The best example of that is the way that drink driving went from being just about socially acceptable to being completely unacceptable in twenty years.

Next: Social contagion