Sly thief with magician’s touch steals phones from under customers’ noses

DETECTIVES are hunting a slick thief who steals swanky mobile phones from coffee shops like Starbucks and Costa – by distracting handset owners with flyers for tourist attractions.

The light-fingered thief “expertly” swipes handsets left on cafe tables while pretending to hawk city centre attractions. Officers have revealed they’re trawling through CCTV footage to see if they can trace the cafe-targeting-crook ahead of launching an awareness campaign.

A police source said: “Edinburgh city centre is a very safe place to be but unfortunately there are some who will seek to use the opportunity given by large numbers of people to steal. The sneaky thief struck six times over the weekend at coffee shops and restaurants in Princes Street, George Street and Hanover Street.

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Police believe the man collected flyers from a tourist information centre to use in the “distraction” thefts.

On each occasion, the man preyed on victims who had left their phones out on tables while they sat in coffee shops including Starbucks and Costa Coffee outlets.

As part of a police security campaign, officers will also be handing out “purse bells” to members of the public in George Street on Friday. The devices are attached to purses, wallets and phones and ring if a thief tries to “dip” the items from a pocket.

Inspector Gill Geany said: “The thief who was operating over Saturday and Sunday has targeted people who were leaving their phones on a table while they had a coffee and a chat. The suspect approached offering leaflets for tourist attractions in the city and when the victim was distracted the thief has taken their phones.

“We had six reports over Saturday and Sunday from five coffee shops and a restaurant, but fortunately we’ve not had any reports since then. Our officers have retrieved CCTV footage from the businesses, and we’re studying that as well as pursuing other lines of enquiry.”

A magician today said that the thief targeting Edinburgh shoppers had demonstrated sleight of hand with “an element of expertise” to carry out his crimes.

Kevin McMahon, 32, a close-up magician and artistic director of the Edinburgh Magic Festival, said that the culprit may have put in hours of practice to hone his skills before setting out to find victims.

Mr McMahon, pictured left, said: “It takes an element of 
expertise and an element of guts to do this sort of thing. To get good at it, you need to do it a lot. I’ve been known to take people’s watches, ties and stuff from their pockets but it goes without saying – I give it back afterwards.”

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Police launched Operation Astrodome earlier this month which has seen extra officers deployed on patrol in the city to combat thieves and boost personal safety.

Insp Geany added: “This a time of year when thieves are targeting shoppers and visitors to the city centre who are busy shopping or are chilling out and have their minds on other things.

“We would encourage people visiting the city centre to keep their phones or wallets and purses in their pockets and not leave them lying out.”