Police step up patrols over mystery spate of tree thefts in London

One for Special Branch? Mystery over spate of tree thefts in south London as police launch probe

  • Mystery thieves have been ripping trees out of the ground in West Dulwich
  • The Met Police has now stepped up patrols after several reports across the city  
  • Have you been a victim of the tree thief? Email [email protected] 

A mystery tree thief is plaguing the streets of a leafy London suburb, brazenly snatching plants in the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. 

Residents in West Dulwich, south London, have been forced to take action, with the Metropolitan Police saying it has now stepped up patrols to try catch the suspect ‘green handed’.

It follows a similar theft weeks ago when strangers ransacked a memorial garden in nearby Lambeth, sparking outrage from locals. 

The latest incident took place shortly after dawn last weekend. An alleged thief was seen by resident David Harrison dragging a tree on a trolley.

Mr Harrison claimed to have spotted the male doing the same thing the night before – but this time he recognised the plant being carted away as one recently planted by Lambeth Council, and decided to act.

Are you a tree thief victim? Email [email protected] 

In Lambeth, residents filmed people as they wheeled away trees in trolleys from a memorial garden on the Bolney Meadow Estate in February

While this was the aftermath weeks later, on April 10 in Park Hall Road, in nearby West Dulwich. This tree was a recently-planted photinia ‘red robin’ worth about £200 and is one of several ripped up and stolen in the area, triggering increased patrols by police

The Met Police said it had received a ‘number of reports’ of tree and plant thefts in the West Dulwich area ‘in recent weeks’. Pictured is a stock image of a photinia, which had been planted in West Dulwich

‘I got my phone with a camera and decided to try and track him down,’ the 63-year-old told The Times. 

The plucky crime-fighter managed to track down the male, who he said was in his 60s, before snapping a photo – prompting the suspect to dump the tree and flee.

Saving the plant, Mr Harrison said he took it into his garden for safe keeping before alerting police and the council and posting pictures of the tree on neighbourhood page NextDoor.

It was here that Rachel Sheppard, 56, saw the post and claimed she had had a £120 eucalyptus snatched from outside her door. 

‘When you’ve invested your time and energy and kept it alive and cared for it,’ she said, ‘it’s upsetting that someone can just take it away.’

The next day, three more were taken from outside a preparatory school, according to Mr Harrison.

It the latest in a string of thefts having blighted the area, leading to action from the Metropolitan Police. 

In February residents living on the nearby Bolney Meadow Estate were left fuming after strangers ransacked a memorial garden.

The culprits claimed they had been told on social media the potted plants were free to take. But outraged neighbours denied this.

They begged intruders to return the plants, which were part of a communal garden set up by a former resident, who died last year. 

Instead, they say their pleas were met by a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse from the strangers, who were filmed carting trees away on trolleys. 

Following the ransacking, locals took to guarding the remaining plants from dusk to dawn in a bid to stop more from being nabbed. 

Audrey Lewin, who has lived on the estate in Stockwell for 20 years, said people started turning up with vans to take the plants away.

She told MyLondon: ‘It was a free for all. At about 6:30pm my neighbour said look outside and there were people in vans and cars loading up their vehicles with plants.

‘I came outside and said to one woman “excuse me what are you doing?” She literally had the plant in the back of her van. I told her to get out. I said “get out of our community and don’t come back”. It was non-stop.’

Some people returned as many as five times to try and bag themselves a plant, residents claimed. 

It’s not known whether the trees were taken to be planted in private gardens or sold on elsewhere.

One of the suspects was caught wheeling away a tree from a memorial garden in Lambeth with CCTV footage recording the moment a suspect pushed a tree away in a wheelbarrow

The Met Police is investigating the spate of thefts, having stepped up patrols around Lambeth. 

It comes as Lambeth Council continues its efforts to plant about 600 new trees in the borough, as part of its effort to plant 5,000 by 2026. 

Speaking of the latest thefts, a council spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We are aware of two trees having been stolen in the West Dulwich area, one planted by the council and one on private property. The council planted tree was paid for by local community fundraising and had vandalism protection in place.

‘It was a Photinia “red robin” that’s worth around £200 and the council will work with the community on its replacement.

‘Both tree thefts incidents have been reported to the Met police.’

The Met Police said it had received a ‘number of reports’ of tree and plant thefts in the West Dulwich area ‘in recent weeks’.

A spokesman added: ‘It was established that one of the trees was planted by Lambeth Council which makes them the owner and therefore the victim of any alleged theft. 

‘While no reports have been received from Lambeth Council regarding the matter, officers are making inquiries to try and identify a relevant contact at the council to establish whether they would like to pursue the matter as a criminal offence.

‘Inquiries into two further thefts are ongoing.

‘An image of an alleged suspect was provided to police and has been circulated among local Safer Neighbourhood officers, who will be carrying out extra patrols in the area.’

Are you a tree thief victim? Email [email protected] 

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