Security & Safety

In an emergency, telephone “999” (or “112”). This number connects to Police, Ambulance and Fire/Rescue services. You will be asked which of these three services you require before being connected to the relevant operator.

‘Beware when crossing the roads, as cars drive on the left side of the road. Be sure to look BOTH ways before crossing. Tourists often forget to check cars approaching from the right.

Crime

Like most big cities, London has a variety of social problems such as begging and street theft (mobile phones/wallets/bags). On the whole however, London is a safe place to visit and explore. It has the oldest police force in the world and is now policed by the Metropolitan Police Service (covering the whole of Greater London) and the City of London Police (covering the City of London district/the Square Mile). Alongside the regular London police forces, there are around 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) that provide a highly visible presence on the streets and are able to deal with low-level crime. The British Transport Police police London railways including the London Underground system.

Online crime statistic mapping allows residents and visitors to London to see the level of recorded crime for different areas. Not surprisingly, the most populated areas have the highest levels of crime – Westminster has the highest and Camden the second highest. These figures are inflated by opportunist street crime – areas high in tourists, especially in high density shopping areas, like Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road.

Normal precautions for the safe keeping of your personal possessions, as in any other city, are advisable. The Metropolitan Police website gives advice about staying safe while travelling in London . This includes advice about staying safe on the tube, on buses, on trains and in cabs, as well as walking in the city and when using bicycles. In the event of emergencies call 999. You will be directed to the fire, police or ambulance services. For non-emergency concerns, call 101.

The British Transport Police outlines safety advice while travelling here. The website includes such wise (and common sense) advice as keeping wallets/purses secure and in an inside pocket, zipping up bags, carrying them in front of you or tucked under your arm. Don’t overtly display jewellery and money. It also lists online addresses to register property like electrical gadgets and bikes, and where to register lost property.

If you’re planning to go out late at night and are worried about safety, keep to crowded areas such as the West End. There are always plenty of people on the street, even at 4 a.m. When calling for a cab or taxi always use licensed drivers. The traditional London black cab is licensed to pick up travellers on the street, otherwise private hire companies can only pick up customers at an actual address. Bogus ‘private hire’ drivers who offer lifts to pedestrians should never be used – always check the photo ID of your cab driver before you get in. You can also book licensed taxis and minicabs on the Cabwise service, part of Transport for London’s website. Two licensed minicab numbers and one licensed taxi (black cab) number in your area will be sent straight to your mobile phone. This is charged at standard text message rate plus 35p per enquiry.

Don’t forget that British traffic drives on the left side of the road – this is particularly important when crossing the street. Also stand behind the yellow line at tube stations, or ‘Mind the Gap’.

Some parts of London are perceived to be more dangerous. In terms of crime statistics, Westminster|Westminster has the highest rate of crime, yet it includes some of the most desirable/expensive areas like Knightsbridge and Chelsea. According to Metropolitan Police Commander Makhdum Chishty ‘absolutely nowhere in London should be avoided’. He advises that London is one of the safest major cities in the world and that crime continues to fall. Overall crime in Westminster is down by 16.4%.

The Metropolitan Police site gives safety advice for tourists in London. It includes a section on Soho, advising that ‘although few in number’ some Soho bars which advertise sex shows are best avoided – hostesses serve drinks for very high prices and you can find yourself with a bill for the hostess too. People offering sexual services for money in Soho may ask for money first and give you a fictitious address to join them – they will disappear with your money.

While muggings are rare in London, they can happen. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you find yourself on a lightly travelled or poorly lit area. Scotland Yard advises that you ‘walk purposefully’ towards your destination to deter unwelcome attention.

Throughout London there are various degrees of drunken behaviour, particularly at weekends. It is best to simply ignore them and walk away from those concerned. Trouble spots can sometimes arise round popular drinking locations such as Soho.

There are various scams in London aimed particularly at tourists. When using a cash withdrawal machine, be wary of people offering to help you – they may lean in and memorise your pin number, pick your pocket or even snatch the cash.

One scam involves distraction. Conmen will stage shows, for example magic tricks while their accomplice(s) pick your pockets, or the shows will involve you betting money on various outcomes (whether a pea is under a certain cup for example).

Another scam is fake auctions – electrical gadgets or (fake) designer goods are auctioned off at knock down prices in busy shopping areas like Tottenham Court Road. The tourist will be bidding against the accomplice(s) of the ‘auctioneer’ for inferior goods. If you are approached by unlicensed sellers of ‘designer’ goods on the street, it’s a scam.

Never buy tickets for London tours from sellers who are not attached to any tour or bus. When asked for directions be sure you are not being distracted so an accomplice can pick your pocket or bag.

Transport

Don’t take illegal minicabs (see Sightseeing for details).

Travelling on lower deck of a night bus is generally safer, as there are more passengers around, and you are visible by the bus driver.

If you have been the victim of crime on the railways or the London Underground, you should report the crime as soon as possible to the British Transport Police, who have an office in most major train and tube stations. Elsewhere, you should report your crime as normal to the Metropolitan Police. Non-emergency calls to the police should be made on 101.