Going undercover for a good cause
London's crime busters are increasingly worried at the rate offences are being committed by sections of the city's substantial Tamil community. From murders most brutal to arson, assaults, credit card frauds and other scams to misdemeanours like shoplifting have engulfed the generally law abiding Tamil community as a few criminal elements bring disgrace to them all.

Scotland Yard sleuths are now worried that these crimes involving Sri Lankan Tamils might be spreading across the length and breath of London adding to the policing problems created by Caribbeans, Russians and Eastern Europeans.

While the visible presence of the police in the way of uniformed cops has increased in areas where concentrations of Sri Lanka Tamils live, other sleuths have gone undercover to unravel crimes that run into several millions pounds sterling.

Most of the financial crimes are connected with credit cards- stolen, forged, cloned-and some times involve a network of people collecting funds for the LTTE. Just last year two LTTE fund-raisers, reportedly good friends at one time, clashed over siphoning off some of the funds for personal use resulting in one brutally killing the other.

Modern technology has helped to commit many frauds now, police will tell you. Buying goods and services via Internet when credit cards and other details are made available have helped criminals to 'lift' this data and use it in their scams. Police have shown little machines used in stealing credit card details by swiping them unnoticed.

But as some Sri Lanka Tamils will divulge if you have established some rapport with them, their criminal activities were not always such "hi tech'.

As they readily admit much of the criminal activities started in the post-July 1983 phase when there was a huge influx of Tamils arriving in Britain seeking asylum after the utterly inhuman treatment of the community in the riots that year.

This exodus mainly to the west brought in its wake LTTE cadres or its supporters and sympathisers. As police here point out many of those involved in violence seem to have been involved in violence as active members of the LTTE or other militant groups.

They also brought over to their new homes domestic conflicts and old vendettas.

Initially those who were admitted as refugees or were awaiting formal decisions became involved in petty crimes and misdemeanours to survive or because they had little to do.

Shoplifting and "nicking" a few things from here and there became quite a habit. Some time back a young Tamil who said his name was Sivalingam and was generally known as Siva used to tell me how he and a few friends "operated" then.

He said they began avoiding prominent supermarkets after several Tamils were nabbed trying to steal mainly food or utility items.

After several failures they discovered security cameras were installed in most major supermarkets or employed their own security staff in civilian dress.

So Siva and his friends went for small grocery shops often run by Indians from where they would pinch goods easy to lift undetected.

Some of it could be sheer bravado but he said they had a system worked out over a period. This included being frequently seen in one or more shops where they would make genuine purchases and become well acquainted with the shop owners. They, like Caesar's wife, were above suspicion when goods were nicked.

Sometimes they would go outside their area and steal, generally working in pairs. After that "one shot" they would stay away for months before returning to the place.

Even if they were caught, as had happened three or four times, shop owners did not call the police for they feared retaliation like arson or physical violence by Tamil gangs. Or the hassle of police inquiries and appearing in court in the event of a case was not commensurate with the value of the stolen items.

When recently the media mentioned police undercover operations to ferret out criminal elements big and small, an idea flickered in my own mind.

Why not try out something myself? Recently I watched a BBC "Panorama" programme where a woman journalist pretending to be an asylum seeker exposed many illegal activities and State administrative failures.

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack and security was beefed up at Heathrow Airport, a couple of journalists went underground and exposed major security lapses. Others have been involved in "sting" operations pretending to be a rich Arab or somebody else in urgent need of false papers such as passports.

Of course I couldn't engage in credit card scams or go about murdering people. So I started at the bottom.

Unknown to family and friends- except a diplomat- I thought by shoplifting with the help of previous advice from the redoubtable Siva who I haven't encountered for many months, I could at least make shopkeepers alive to police advice that is often ignored by the public-the need for enhanced security at a time of rising crime

From a shop I visit almost daily I pinched a pack of "roast" paan(bread). The same day I went to another grocery store from where I took two so-called Bombay onions.The next day I picked up two tomatoes from another shop and a day later a beetroot.

But this was small time stuff from small shops. So I tried my hand at the mini-supermarket where I buy my daily newspapers. Over a period of 10-12 days I took four newspapers apart from what I normally bought.

Nobody seemed to spot me and it was becoming somewhat of a bore by now.

So one day I pinched a paper more openly hoping to be spotted.

And this time they did. One of the owners-an Indian from East Africa- appeared to go ballistic and alleged that I had pinched a magazine the previous day.

That of course was false because he sold the kind of magazine I hardly read. So why didn't he catch me then? He had to say a thing or two because I had exposed the lack of vigilance and that they were easy pickings.

Now I had to test Siva's theory that they wouldn't go to the police, for one reason or the other. Even if they did I had my press identity card and the real reason why I did what I did, especially since I had enough money in my pocket at the time to buy all his other newspapers and magazines too.

He wanted to call the police, he said, but he wouldn't. His 'generosity' bemused me. Siva was correct about it as he was correct about a few other things. It was easy. They wouldn't call the police.

That Indian from Uganda or Kenya or wherever must be entertaining his friends with the story of how he nabbed a shoplifter.

And in the store from which I took the roast paan, we have been having a good laugh over it, unknown to him.

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