'I caught a bike thief red-handed,' Fiona Bateman tells KATHRYN KNIGHT
‘I caught a bike thief red-handed,’ Fiona Bateman tells KATHRYN KNIGHT. ‘What did the police do? Nothing – until they told me off for picketing his house’
When Fiona Bateman uploaded some photos on to her neighbourhood Facebook page to inquire if anyone happened to know the chap it featured, the response was overwhelming. It was, everyone agreed, a local character known as ‘Dave the Bike Thief’.
Dave was certainly living up to his name too, given that Fiona’s photos were taken from CCTV footage that showed him venturing into her family’s bike storage unit during a winter lunchtime, deploying a pair of bolt cutters and making off with her then 18-year-old son Graeme’s £450 mountain bike.
‘Bold as brass’, as Fiona puts it, not an unreasonable description for someone stealing a large item in broad daylight in a suburban square in an Oxfordshire market town.
Still, CCTV footage had the culprit bang to rights. And once Fiona’s social media grapevine had uncovered who exactly he was and where he lived — not to mention that this was not his first rodeo — the 53-year-old was confident that police would have her son’s bike returned to her within a matter of hours.
Not exactly. Instead, the attitude of her local police was one of fundamental disinterest, Fiona recalls. Despite being given the CCTV evidence and an address, they did not so much as knock on Dave the Bike Thief’s door, telling Fiona: ‘It’s just one bike.’
Fiona Bateman outside David Seagar’s with placard saying ‘Where’s My Bike Dave
CCTV allegedly showing David Saegar stealing the bike in Witney, Oxfordshire
READ MORE: ELITE CYCLIST SPENT £6K ON DRONES AND DROVE TO POLAND TO RETRIEVE HIS STOLEN BIKES
Damian Groves, 34, is well-known in cycling circles as is his partner Emily Smith, 33. Thieves stole four pro bikes belonging to the couple which Mr Groves was determined to get back
‘That’s when I got my Sharpie pen out,’ says Fiona. With that pen she wrote a large sign asking, ‘Where’s my bike Dave?’
Then, braving the winter chill, she promptly installed herself with the aforementioned sign outside the home of 49-year-old Dave Seagar — as ‘Dave the Bike Thief’ is more traditionally known — for three full days. And only then did Fiona finally clap eyes on a police officer… when a local constable came to tell her that she could not block Seagar’s driveway or harass him in any way!
‘When I suggested that seeing as he was here he could knock on the door and see what’s what, he told me that’s not what he had been sent out for,’ Fiona says with a raised eyebrow.
Was there ever a more perfect snapshot of the stultifying paralysis and baffling attitudes of today’s police, who appear to see low-level crime as something of a nuisance that householders should simply put up with? Fiona is hard-pushed to think of one.
‘I know the police have a difficult job, and I know the law’s got to be there to protect those who are innocent, but it appears to protect the criminal as well, so what deterrent is there?’ she asks.
‘I don’t know all the answers, but I do know something has to change because theft is theft, whether it’s a £50,000 supercar or a £500 bike, and you shouldn’t be expected to suck it up if someone makes off with something you have worked hard for.
‘No one wants a situation where people are taking the law into their own hands, but there is a lot of frustration out there.’
This sentiment — one surely shared by all reading this today — is all the more pointed, as it comes from someone who isn’t an activist or a vigilante, just an ordinary working mum who has found herself the unexpected poster girl for the grievances of a vast swathe of the nation.
She and her husband Bob, a former compliance manager for a fire alarm company, run a small store in Kidlington. The couple have two children — a 21-year-old daughter and Graeme, 20, who is currently living with his parents after finishing a college course in gaming development.
He doesn’t hold a driving licence so, aside from public transport, his bike — purchased a few years ago and upgraded over the years with new tyres — is his primary means of getting around.
Seagar was convicted at Oxfordshire Crown Court after jurors were told that he had ‘a sense of entitlement’ and used bolt cutters to slice through locks
READ MORE: FURIOUS MOTHER CONFRONTS ‘SCUMBAG THIEVES’ WHO STOLE BIKES
Or was, until November 17, 2021, when Bob was doing some odd jobs outside the family home and saw a tall figure cycling past wheeling another bike alongside him.
‘He had seen the same person a few moments earlier cycle up the road,’ Fiona says. ‘Bob went to look in the carport and saw Graeme’s bike was missing, so he shouted to ask if I knew whether Graeme was out on it at the time.’
He wasn’t of course: a man they later came to know was Dave Seagar had taken it, as could clearly be seen on a CCTV camera installed by one of their neighbours. It showed Seagar enter the carport, slice through the lock with a pair of bolt cutters and wheel it away.
‘It was as clear as day,’ as Fiona puts it. ‘So I put some footage on Facebook and asked if anyone knew who it was.
‘My phone was then pinging away with people saying, “Oh, that’s Dave the Bike Thief.’’ So I realised he obviously had a name for it locally.’
Indeed he did: another neighbour had uncovered Ring doorbell footage of Dave allegedly taking another bike in a similar fashion. ‘Somebody else then said he had been riding past her house with numerous bikes all morning,’ Fiona says.
By then Fiona and Bob had already called the police, who had told them to report the theft online, which they duly did. ‘Then, once we had the video footage and his address we updated them,’ Fiona says.
So when by the next morning the Batemans had heard nothing, Bob telephoned the police again. ‘The attitude of the person on the end of the line was, “Well, it’s just one bike — what do you want us to do?’’
‘But it isn’t just one bike, it’s lots of bikes — and even if it was just one bike, it had still been stolen from its rightful owner and something should be done,’ Fiona says.
The fire had been lit, and a clearly frustrated Fiona knew she had to do something. ‘I said to Bob, “I’m going to stand outside his house.” I’m not sure what exactly I wanted to achieve, but I just wanted to do something,’ she says.
Her husband knew better than to try to dissuade her, but after his wife’s departure he phoned the police to tell them he was slightly concerned for her safety.
‘And about 20 minutes later a policeman turned up to tell me what I could and couldn’t do,’ says Fiona. ‘He said I’m not allowed to talk to Dave, I’m not allowed to obstruct him, and I’m not allowed to stand right outside his house.
‘I must admit I was a bit riled. I said surely that isn’t very fair and given he was here, why didn’t he go and ask him or go and look in his garden?’ A fair question: the police had that CCTV footage after all. So why didn’t he? ‘He said he couldn’t because that’s not why he was there,’ says Fiona. ‘They’ve got their way of doing things, and it’s got to be done right.’
Also fair — except that Fiona had submitted a crime report with evidence, and here was the suspect’s address. Surely ‘doing something right’ would involve a door knock? ‘You would think so,’ says Fiona.
Instead, after the police officer left, and Fiona’s husband Bob came to join her, it was up to her to confront Seagar when he came out to remonstrate with her and tell her she had the wrong person.
‘He’s quite a big bloke, so I was glad Bob was with me,’ she admits. ‘Bob spoke to him and said, “We’ve got you on CCTV.’’ And he just laughed and walked off.’
Undeterred, Fiona remained outside Dave’s house for three chilly days, from ten in the morning until 4pm, placard in hand, buoyed by local support.
‘There were people driving past and handing me hot chocolate out the window and hand warmers, asking if I needed the loo, things like that,’ she says.
Fiona knew by then she had a vanishingly small chance of getting her son’s bike back, as a neighbour claimed that on the day it was stolen a van had arrived at Seagar’s home and loaded several bicycles in the back before driving away.
‘We gave the police the number plate of that van as well,’ says Fiona. ‘It got people talking because it wasn’t just my bike, it’s a problem everywhere.’ That is certainly true. It’s estimated that by the end of this year there will have been 71,541 cases of bike theft across England alone.
Only around 5 per cent are ever recovered and reunited with their owners. Little wonder, then, that frustrated bicycle owners have taken to their own sleuthing. Across the country, several self-styled vigilante groups have sprung up, advertising their services as a means to reunite owners with their stolen bikes.
Several frustrated bike owners approached Fiona during her sit-in to share their own horror stories. ‘One lady had had her disabled daughter’s custom-made bike stolen — I mean what can anyone do with a disabled bike, made purely for her?’ she says. Another woman told her that once she had alerted police that her stolen bike was being advertised for sale they had suggested she herself pose as a buyer to get it back.
‘It beggars belief really, doesn’t it?’ Fiona says.
Story after story, all of them with the same theme: it’s just a bike, and the police have got better things to do.
‘I understand the police need evidence before pressing charges, and you have to have due process, but I’m not sure how much more evidence they could have needed in my case,’ she says.
‘If police had knocked on Seagar’s door on the day of the theft I think there is a high chance I could have got my bike back.’ As it happens, Dave Seagar was eventually brought to book earlier this month, after being arrested and charged with eight bike thefts committed during the summer of 2022 — meaning Graeme’s bicycle was not on the charge sheet.
He was convicted at Oxfordshire Crown Court after a hearing in which jurors were told that Seagar had ‘a sense of entitlement’ and used bolt cutters to slice through locks and get away with bicycles ranging in value from a few hundred pounds to an e-bike worth more than £2,000.
One victim returned from an appointment to find that his bicycle, left locked up outside a GP surgery in Witney, had vanished.
Seagar was given a two-year jail sentence, suspended for two years.
By way of mitigation, his barrister, Peter du Feu, suggested that his client’s own bike had been stolen and that his mobility problems had made Seagar ‘fairly callous’ about taking other people’s, while a probation officer said he stole bikes ‘deliberately and brazenly’ to get him from A to B.
‘That irritated me,’ says Fiona now. ‘He clearly didn’t need to go from A to B in our case as he was already on a bike, and in any case the fact that he’d had his bike stolen at some time in the past doesn’t entitle you to steal another.’
No one would argue with that. The big question, of course, is what is to be done about it. ‘I wish I knew,’ says Fiona.
‘It almost needs to go back to having a bobby on the beat who knows the community and when these things happen goes and knocks on their door.’
When we spoke to Thames Valley Police they encouraged cyclists to visit their website for tips on keeping bikes safe and a spokesman said: ‘We take all reports of cycle theft seriously and will investigate when such reports are made.
‘In this case, we received a report of a theft in Witney at around 1.25pm on November 17 2021.
‘Following an investigation, the report was filed pending further information coming to light.
‘Anyone with further information should call 101 or make a report on our website, quoting reference number 43210520290.’
How typically useless.
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