Rome mayor hits back after theft alert to Britons

Pickpocket hot spot: Termini rail station

AUGUST, 2013: The Mayor of Rome has accused Britain of alarmism after holidaymakers were warned that pickpocketing and petty theft had become endemic.

The British consul, David Broomfield, sounded the alert in response to a surge in British visitors seeking help from the embassy after having passports or possessions stolen.

In a note on the British Government’s website, he warned tourists to leave their valuables in hotel safes and to carry only what they needed for sightseeing.

“Visitors to Italy, and especially to Rome, should be aware of the high risk of personal theft, bag snatching, pickpocketing etc, that is endemic on public transport and at main tourist attractions in Rome,” Mr Broomfield wrote. “Targets are often hassled and jostled to distract them while other members of the gang go into action.”

It was the second warning that Mr Broomfield has issued this summer. In June, he posted a video advising Britons travelling to music festivals in Italy to be careful. “A bag over the back of a chair or on the floor in a restaurant or bar is such an easy target,” he said.

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Pickpocket hot spot: Trevi rail fountain

Alice Chamberlain, 16, from Sheffield, who had just arrived in Rome for a holiday with three friends, said that she had already been warned about petty crime, though she had not seen the consul’s alert.

“We were aware of other people telling us — like our parents,” she said as she enjoyed the sunshine near the Spanish Steps. “The guy who owns the hotel told us to be wary. He said to be careful in big crowds and … not to use ATMs at train stations.”

The latest trend is for pickpockets to dress up as tourists. Using maps as cover, they fish into the bags of genuine tourists. Problem areas include St Peter’s Square and the Colosseum, as well as the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the main Via del Corso through the historic centre of Rome.

Pickpocket hot spot: Colosseum

In the first half of this year, 203 people were arrested for pickpocketing. Twenty-four alleged pickpockets have been caught in the past week alone, many of them non-Italians. Two Bulgarians were held after allegedly taking an iPhone from a tourist in a clothes shop on Via del Corso. Police have reported young Roma pickpocketing. Many have been caught more than once, but are under 14 and so cannot be charged.

Ignazio Marino, the Rome Mayor, said: “Petty crime in many places in Europe and America is much higher than in Rome. The Italian capital is complex, like all big cities, but it’s hospitable and does not deserve to be the victim of alarmism.”

The warning over pickpockets is the latest controversy to affect Rome. The Bannister family, from Dudley in the West Midlands, were given a free holiday to the city last May after disclosing that they had been charged €64 (£55) — €16 each — for four ice creams. Antonio Gazzellone, Rome’s top tourist official, said at the time: “In this time of economic difficulties, €16 for an ice cream seems to be too much.”

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This is from last summer but seems appropriate in view of the previous post on Rome this morning.

h/t Tom Billesley