A Facebook market-place add depicting a bike for sale three days after it was stolen from Wellington Central.
A Wellington woman was chased through the city’s streets while reclaiming her stolen electric bike after finding it for sale on Facebook.
The woman, who Stuff has chosen not to identify for her safety, required counselling after she followed up on a Facebook listing depicting the bike.
What followed was a chase through Wellington as the woman rode away on her reclaimed bike and the sellers, one of whom police later confirmed had a manslaughter conviction, gave chase on a scooter.
“I’m scared to ride my bike and I haven’t been sleeping. I’m a strong girl, but this really shook me,” she said.
Wellington police estimated that more than 330 bikes had been reported stolen in the region in the past year, nearly two-thirds of the number of car thefts reported over the same period.
Sergeant Dean Burger said stealing a bike can result in the same seven-year imprisonment penalty as stealing a car, but the lack of a national registration system meant bikes were harder to trace back to their owners.
A 2019 survey on the bike database website has found that less than a fifth of people who had their bike stolen ever saw it again.
The woman said she reported the theft to police after her e-bike disappeared from the Gray St bike rack in central Wellington. She contacted them again when she saw her bike posted on Facebook marketplace three days later.
She set up a meeting at a Mt Cook address as a prospective buyer, hoping that police would accompany her. .
The woman said police suggested she go to the meeting to check the serial number of the bike on offer.
Police advised her to call 111 once she had identified the bike and officers would come “to resolve the dispute” she said.
Arriving at the address, she was met by a man and a woman who she recognised from the Facebook listing.
Police later confirmed that both the people were known to police, one had a manslaughter conviction and the other had known gang connections.
“I went there with my friend and called the police and said I do not feel safe please come,” the woman said.
With the police still on the line, she said she put her phone in her pocket and went back to the deal.
“I said ‘before I give you the money, I want to take it for a test ride’ and I said to my friend ‘when I disappear, you get in the car, and you disappear,” she said.
The woman made her break towards Wellington central police station with the police still on the line in her jacket pocket, with the man following her on a scooter.
The woman said the man grabbed her when she stopped on Willis St and attempted to push her off the bike. He ran when she yelled to onlookers that she was on the phone to police.
“He had followed me on a scooter. I don’t want anyone else to go through this. If I was on the side streets with this guy I’m sure he would’ve hurt me,” she said.
Sergeant Dean Burger said that initial police advice was not to go to the meeting.
“The police position is always going to be that we don’t want people putting themselves in harms way,” he said.
Burger said the sellers’ criminal history necessitated caution to ensure the safety of anyone interacting with them whether they were sworn officers or civilians.
“It’s a risk not knowing who is selling it. We don’t want to be going into situations blindfolded,” he said.
Administrator of Facebook page Wellington Stolen Bikes Davide Conti said that the explosion of popularity of e-bikes appeared to be leading to the thefts of higher value bikes.
“Before it was seasonal. Now it’s a constant stream,” Conti said.
Burger recommend owners upload serial numbers and photographs to databases like snap.org or bikedatabase.co.nz to assist police in reuniting recovered bikes with their owners.