The Telegraph 2024-02-08 00:00:32

Security fears as top Cabinet Office official quits to work for UAE

The Government’s executive director of communications, who has been involved in sensitive discussions on national security, is to take a job at the United Arab Emirates’s foreign ministry.

Alex Aiken, who in recent years has sat in on security meetings including Cobra, will move to the country to advise Abu Dhabi on communications.

Despite the defection being made public on Wednesday, Mr Aiken intends to remain in his position in the Cabinet Office until April.

Conservative MPs questioned if that was appropriate, noting that even in the private sector employees have to step back after announcing joining a rival company.

The UK Government’s ties with the UAE have come under scrutiny in recent months as ministers decide whether to approve an Abu Dhabi-backed takeover of The Telegraph.

RedBird IMI, a US-based group that is 75 per cent funded by the UAE, is attempting to take control of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator magazine.

MPs from across the political divide have sounded the alarm, with some warning that effective UAE ownership of a British newspaper would undermine free speech and democracy.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said on Wednesday night that Mr Aiken would stand down from any work perceived to be a conflict of interest.

However, it is not clear whether Mr Aiken is required to take a break before starting the UAE role.

The development emerged on the same day that Mr Aiken’s wife, the Conservative Party deputy chairman Nickie Aiken, announced that she would stand down at the next general election.

Mrs Aiken, the Tory MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, said her husband had “accepted a job offer overseas” and “deserves my full support as he pursues a new career”.

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, has ordered investigations from the media regulator Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into the proposed takeover of The Telegraph.

The Cabinet Office, the department where Mr Aiken is based, also has the power to intervene on national security grounds, though has not done so yet.

A Cabinet Office insider insisted that Mr Aiken had not been involved in any discussions about the proposed Telegraph takeover.

Higher salaries in Middle East

Mr Aiken is paid between £145,000 and £149,999, according to transparency data released last July. The Telegraph understands senior communications jobs in some Middle Eastern nations have recently been touted at four times that. Mr Aiken’s new salary or start date is not known.

He has been in political communications for much of his working life, having been director of communications and strategy at Westminster council between 2000 and 2012.

Since then he has held a variety of roles in government, including a role which oversaw communication strategy in the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office.

When departing government ministers and the most senior civil servants get new jobs, they must consult a body called the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments [Acoba].

But given Mr Aiken’s position below the top rung of the Civil Service, his case was handled within the Cabinet Office, whose permanent secretary, Alex Chisholm, is understood to have given approval.

Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is the decision-maker on any Telegraph national security intervention, was not involved in the process, according to a Cabinet Office source.

The idea that Mr Aiken will remain at the heart of government for weeks after announcing he will join the UAE led to concerns being raised by some Conservative MPs.

Neil O’Brien, a former Tory government minister, said: “Alex is very highly regarded. Yet many people will be extremely surprised that you can take a job working for a foreign government but still work for our government. We need much clearer rules.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said: “I wish him and Nickie the best of good fortune. But I do think this demonstrates it’s high time for there to be much greater clarity over what ministers and civil servants can do once they leave their jobs in government.

“It is customary in the private sector that when someone announces they are taking another job in a similar space that they would leave pending their start in the new role. When it comes to foreign governments, surely that should very much be the case?”

Announcing her decision to stand down, Mrs Aiken said in a statement on Wednesday: “This is not a decision I have taken lightly. My husband, Alex, who has supported me steadfastly through my political career, has accepted a job offer overseas and he deserves my full support as he pursues a new career.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Alex Aiken will leave the Civil Service in April to take up a new role as a communications adviser to the ministry of foreign affairs in the United Arab Emirates. He has worked in the Cabinet Office for the last decade, serving as executive director, government communication.

“His new role has been vetted through the Cabinet Office business appointment rules process. He will abide by the standard conditions governing senior ivil service external appointments. 

“The process for appointing his successor will be announced in due course.”

Starmer set to abandon £28 billion green investment pledge

Sir Keir Starmer is set to formally abandon his £28 billion green investment pledge on Thursday, arguing that Labour can no longer promise to borrow that amount a year.

The Labour leader will say the party is still committed to borrowing to invest, but, according to a senior Labour source, he will no longer stand by the figure of £28 billion as the ambition.

The move comes after months of increasingly loud attacks from the Conservatives about the policy, which was first unveiled in the autumn of 2021.

It is an attempt to finally give clarity over a position that has been repeatedly watered down and on which shadow cabinet ministers have voiced differing stances in recent weeks.

Sir Keir is likely to blame the move on economic woes seen in recent years under Tory rule and what Labour has claimed is the Conservatives’ “scorched earth” approach to finances that will leave them limited manoeuvrability after the election. 

The Tories are likely now to turn their fire on the promises underpinned by the £28 billion a year borrowing plan, specifically the drive to bring about “clean energy” by 2030.

Rishi Sunak and his senior colleagues have been airing the argument this year that Labour does not have a credible plan for government and that more borrowing will mean more tax rises.

In a Tory advertising campaign on the economy released on Wednesday, Mr Sunak explicitly made reference to Labour’s £28 billion pledge and argued it would lead to higher taxes.

Splits in party

The decision by Sir Keir, first reported in the Guardian, reflects how he and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, have put at the heart of their re-election pitch the message that Labour can be trusted with the public finances.

But the move could reopen splits in the Labour coalition. Trade unions and Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, have been reportedly pressing Sir Keir to hold firm.

Tory strategists have taken heart from how flat-footed Labour has been in attempting to neutralise Conservative attacks over the figure, with the row making headlines for weeks.

The initial promise of £28 billion a year of new borrowing was eventually changed to include the £8 billion a year that is already borrowed for green projects. 

Then it was no longer going to come in from the first year of a Labour government but the second half of the next parliament instead. Then the whole policy was dependent on Labour’s “fiscal rules”.

Now, Sir Keir is expected to say that the party is no longer aiming to hit the £28 billion a year at all in the next parliament. The exact phrasing of the new position remains to be seen.

The Tory aides planning the next election who have relentlessly gone after the £28 billion promise will be heartened by Sir Keir’s decision to abandon the figure.

On Wednesday, they launched a related political attack, using Treasury analysis to claim that Labour’s plans to improve energy efficiency in 19 million homes in the next decade would cost not £6 billion as Labour claimed but £13 billion.

The analysis was dismissed as “bogus” by Labour figures, who noted it assumed all funding for the policy would be funded from central government, which was not their approach.

Yet it acted as a reminder that the Tories in the coming year will continue to zoom in on specific Labour promises, not least on green issues, and question the credibility of those plans.

Mr Sunak’s key message to voters is that it is best to “stick with the plan” under the Tories rather than risk returning “back to square one” under Sir Keir.

The general election is expected to be held in the autumn. The Tories remain close to 20 percentage points behind Labour, a result that would remove them from office if replicated on voting day.

Prince William thanks nation for support over King’s cancer: ‘It means a great deal to us all’

The Prince of Wales has thanked the nation for the “kind messages of support” for his father and his wife, as he returned to public duty for the first time since the King’s cancer diagnosis was revealed.

The Prince, who has been at his wife’s bedside following her serious abdominal surgery, undertook his first engagements in nearly four weeks, expressing gratitude for the support “in recent days”.

“It means a great deal to us all,” he said.’

It comes after Buckingham Palace announced on Monday that the King had been diagnosed with an unspecified form of cancer and would be cancelling public engagements to undergo treatment as an outpatient.

Speaking at a fundraising gala for the London Air Ambulance, the Prince said he wanted to take the opportunity to give personal thanks, adding: “It’s fair to say the past few weeks have had a rather ‘medical’ focus.”

Tom Cruise, who once landed a helicopter on the lawn at Windsor Castle after being invited to tea with the late Queen, was among the gala attendees. He and the Prince posed for a photograph together and shook hands

The Princess of Wales, was at home recuperating from her surgery, while his father was at Sandringham embarking on a temporary new life of working from home for the duration of his cancer treatment.

The King had a telephone call with Rishi Sunak on Wednesday night, with the Prime Minister wanting to convey his good wishes personally.

Their formal weekly audiences are expected to return in person from Feb 21, subject to the Prime Minister’s diary and the monarch’s health.

Having received his first treatment for cancer on Monday, the King has now retreated to his Norfolk home to rest in the country with the Queen by his side.

Nevertheless, he is understood to have also been working on his red boxes and correspondence, and is in regular touch with senior aides as they get used to a new regime to protect the King’s health.

His younger son, the Duke of Sussex, flew back to California on Wednesday, 25 hours after he landed: an even shorter visit than his 28-hour whistlestop trip for the Coronation.

Princes William and Harry did not meet or speak.

As the Prince of Wales arrived at a gala for the London Air Ambulance at hotel Raffles London, he told the assembled press: “We really appreciate everyone’s kind messages. Thank you.”

The Queen will return to public engagements on Thursday for the first time since her husband’s diagnosis, and the Princess Royal will continue her busy programme.

Sadiq Khan rules out meeting woman who lost limbs in Tube accident

Sadiq Khan has ruled out meeting with a commuter who lost her right arm and leg after being run over by two Tube trains on her way home from work.

Sarah de Lagarde, who is suing Transport for London (TfL) for not taking responsibility for the accident, claimed the Mayor of London’s office turned down her requests for a meeting with Mr Khan, despite an intervention from Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.

However, when pressed by The Telegraph on whether Mr Khan was willing to meet Ms de Lagarde, his office continued to rule out the meeting until the claim was resolved.

A spokesman said: “The Mayor’s thoughts remain with Sarah and her loved ones. He has asked to be kept updated and is very keen to meet with Sarah once the claim is resolved.”

She has launched a legal battle against TfL, which, she says, has not accepted responsibility for what happened. Mr Khan is chairman of the TfL board.

The 46-year-old mother slipped on a wet, uneven platform at High Barnet station in north London in September 2022, and fell down the gap between the train and the platform “into the darkness”.

She broke her nose and two front teeth in the fall, but nobody heard her desperate cries for help.

After being hit by two separate trains, Mrs de Lagarde was rushed to hospital and had to have an arm and a leg amputated.

She now uses two prosthetic limbs, including a bionic arm.

‘No staff on the platform’

Recalling her accident, she said outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London on Wednesday: “There were no staff on that platform, and no one was watching CCTV. No one had responded to my screams for help.

“Twenty-two tonnes of steel crushed my limbs, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, I remained on the tracks undetected until the second train came into the station, crushing me for a second time.

“A few weeks before I was hit by the two Tube trains, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with my husband, which was a lifelong dream of mine.

“I felt on top of the world, and overnight all that changed. I am now severely disabled for life.”

After giving her statement to the media, Mrs de Lagarde walked up the steps of the court to formally lodge her legal case.

She said TfL’s conclusion that her accident was “unique” was wrong, and believes the organisation’s leadership needs an “urgent wake-up call”.

She added: “TfL initially concluded that I fell because I was drunk and wearing high heels, neither of which were true.

“Is TfL above the law? TfL simply say that this was a series of unfortunate and unique events that resulted in the injured person sustaining life-changing injuries.  

“TfL deny any moral or legal responsibility for my accident.

“My local MP, Keir Starmer, asked Sadiq Khan to meet me to discuss the wider safety issues that my case raises and whether any lessons can be learned.

“Sadiq Khan’s office turned my requests down. They felt a meeting was inappropriate.

“There needs to be an independent and comprehensive review of TfL safety procedures so that meaningful lessons can be learned.”

Mrs de Lagarde said she has since been contacted by “hundreds of people” who have either been injured or have experienced a near-miss on the underground network.

“Last week’s Victoria bus crash is the latest example of such an incident,” she added. Why is this still happening?”

Her solicitor, Thomas Jervis, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, said: “I am at a loss to understand why there is such a closed approach to doing better in terms of safety.

“These are not just statistics, they are human beings. We are talking about people’s lives. Sarah and all users of London’s transport network deserve so much better.”

An investigation into Mrs de Lagarde’s accident was carried out by TfL and the Office of Rail and Road Accident Investigation Branch was notified, but concluded no further investigation was necessary.

Nick Dent, the director of customer operations at London Underground, said: “TfL is responding to a legal claim which has been brought by solicitors on behalf of Sarah de Lagarde and I am not in a position to comment publicly further.

“However, our thoughts continue to be with Sarah and her family following the devastating incident at High Barnet station and we have offered her direct support.

“Safety is our top priority and we continue to take every possible measure to learn from any incident and put in place appropriate improvements.”

Fluoride to be added to drinking water under new legal powers

Fluoride will be added to drinking water for millions of Britons under new legal powers, in the biggest expansion of the health measure since the 1980s.

In plans to improve the nation’s teeth, an initial 1.6 million people will see the mineral added to their water supply, following a consultation in areas including Northumberland, Teesside, Durham and South Tyneside.

The Government said its long-term ambition was to bring fluoridation to deprived areas of the country, highlighting Ireland and the US, where 73 per cent of people live in areas where fluoride is added to the water.

It is part of the NHS Dental Recovery Plan, which was released on Wednesday. 

The issue has sparked controversy in the past, and currently only five water companies add fluoride to water in the UK, mainly in the North-East and West Midlands, covering less than 10 per cent of Britons.

In a letter to dentists, Andrea Leadsom, Minister for Public Health, said: “Under new legislation, we have made it simpler to start new water fluoridation schemes.

“Our long-term ambition is to systematically bring fluoridation to more of the country, with a particular focus on the most deprived areas, which stand to benefit most from fluoridation.”

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water in varying amounts depending on location, and is known to make teeth stronger and reduce decay. For that reason, it is often added to toothpaste and mouthwash.

It has been included in drinking water in some parts of the UK since 1964, while in some areas of the country natural fluoride levels already reach the target concentration.

Sir Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, has claimed that adding fluoride to water supplies could reduce cavities by 17 per cent among the richest and 28 per cent among the poorest.

It is damaging in larger quantities, however, and in the past it has been linked to health conditions such as fluorosis – a build-up in the teeth and bones – as well as bone cancer, impaired brain development and Down’s syndrome.

Fear of harm has left some local authorities reluctant to introduce fluoride, which led to the Government taking the decision out of their hands in the recent Health and Care Act.

Campaigners argue that nothing should be added to water supplies, and claim the scheme removes the right of consent to medical treatment. They argue that less coercive interventions, such as teeth-brushing programmes, would do more good.

A 2007 Nuffield Council on Bioethics report concluded that good evidence for or against water fluoridation was lacking and advised that local communities should be left to decide.

In 2014, Southampton abandoned its fluoridation scheme following public opposition led in part by the Green Party.

Responding to the new plans, a spokesman for the Green Party said: “The Green Party is opposed to the artificial mass fluoridation of drinking water. There is conflicting evidence on the benefits to dental health of this practice and major concerns on the cumulative negative wider health effects.

“There are further concerns on the links with the chemical industry that supplies artificial fluoride and the compulsory nature of its addition to drinking water that denies consumers choice.”

Lord Reay, a Conservative peer, has said he has “grave concerns” about the risks posed by widespread fluoridation, claiming studies have shown that IQ levels drop significantly in bottle-fed babies in fluoridated Canadian communities.

“You can repair a damaged tooth but not a damaged brain,” he told the House of Lords during a debate on the Health and Care Bill.

A court case is ongoing in San Francisco to determine whether the US environmental protection agency should ban fluoridation of drinking water to protect foetuses and children from the risk of neurodevelopmental problems.

A recent report from the University of Manchester, which looked at the dental records of 6.4 million Britons, also questioned the benefit, after finding fluoride reduced invasive dental treatments by just three per cent and prevented decayed, missing and filled teeth by just two per cent.

The team argued that since fluoride toothpastes became available in the mid-1970s, water schemes were unlikely to bring the same benefits as in the past.

But Barry Cockcroft, the former chief dental officer for England, and now British Fluoridation Society chairman, said: “There is a lot of very good evidence of benefit and no robust evidence of harm.

“We know that areas like the East Midlands are keen to expand so I think the appetite is greater now than it used to be.”

Tooth decay is the most common reason for hospitalisation in children aged six to ten in England and previous studies have shown children who drink fluoridated water have 2.2 fewer teeth affected by decay than those in non-fluoridated areas.

Dr Charlotte Eckhardt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, added: “Adding fluoride to drinking water can significantly reduce tooth cavities and extractions among children and young people, with those in deprived areas benefiting most from fluoridation schemes.

“The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England supports targeted fluoridation to these low socioeconomic areas and the introduction of supervised tooth brushing. Expanding water fluoridation will help to tackle the inequalities in dental care.”

‘I’ve had a loose tooth for a year’: The 14-hour queue for an NHS dentist

It’s the kind of queue you might expect to see at a concert, or perhaps for a newly-released film.

But the people snaking around two blocks in St Pauls, Bristol, are waiting for something rather more mundane – to register at an NHS dentist.

On Monday, St Pauls Dental Practice opened its doors to new applicants, many of whom have not seen a dentist for years. The queue formed at 4am, with some waiting until 6pm to get to the front and police being called after scuffles broke out.

On Tuesday, the situation is more ordered, with a ticketing system introduced and the elderly and disabled allowed easier access. Yet even with the bouncers and marshals in high-vis jackets, still the line stretches for 200 metres, and around the corner past the kebab house and towards the Criterion pub.

Carol Sherman, 59, who is one of those helping organise the queue, says: “On the first day, I got here at 4am and waited so I was the first one in. It’s not just people from St Pauls, they are coming from all over Bristol. It’s good, it shows what can be done when a community pulls together. Other areas should try it.”

The previous dentist surgery on this spot was run by Bupa, and had roughly 7,000 people on its books. But it closed its doors last June citing the difficulty of recruiting staff. Since then, a grassroots campaign has taken place, with loud protests outside the site each Thursday afternoon.

One of the campaign leaders, Barbara Cook, is now witnessing her hard work bear fruit and also dealing with those with frayed nerves and trying to queue jump. She says: “At first, we were fighting for the Bupa one not to close. It had been given an NHS contract and told to deliver, so we didn’t understand how it was just allowed to shut down.”

After it did close however, she and other community leaders worked tirelessly with local councillors, the integrated care board that is responsible for health services in the area, and the landlord in securing this new practice.

“We had to make sure the site wasn’t sold,” she says. “And we sent a clear message that having access to an NHS dentist was our right. We are hoping that this time the practice is sustainable.”

The new dentist has been set up by three women – the operational manager Shivani Bhandari, the lead dentist Gauri Pradhan, and the manager Anuja Rathore, who also run Twindent NHS practice in Southmead.

On Tuesday, as well as the pavement queue outside, their waiting room is full and the door heavily guarded by volunteer bouncers, but they take the time to explain why they have chosen to invest in the community.

The practice, they say, will have two dentists and two dentist therapists, who can do most of the work except for extractions, and it will be an all-female team.

It will take people from all over Bristol, but 50 per cent of places are reserved for those in the local area.

Pradhan, who is from India but came to the UK in 2007, says: “We are all passionate about NHS dentistry. Personally, I moved here and wanted to give something back. There are lots of people here in the queue who need to be seen.

“Some of them have swelling and need extractions, and others just need basic work. My husband is ready to divorce me, not just because of the lower pay but also the long hours and the workload on weekends, but this has to be done.”

She explains why so many areas have lost NHS dentists, saying contracts drawn up a long time ago sometimes left dentists unable to meet the demands on them. The agreed pay deals meant many dentists were at times left working for less than a nurse.

“Now, it is getting better. If you take over a surgery you can renegotiate the contract and get better pay so you can afford to do it,” she says. “We want other private dentists to do this too, to come back to the NHS.”

Bhandari is also keen to explain her involvement. She says: “It has been so busy. And on top of dealing with the queue, I’ve been answering 250 emails from people asking to join. We don’t know how many people we will take. So far, we’ve got 1,500 on the books. We want to get up to capacity, but will only be certain about numbers in a few months when we see how much work our current clients need.”

Last year, the British Dental Association (BDA) warned of an exodus of NHS dentists, with figures showing the workforce had been reduced to 2012 levels. An ever-increasing number of dental surgeries do little or no NHS-funded work, and the BDA has cited a £3 billion dental budget that has not kept up with inflation or population growth.

A freedom of information request from the Guardian showed there were 1,100 fewer NHS dentists last year than pre-pandemic. Analysis by the BDA shows this has left nearly six million adults trying and failing to get an NHS dentist appointment in the past two years, and that 83 per cent of surgeries were refusing to accept NHS patients.

Bhandari says areas like the South West are left with few dentists, as many want to work in London where there is more money. And she points out that 80 per cent of NHS dentists are from overseas, but once they arrive, it takes roughly a year before they can work for the NHS.

She says: “This is causing big delays. We are also aware that opening up will mean people are seen and more may need to go to the dental hospital. But we know that it is inundated so we are trying to do lots of surgery here too.”

In the queue, locals are grateful for the practice – even if they have had to stand and wait in line all day.

Mohammed Mohammud, 55, says: “I’m sick at the moment, I don’t have money for a private dentist. We need this. I haven’t had my teeth looked at for a long time.”

Another, Judith Davis, 53, a community worker, queued for eight hours to join, and says: “I’ve had a loose tooth for about a year and haven’t been able to have it looked at. It’s intolerable, and it’s the same all over the place. My sister lives in Cornwall and she can’t see a dentist either. 

“We must remember that dental health is linked to health and wellbeing, plus it’s an indicator if someone is being abused. We need the NHS to return.”

It is thought the lack of dentists has caused a spike in poor dental health. NHS statistics show that between April 2022 and March 2023, NHS hospitals in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare saw 775 patients with dental abscesses and nearly 300 with tooth decay.

Preet Kaur Gill, the Shadow Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, said on X, formerly Twitter: “99 per cent of dentists across the south-west aren’t accepting any new adult patients. Labour has a plan to rescue NHS dentistry: 700,000 extra urgent appointments, targeted recruitment to areas most in need and targeted toothbrushing scheme for three-to-five-year-olds.”

The BDA said fundamental reform was needed. It said on X: “Does the future of NHS dentistry involve the police turning away desperate patients? If ministers think sticking-plaster policies will solve this crisis, then these scenes will be repeated. Nothing short of fundamental reform can restore access to millions.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are making progress to boost NHS dental services, with 23 per cent more treatments delivered last year compared to the previous year, and 1.7 million extra adults and 800,000 more children receiving NHS dental care.”

After two days of chaos, Bhandari is clear what she needs to do. She goes outside, and tells those remaining in the queue that they cannot be registered today and that they need to email their request in.

She says: “We would like to keep registering people but it needs to be done in a slower fashion now. We won’t have any more queuing. From Wednesday, we need to start seeing people’s teeth and giving them the care they deserve. That’s what we are here to do.”

London Rolex thefts blow up into trade deal row with India

Indian businessmen fear being mugged for their Rolex watches in London, it was revealed during trade talks.

David Lammy, Labour’s foreign secretary, is visiting the country to negotiate a bilateral trade deal, but the topic of discussion soon turned to the experiences of India’s top chief executives being robbed when visiting Mayfair.

Muggings – and the failure of police to respond – was cited as one of their biggest concerns.

Devin Narang, an energy entrepreneur, told Mr Lammy: “People are being mugged in the heart of London – in Mayfair.

“All CEOs in India have had an experience of physical mugging and the police not responding.”

Mr Narang, who is a member of the committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, added: “Indians do carry expensive things. But the police not responding is a matter of concern.” 

British officials confirmed that the prospect of being mugged on the streets of the UK capital ranked alongside immigration delays as one of the main concerns of India’s elite, the Financial Times reported.

Mr Lammy also said the issue of crime in London had been raised several times during his visit to New Delhi.

Mr Narang added: “London is a walking city. You don’t want to look over your shoulder all the time. You don’t want to go to a city where you’re likely to be mugged in the streets.”

Street crime in London is rising, with the number of “thefts from a person”, including handbags, watches and mobile phones rising 27 per cent in 2023 from 57,468 to 72,756.

The numbers of thefts in the borough of Westminster, which includes Mayfair, rose by 40 per cent, from 18,310 in 2022 to 25,650, according to police data.

Police warned that criminal gangs with specialist knowledge of luxury watches are targeting owners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between the hours of 11pm and 4am.

Three hundred watches to the value of £4 million were stolen in six months as part of “organised opportunist” attacks in central London.

The Mayor of London’s office said: “The Met have stepped up their response to robberies – which are rising nationally – and have specialist teams out proactively targeting the most prolific offenders and robbery hotspots.”