Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy London does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LONDON AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s United Kingdom-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
As a result of the close economic, social, political, and cultural ties shared by the U.S. and the UK, the number of American expatriate residents and short-term visitors in the UK is estimated at over a quarter million. Americans live and work throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Cities in the UK are relatively safer than comparable metropolitan areas in the U.S. However, there are significant incidents of crime affecting all members of the public. For 2016, the UK experienced a slight increase in the occurrence of both violent and non-violent crimes, especially in urban areas.
Violent criminal confrontations and the use of weapons are still relatively rare, although serious incidents are possible and do occur. Most violent crimes, including those involving firearms, are between members of rival criminal gangs. The personal possession of guns is outlawed, except for the strictly regulated use of shotguns for sporting purposes.
While personal assaults are less common in the UK, in comparison to the U.S., they do represent an area for concern.
Crimes in London, especially those targeting tourists, are typical, as they are in any large European city. Visitors or temporary residents may be more susceptible to criminal "targeting," due to their unfamiliarity with local practices. As in any other metropolitan area, there are high-crime areas/localities in cities throughout the UK. The UK has a comprehensive website that details crime reporting in a particular area.
Several crime trends emerged in 2016:
People using cell phones on the street were targeted by thieves on scooters in central and north London.
In wealthy areas of London, women walking alone were targeted for their jewelry, phones, and valuables, often at knife point. These attacks occurred mostly during the day by perpetrators prowling the streets in vans or large sport utility vehicles.
Vehicular break-ins increased in all parts of the city. Thieves force entry and take belongings and portable satellite navigation systems left in plain sight.
Theft of bags, purses, and phones in busy central London pubs, bars, and restaurants was also an increasing problem.
ATM scams continued to be prevalent at Oxford Street, Covent Garden, and in/around the Tube system.
Cybercrime is perceived by the British government to be a real, serious threat to national security and public safety. The government has identified cyberattacks against the UK by other states and ‘large-scale’ cybercrime as a ‘tier one’ threat (the highest level of threat) to national security. The UK government has sought to identify threats and opportunities presented by an increasingly connected world and highlighted the need to shape “training for mainstream law enforcement on cyber issues, and making sure the links to related issues such as bullying or child exploitation are made.”
Organized crime has been quick to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet, particularly the growth in e-commerce and online banking. Specialist criminal groups target individuals, small businesses, and large corporate networks to steal personal information in bulk in order to profit from compromised data. In November 2016, the UK government announced it would be spending £1.9 billion on a new National Cyber Security Strategy, in order to deal with cyber-attacks by “hostile foreign actors.”
For more information regarding cyber security and awareness, visit ‘The National Cyber Crime Unit’ (NCCU) led by the UK National Crime Agency.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Driving, aside from the challenge of driving on the left, is similar to driving in the U.S. City and country roads are generally excellent but are narrow and often congested in urban areas. Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of the extensive public transportation system, which includes bus, rail, and air travel options.
Visitors and new residents should be familiar with the meaning of British road signs, as these can vary significantly from those in the U.S. The U.K. publication entitled “Highway Code” can provide information on driving regulations and road signage. Penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are severe, often resulting in prison sentences.
The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways is 70 miles per hour. Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line. It is illegal to stop/park on a hard shoulder, except in an emergency. Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along motorways. White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along motorways point in the direction of the nearest call box.
Travelers intending to rent cars should make sure that they are adequately insured. U.S. auto insurance is not always valid internationally, and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.” A congestion charge of £11.50 is imposed on all cars entering much of central London (Mon-Fri, 0700-1800). Information on the congestion charge can be found on the “Transport for London” website.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transport is excellent and extensive. Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found on the “Transport for London” website. Information about the status of National Rail Services can be found on the National Rail Enquiries web site.
Other Travel Conditions
Pedestrian safety is a major consideration, as U.S. citizens are occasionally injured or killed when they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction from what they are accustomed to. There are reminders painted on the sidewalk curbs indicating the direction in which pedestrians must look before crossing. Visitors and new residents should be aware that, as a pedestrian, having the green traffic light does not mean it is safe to proceed into the street. As drivers, especially in urban centers, may not be entirely familiar with UK road signage and rules, pedestrians should always proceed with caution and never presume that being "right" means being safe.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LONDON AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
International terrorism continues to be a considerable concern in the UK. The large-scale terror attacks in France, Germany, Belgium, and Turkey in 2016 have put all of western and central Europe at an increased level of vigilance.
Islamist extremists continue to view the UK as a legitimate and high-priority target for attack. Following the attacks on the European mainland in 2016, the UK government has been increasingly vigilant against radical Islamist groups and their surrogates who have demonstrated their intent and capability to operate on UK soil. This threat is enhanced by the possibility of violence perpetrated by radicalized lone actors. The UK government assesses that the current threat of international terrorism against the country is “Severe,” meaning that an attack is “highly likely.” Threats against specific American targets in the U.K. are assessed at a “Substantial” level, meaning that there is a “strong possibility” of attack. Throughout the year, UK authorities have made various terror-related arrests and have increased police presence in communities throughout the region.
In October 2016, the U.K.’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC) increased the threat level for transport in London to “Severe” after the arrest of a 19-year old man who left a viable explosive device on the Jubilee Line of the London Underground. The investigation is ongoing, and the suspect is due in court in April 2017. Preliminary investigations have ruled out any terrorist affiliations.
In May 2016, the U.K. raised its threat level for Northern Ireland to "Substantial," meaning an attack on the British mainland was considered a strong possibility. Authorities feared violent dissident Republicans had enhanced their capabilities and could have had the ability to launch attacks in the UK. This coincided with the 100-year anniversary of the “Proclamation of Independence of the Republic of Ireland.” Republican dissident groups mostly target British police, military, and governmental interests and have not stated grievances against U.S citizens or the U.S. private sector. Any direct impact on U.S. interests would likely be a “wrong place, wrong time” scenario, rather than a targeted attack.
In December 2015, following the attacks in Paris, the U.K. National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), created a nationwide video campaign -- “Run, Hide, Tell” -- that advises members of the public on how to react in the event of a firearms or weapons attack. The four-minute film called “Stay Safe: Firearms and Weapons Attack” sets out three key steps for keeping safe and can be accessed at the National Police Chiefs Council website.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LONDON AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Given the diversity of the population, political events that take place around the globe can often precipitate demonstrations and protests in the U.K., particularly in London. The U.S. Embassy, Trafalgar Square, and Houses of Parliament are routinely the target of protest and civil unrest.
London has witnessed numerous, large-scale political demonstrations in recent years, such as the “Refugees Welcome Rally” in September 2015 that attracted over 100,000 protestors, and in June 2015, an estimated 250,000 people were said to have attended the capital’s “anti-austerity” protests.
Since the U.K.’s referendum in June 2016 to leave the EU, the country has seen numerous ‘Anti-Brexit’ protests, which have led to thousands of people demonstrating nationwide. These protests have not led to any serious outbreaks of civil disorder; however, such marches can lead to heated confrontations between pro-Brexiters and Remain campaigners.
The greatest hazards to visitors in Northern Ireland are along the protest and parade routes in Belfast during marching season, which typically occurs in the summer (June and July).
On days when large, political protests are planned, visitors and residents in the area should be cautious not to wear anything that might be seen as offensive by demonstrators and/or anything blatantly associated with the U.S., so as to maintain a low profile.
Though religious/ethnic undertones exist in many of protests and significant events, it is more appropriate to associate these events with the outward messages conveyed by the individuals or groups, rather than to attribute them to religious or ethnic tensions within the UK.
Response by police, fire, and emergency medical services are equivalent to those in the U.S. Police services are professional, well trained, and community-focused. All levels of police services continue to face daunting fiscal challenges and thus strongly encourage public participation in ensuring personal and neighborhood safety. These initiatives often take the form of extensive community policing programs that educate citizens, residents, and visitors regarding current crime and safety issues. Expatriate residents and long-term visitors may take advantage of the opportunities provided by UK emergency services to educate themselves on safety and security practices.
Policing units are routinely unarmed with the exception of a handful of specialized firearms support teams, counterterrorism protective specialists, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If arrested or detained, American citizens are advised to contact U.S. Embassy London’s American Citizen Services (ACS) unit. The Embassy's main number is +(44)(20) 7499-9000 and can be reached 24 hours a day.
Crime Victim Assistance
The nationwide telephone number for emergency assistance is 999. The number connects to an operator who can connect with any needed emergency service (police, fire, medical responders).
Non-emergency calls should be made to other numbers found in the local telephone directory for the service required. Non-emergency calls to the police may be directed to 101, which terminate at the local police precinct.
The Metropolitan Police Service employs 31,000 officers and 2,600 Police Community Support Officers, covering an area of 620 square miles and a population of 7.2 million.
Emergency medical assistance may be summoned by dialing 999 countrywide; in London, non-emergency medical advice is available by calling 111.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Patients may present themselves at the accident and emergency (referred to as “A and E”) department of major National Health Services (NHS) hospitals or at private urgent and emergency care clinics. Treatment for non-life-threatening conditions at “A and E” departments may require several hours, depending on demand. Those not covered by the NHS will be seen in NHS facilities for any medical emergency; however, they are generally expected to pay directly for the services. Those wishing to use private clinics will also be expected to pay directly for services, often at rates significantly higher than those in the U.S.
Key NHS Emergency Service Locations in London:
St. Mary’s Hospital
London, England W2 1NY