Why 'good Samaritan' delivery drivers may not be what they seem

Delivery drivers and couriers have become lockdown heroes. But this cautionary tale demonstrates that all is not necessarily what it seems

home delivery of groceries during lockdown uk
A much-needed delivery, but might there be a sinister side to the goods therein? Credit: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Only a few short weeks ago most of us didn't spare a thought for Britain's army of couriers and delivery drivers; they were just ordinary blokes going about their business bringing white goods, parcels and pizzas to homes and offices and blending into the background of everyday life. 

During the lockdown these – until recently categorised as unskilled – workers have become part of the nation’s lifeline transporting all sorts of goods to anyone who requires a home or office delivery, particularly food and medicine to the elderly, vulnerable and those self-isolating. Along with NHS staff and carers, they became heroes and gained recognition as key workers during the pandemic.

Some, however, are not playing the game. Take Mike [name changed], a 30-year-old registered delivery driver who normally drives the ubiquitous white Ford Transit van on his rounds in north London and Essex. His van is registered in his name, it’s taxed and he is correctly insured to drive it. His policy of always keeping within the speed limit, dressing appropriately and not being unpleasant when stopped by the police often got him a free pass when the same officers came across him again during routine checks while he went about his business.

I spoke to Mike, an ex-military man fallen on hard times, as he left Middlesex Crown Court where he was recently bailed – essentially for an offence of delivering the wrong type of goods to the wrong type of people. 

His scams were in plain sight of the police and only required a box of groceries containing bread, potatoes, tomatoes and a lettuce plus some tins of soup. Each food parcel cost him £3.50 in all. 

He had been caught driving a friend's van which turned out to be neither taxed nor insured and he was pulled over and searched. The officer appeared to have a precise idea of what he was looking for: the loaf of bread was found to contain yay (cocaine) and in the potatoes were cannabis wraps. He cursed himself for being blasé and careless and ruining a good business earning him £1,000 a week. 

Mike suggested to me that he could deliver a huge variety of street drugs hidden in his food parcels, each package showing a fake name at a genuine address, usually related to a retirement or nursing home. He maintained that because he had been stopped a dozen times in his own van and only searched a couple of times, he had become recognised as a ‘regular’ by the police and he normally wasn’t challenged.

While admitting to having also delivered stolen goods, mobile phones, knives and (once) a gun hidden in his parcels, he revealed that the big scam was actually delivering stolen vans to various parts of London and the Home Counties.

The ubiquitous van seldom arouses suspicion 

These vans were similar in type and colour to his own and bore the registration plates from his legal vehicle. Nothing untoward in this, he maintained, because to most observers one van is much like another and if you don’t cause suspicion, you don’t get stopped.

He laughingly likened this to the woman in the Second World War who every morning pushed her bicycle across the Polish border into Germany with a basket of clothing on the front. Every day for three years her basket was searched by the same border guard but he never found a thing. They met after the war and she revealed that she was smuggling bicycles for the Resistance.

Mike suggested that he did have principles and would not scout for some of the highly organised criminal gangs who, for instance, wanted him to fit tracking devices to cars on driveways so they would know when the houses were unoccupied. Nor would he ring bells or knock on doors on the pretence of delivering food parcels on premises that were to be targeted for a burglary or robbery. 

The lockdown, he suggests, has allowed anyone wearing a high-visibility vest and a mask and driving a decent van to carry a box almost anywhere without creating suspicion.

Mike has previous convictions for burglary and affray and is expecting a term of imprisonment. That said, an assault charge was dropped when it was discovered that the person he hit was stealing from the back of his van at the time, which he declared was a liberty.

His mitigation at his trial (necessary as others were involved) will be that he served in Afghanistan which, he said, sent him "off his rocker" and that he commenced his delivery service in good faith, as a service to the community.

This unfortunate former soldier had hit rock bottom but has, however, been inspired to get himself sorted out by his own hero and ex-soldier Captain Sir Tom Moore, donating his last £100 to Capt Moore's burgeoning fund in aid of the NHS.

Vehicle crime consultant Dr Ken German is a retired police officer with experience in international vehicle theft and fraud. He served for 25 years in the Metropolitan Police stolen car squad as Head of Technology, obtaining a PhD in international vehicle crime.

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