Postcodes: Surprise, Surprise!

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 25.

Coded Cycle mark

As reported in Newsletter 24 , the Cambridge City Crime and Disorder Reduction Strategy includes the goal ‘To work with owners and suppliers of cycles to reduce the level of cycle crime in Cambridge City’. One important factor in identifying a cycle as stolen is the ability to identify the rightful owner. Postcoding is surely one good way of achieving this: recently one of our bikes was stolen and then abandoned.

I’m sure it was because the thief had noticed the ‘CODED CYCLE’ sticker. Postcoding clearly works.

Or so I thought. But it isn’t as straightforward as I had supposed. Recently my wife noticed a good-looking bike at the Milton tip; since our daughter’s cycle had recently been vandalised beyond repair she bought it for a fiver. When we cleaned it up we discovered that it was postcoded.

Surprise number 1 was the discovery that the owner had not understood how postcoding works. Postcodes identify a road or part of a road; to identify one home, add the house number or name. This postcode had no house number, and covered 60 different houses. Even the most conscientious citizen might jib at writing 60 letters to establish whether an elderly bike was stolen or not.

Postcoding your bike?

  • The police generally don’t stamp the number onto the frame themselves, because of the fear of damaging it.
  • Postcode marking kits (engravers, fluorescent pens and dies) are available from the Crime Reduction Unit, generally via neighbourhood watch groups. Also CODED CYCLE stickers, which are a very important deterrent.
  • The Royal Mail’s postcode index is on the Web as

Surprise number 2 was the discovery that there is no national register of postcoded stolen property. I rang Parkside police station to report my discovery, and asked if they could identify the bike as stolen. All they could tell me was that it was not recorded in Cambridge as reported stolen. Since it was a Gloucester postcode I also established that it had not been reported in Cheltenham as stolen either.

Surprise number 3 came when we decided that we had done all we could to find a rightful owner and that we were entitled to keep the bike. I asked how we should replace one postcode with another. Nobody seemed to know the answer! I was sent several useful leaflets by the Crime Reduction Unit about the importance of postcoding. These even discussed how to check for codes when buying second-hand goods. But none of them said what to do next. Finally a long discussion with a very helpful officer at the local Crime Reduction Unit produced a solution which is clear and sensible. The original code should be surrounded by two asterisks, and then the new code added. The police (or a subsequent purchaser) can then check that the first transfer was indeed legal. This is not of course a trivial exercise, given the limited useful surface area provided by a modern cycle for postcoding.

Douglas de Lacey