IT’S EYE WAY ROBBERY

HeadLine: IT’S EYE WAY ROBBERY

The People, 23/04/2000, p18&19
by SHAUN MILNE

GREEDY ticket touts are ripping off tourists on Britain’s most popular
ride, the London Eye, the Sunday People can reveal.
And today we are proud to name and shame the money-grabbing rats
conning ordinary decent people.
We can even disclose they’re spreading their vile racket as far as
America.
Foul-mouthed touts Gary Richards and George Williams are coining up to
£5,000 A DAY from families desperate for a 30-minute spin on the giant
Millennium wheel.
Richards and Williams, 50, and their three cronies demand DOUBLE the
face value of £7.45 tickets.
Visitors snap them up because they can jump queues lasting up to five
hours to get on the British Airways-sponsored Eye, which has been an
astounding success since it opened two months ago.
But security guards at the 450ft-high wheel on the south bank of the
Thames opposite Parliament can detect tickets bought from touts – and
are under orders to turn buyers away.
One bitter Scottish tourist who was conned by the touts said: “I’d like
to chuck them off the top of the Wheel.”
Richards and Williams muscled in when they saw the popularity of the
Eye, which has already attracted more than one million people including
stars like Sigourney Weaver, Denise van Outen and Joanna Lumley.
Sunday People investigators discovered the gang have…

THREATENED staff at the Eye with violence.

FLOWN to America to get advance orders from gullible Yanks.

USED teenage “spotters” to target potential customers and watch out
for police.

BOASTED they are making nearly pounds 1,000 a day each without
declaring it to the Inland Revenue.

The scam works like this – Richards and Williams, from South London,
have bought in advance huge chunks of tickets for the busiest times,
including this Easter weekend.
They pay £6.70 a ticket for the block bookings, which are perfectly
legal. Each ticket has the date and time of ride. The gang then targets
queues of frustrated tourists with the promise of an instant ride but
at a massively-inflated price – £15 each or £25 a pair.
One of the five-strong gang told our investigator: “Queue in the office
behind me if you want mate, but you won’t get on the Eye today if you
do, I guarantee it. This is the best way to do it, honestly.”
Asked why he was charging more than double the price he said: “It’s to
covers my expenses, innit.
“I’ve got to get the tickets upfront so people like you won’t have to
queue, it’s a service I’m doing.
“The people in the uniforms don’t like us doing it because they know
how much money can be made. On a good day I can make up to £800 or
£1,000.”
He had a steady stream of foreign tourists but the main business was
done by his ringleaders.
The head of the gang is George Williams, a big balding man who sells
directly in front of the ride.
The imposing figure sounds like an East End barrow-boy with his cry of
“Tickets, get your tickets here, beat the queues.”
He targets elderly visitors and families keen to avoid a long wait,
especially on a cold or wet day.
Williams, 50, told our man: “Yeah, these will get you right on but
you’d better be quick, it goes any minute. If you miss it it’s not my
fault, you won’t get a refund. But if you queue you won’t get a ticket
today.”
Williams’s mate Gary Richards – dubbed Phil Mitchell by Eye staff
because he resembles the dodgy EastEnders character – keeps in touch
with Williams by mobile phone from his favoured pitch right outside the
ticket office. Unlike his companions, he isn’t nearly as charming,
telling our investigator: “You ask too many questions, do you want the
bloody tickets or not?”
One Eye security man told us: “They are nasty pieces of work. I asked
one of them politely to move away. He spat on me. Another time he
shoved this big wad of money under my face and said, ‘How much do you
get, £4 an hour? Look what I’ve made here in half a day, you loser’.”
Another security man said: “I told tourists they shouldn’t buy his
tickets so he said he’d break my arm if I tried it again.
“When I didn’t react he said there would be a team waiting for me at
the end of my shift and told me, ‘They’ll give you the biggest kicking
of your life’.”
Security chiefs have already clamped down on one scam – buying used
tickets from tourists and reselling them. And they are rejecting
individual tickets which were originally sold as part of a block
booking.
But the security firm who police the Eye – Professional Security
Solutions – are hampered because amazingly the rip-off is not illegal.
Operations boss John Bell politely asked Williams to move.
But the burly South Londoner snarled: “Why don’t you lot just f**k off
and leave us alone.”
Mr Bell told us: “What they are doing is a rip-off but all we can do is
warn the public. I’m told that one of the gang is in the States now
selling tickets and taking orders.”
A British Airways spokesman said: “People are not guaranteed to get on
the Eye with a ticket bought from a tout.”
* ON a clear day trippers on the London Eye can see 25 miles all round.
The first Ferris wheel was built in the US in 1888 by W.G.W. Ferris.

**

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Categories: Sunday People articles

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