Previous editions of this guide have stated that Le Mans campsites are generally pretty safe places to be and that campers tend to keep an eye out for one another. That remains true but, after the 2007 race it became clear that there had been a significant increase in the confirmed reports from people who had valuables stolen, or where attempts had been made to do so from them on a number of the campsites. So, to give you a better chance of keeping your valuables safe and, importantly knowing what to do if you do suffer from a theft, we’ve added some more detailed information to the guide. The guidance applies all the time you are there, but in particular at the really busy times, when the campsites are full on the Friday through to the Sunday when the general public are milling all around everywhere as well.
Have a written list to take with you of any useful phone numbers and contacts you might need to cancel bank cards, credit cards, or traveller’s cheques that you have taken with you. Include contacts for breakdown organisations and car dealerships in case your car is damaged, and your mobile phone provider, in case that gets taken. Have a copy of that list available to someone at home who can do the contacting for you if necessary. We haven’t provided a full list here, as the details would be incomplete or soon out of date, and it is your responsibility to know them anyway, but the more popular banks and other locations are listed at the bottom of this section. For UK citizens, the loss of a passport isn’t a huge drama, but it could well be for others trying to leave France and return to their country - so it is worth having the necessary phone numbers for local embassy/consular staff (who’ll probably be in Paris) and your country of residence’s immigration services on the list as well.
Some other recommendations from CA members:
“You may whinge at this but, I keep keys/passports/wallets etc within my shorts or trousers at all times and I sleep in them. Too pi__ed to take them off in the tent. They are changed the next day and if able to be 'recycled' will be worn again.”
“I've used a little padlock on the inside of the tent zips in the past - I wonder if even a bit of coat hanger wire bent through the fly screen zips would be enough deterrent to the casual thief (i.e. can't unzip the zips quickly, so move on”
“Better perimeter protection - we used tape which was pegged to the ground this year, just to mark out the area for our group who were arriving at different times. Picket posts and plastic fencing (like at DfH's site) would make it more awkward/difficult to gain casual access/egress to/from the group's area without arousing suspicion or tripping over it, particularly in the dark.”
“Loud portable alarms that can be fixed so that they are triggered by the opening of tent flaps or doors, or the movement of items such as bags or keys. There are plenty of these around on the market for around a fiver each, which can be fixed in place so that the movement of a zip, bag, door or key bunch would trigger them. Similarly, there are wireless infra-red sensors that can be linked to an alarm sounder, although these may be more subject to triggering by drunken members of the group pitching back into the site late at night.”
If you catch a thief in the act, some people might be tempted to dish out punishment on the spot – up to you, but anything you do is at your own risk and remember that the thief might be armed, have a bundle of mates, or you might just get yourself into more trouble with the law. So be careful, but shout and scream about it so that everyone else in the vicinity is aware of what is going on! If you are lucky, such as being nearby a public road, there might even be a proper policemen around who should take an interest; some people have tried to involve the campsite security people but they are often not willing to get involved, as their job seems to be to administer pitches and check for valid tickets.
If the theft has happened when you have been away or asleep, once you have got over being angry and wound up over it, then think calmly and list everything that has been taken. Then do a quick search around the area of the tent and ask neighbours if anyone has seen anything; the thief will often take a bag, rifle through it to find what he wants and then dump what he doesn’t want within a hundred metres of the tent. Make the necessary calls to cancel missing bank cards, credit cards and travellers cheques - from your mobile if you have still got it, from a payphone if you have the cash, or by asking if someone can lend you a phone so that you can call the other person that you left a copy of the list with – then you only need to make one international call instead of several.
Then go and report it to the police - they need to be aware of the level of thefts going on, and you will need the paperwork that they will give you to help you get back to your country of residence and with making any insurance claim! This does not mean just talking to the local policeman on traffic duty, the CRS riot squad van, the local gendarmerie or someone in the ACO. You must go to the Commissariat de Police in the centre of Le Mans:
Commissariat de Police, 6 Rue Coëffort , P.O. Box 554, 72017 Le Mans Cedex, Phone +33 (0)2 43 61 68 00
You then tell them what has happened and they give you a nicely stamped official declaration of loss form.
For UK citizens, although the official advice is that you must report the theft of a passport to the FCO and/or local embassy for them to issue you with temporary travel documents, this would mean travelling to Paris, waiting until the office opens on Monday and sorting it out from there. This may need to be done if you are travelling by air, but for car travellers, when this has happened to Le Mans goers in the past, the police declaration form and a combination of explaining the loss at the ferry check and answering the questions of the nice immigration people at Dover, Portsmouth or the like has worked well.
Last but not least, the most important advice - Don’t get paranoid!!! Overall, the majority of campers still enjoy a trouble-free weekend.
Some Useful UK Numbers from France
A few weeks prior to the race in 2009, a CA member sent an e-mail to the A.C.O about this topic:
I have 15 tickets for Camping Bleu Nord for the 24h du Mans this year, and will be camping with a large group as we have done for several years. Last year, when we returned to our camp site on Sunday after the finish of the race, a lot of our camping equipment had been stolen – and many other people near us had items stolen from their camp sites. Groups who were not camping, were driving around in their cars and vans, stealing from wherever they wanted. Some even were caught and, I believe, the police were called.
Security is quite good for several days before the race, and during the race: access marshals will only allow vehicles into the camp site if they are displaying a camping pass. Last year, however, any vehicle was allowed into the camp site as soon as the race finished, and this allowed a lot of theft from the camp sites of people who were staying on Sunday night.
I would like to request that this year, the access marshals should only allow vehicles displaying a camping permit, to access the camping site on Sunday afternoon/night.
Could you please let me know if this is the plan?
The answer of the A.C.O. was not very comforting:
The 24 Heures campsites are extremely vast and despite the presence of security personnel who patrol these areas, together with controllers checking access points, we are unable to guarantee that there will be no thefts, in view of the large number of tents, campers and caravans on the sites.
We advise all those who camp under tents to lock away their belongings inside the boots of their vehicles, so as not to offer any temptation to ill-intentionned people.
Once the race has finished, a lot of the controllers are deployed by the traffic police. This would explain why you did not find so many controllers situated around the camping areas.