Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My 15 seconds of fame stopping a theft

My life is a very boring one. Eat, sleep, work, blog and play. Nothing exiting has ever occurred to me. Not even being caught by the police. Today something happened that has seismic effect on my rather mundane (15 minutes of) life. This is also a cautionary tale of life in London.

Me and a friend was at a London railway station. We were at a Starbucks cafe (I know - guilty as charged! Readers of my blog know how much I hate Starbucks yet here I am sipping overcharged unethical coffee - it isn't my fault though, my friend just didn't want to walk the two minutes to another cafe). You know just chatting. The room was almost packed with the usual city workers working on contracts and some groups of chattering friends.

About 45 minutes later a tall woman (probably the same height as me) entered the first floor room. Immediately she started using her feet to try to fish a lady's handbag(which was on the floor - this is normal here). It was pretty difficult so she sat down on the table next to them. We were sitting close by and my friend saw what was happening. The thief realised that my friend was looking at her and yet she continued fishing the bag. I did not see what was going on bt I can see the tote ever moving underneath the victim's chair.

We had a dilemma. We debated in hushed voice on what we should do. Obviously we could either let her continue or we had to stop her. I, being a victim of London's professional pick pocket scene thrice (1996 when I was a tourist, 2001 off my MD player and 2003 off my wallet), decided that we ought to catch her red handed in order to apprehend her. I knew by watching the countless BBC documentary on London stealth thieves that you can not simply accuse someone of theft attempt. That is why most roomy department stores allow thieves to continue with their handy work (while recording them) before arresting them just outside the store.

I asked my friend to look away from her. Promptly the woman who was wearing a beret cap pulled the bag up and quickly made her exit. I stood up and walked up to her in 'stern voice' "Excuse me..." She looked at me and shook her head pleading me to keep quiet while continuing towards the stairs. My friend called up to the victim to alert her. I spoke much louder now and she finally handed me the bag. I wanted to collar her but she ran down the stairs. Starbucks layout isn't the best for manoeuvering (much like other calorie infested fast food restaurants) and I did not want to injure myself by hurling myself down the stairs Jet Li style. So I let her off. Besides we knew there was a CCTV camera there.

There you go, my 15 seconds of fame. Probably the most I ever got to people actually noticing my very existence. My friend got the most attention though as she was the one who first saw the incident. Later we found out that there are hooks on every Starbucks table. The hooks are there for a reason - to hang your bloody bag. These hooks now don most of London's cafe and restaurant tables. So use them!

Starbucks, as per usual, were pretty useless about this. When we came down we reported the incident to the counter. We knew that the incident was recorded on tape. They brushed us off and promised to 'look into it' while thanking us for reporting it.

On hindsight I realised how professional thiefs are in London. Unlike Malaysia, where they try to snatch whatever you have from you while riding a bike or slit your throat for a couple of bucks, the criminals here are more cunning, just like the bloke from Splinter Cell. They don't barge in creating a scene. They move in silence often working in groups on the street and along in fast food joints and cafes. Stealth is the key unlike mad Malaysians (or illegal immigrants who our authorities love to blame).

Update: My girlfriend, Jennifer, has agreed to be identified as my 'friend'. She was in London on business and I met her in Victoria Station before she boarded her train to Brighton. She has keen eyes (or just love to look around - hei, she is in architecture) and probably deserve praises more than me. In fact I got 15 seconds of fame while she got the full minute. ;)


fishtail said...

Great job! Starbucks didnt give you a week of free coffee? Darn.

MooPig said...

That's very nice of you. I would be eternally thankful to you and your friend if I were the victim. I mean it! :)

London is full of pickpockets. Once, my friend and I were having lunch in McD. Can't remember where exactly. His phone was on the table. 2 kids came towards us and showed us some leaflets while talking in some unknown language. At the mean time, one of them tried to take my friend's mobile phone. My friend saw his phone moving and held that boy's hand. They got a shock and ran away. A lesson learnt.

mwt said...

There is a contradiction. 15 mins or 15 secs?

xaverri said...

Good of you to do that! but no free coffee?! hehe..

Jon said...

fishtail and diana, oh well you know what I think about multinational fast food chains like them...

Eileen, never leave a mobile on a table. I was once in a supermarket restaurant here and left my mobile on the table. This guy came in and sat at my table and layed a newspaper on the table pretending to read it. The paper covered my mobile and he immediately tried to steal it using his cunning hands. It was my fault as well but I soon caught up with him and asked an attendant to come. He finally left after giving up my mobile (pretending that it accidentally slipped onto his side of the table).

mwt, sorry...15 minutes is the usual slogan for fame seeking attention seekers like me but I changed that to 15 secs because I don't think it is such a big deal...no free coffee even!

Thanks to everyone for the nice comment.

By the way my friend agreed to be identified, it's actually my girlfriend Jennifer. I will update the blog to reflect that. I wasn't sure if she wanted to be named in personal blog.

c0y0t3 said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for giving me the other 15 seconds fame as well! If it's not because you kindly pointed out to the victim that I noticed the whole thing, they might not even know that I exist :) - well, not that I actually care.. But anyway, you should pat yourself on the back as well! after all, you are the one that risking yourself for 'chasing' after her and I just conveniently chose a safer job by alerting the victim!

Anyway, in the first place, am not too keen on being identified as - put it this way- am so ashame of being 'caught' drinking at Starbucks! but hey, to sh*t is human, I really do need a drink at that time and already feeling like a fish out of the pond! so, please forgive me ;)

On the other hand, just to make clear about the free coffee...well, the victim and her group did offer us a drink but we refused it as a 'Venti' drink in Starbucks already considered as a tremendous sin for myself!

Kit said...

Well done!