La Fille and I have been spending the holidays in the UK. We had a lovely time until halfway through the last evening when someone stole my brand new iPhone from a zipped handbag that hadn't left my shoulder or been out of my sight at a friend's party in a restaurant/bar on the river at Richmond. Don't ask me how the thief performed this particularly nasty trick of spiriting away a 16-day old phone inside a case, inside another case, inside a closed bag on the very day my new binding two-year contract came into effect, because I really have no idea. I felt nothing.
I should say that I've been lucky until now; I've never been a victim of a crime before (unless you count being shot at while trying to report from warzones). So I admit I was a bit shaken and emotional. Not hysterical after all it was "just a phone" as someone pointed out, but a bit spooked. The reason for this wasn't just having the phone pinched - and knowing I would have to pay 700 euros to replace it - but the fact that in the early hours of Sunday I found myself in a police station, not sure exactly where I was, without a map to find out, without a taxi rank in sight and without any means of finding out if the Frenchman and La Fille had got home safely or letting them know where I was and what was happening.
I found myself in the early hours of Sunday in a London police station talking to a young duty officer who quite clearly did not believe a word I was saying. It wasn't that he told me he couldn't find any record on his computer of the crime report I'd already made by phone having been astonished to find that Richmond police station closes at 8.30pm on Saturday nights. It wasn't even that he told me there was no evidence of "theft" ("the removal of something from someone with the intention of depriving them of it or use of it," as he pointed out. "Err, exactly", as I replied.). It wasn't just that he was unsympathetic and suggested I'd mislaid the phone, but that he made judgments he had no right, in my opinion, to make. What really shocked me were two comments he uttered during our exchange conducted in the station reception with him sitting about two feet behind a glass screen.
I am going to recount them as accurately as I remember given my state of distress and frustration at the time. At some point half way through our conversation at around 1am he made a remark about "alcohol on your breath". Taken aback I said something like "I beg your pardon," and he repeated that he could smell alcohol on my breath. He knew I'd been at a party when my phone was stolen, I'd told him that, but I didn't deem it necessary to say I'd only been at it about an hour before it was nicked nor that I hadn't drunk anything since, a period of around four hours. I mean, I wasn't rolling drunk so what business was it of his? Then he recounted a story of how someone had come in claiming to have been attacked and had their mobile stolen in the street by two "black men" (his words not mine), when it turned out the phone had been at home all the time. Frankly I couldn't see the relevance of either of these comments except to make a judgment about me and cast doubt on my claim. Everything I said, he shot down. The phone, fully charged at the time, was redirecting to voicemail, I said, suggesting it had been turned off. "The battery's probably flat," he countered. "It was in my bag, then it wasn't and it wasn't on the floor," I said. "You said your bag was zipped, how could it have been stolen?" he replied. "But the police hotline told me they'd put a crime report on the computer and told me to come here for the papers." "Well call them." "I can't I don't have a phone." "Here's the website address." "I don't have access to the Internet either." And so we went on sparring over whether the phone was mislaid or misappropriated until I stopped being nice and said I wanted his name. "It's all on CCTV," he replied neatly sidestepping the request. I wrote down the letters and numbers on his shoulder tabs.
I am ashamed to say that at one point I did say to the officious officer that I knew the Mayor of London (which isn't strictly true though I do know several members of his close family) but I was sorely provoked. On the other hand, I did apologise for being somewhat emotional, an apology he didn't even acknowledge. In the end he flatly refused to make a crime report and gave me a grudgingly written Property Lost in Streets form on which his belief that I was a liar was evident. Despite the property not being "lost" and certainly not "lost in streets", under 'Where Lost' he wrote: "Believed to be..." and under "Circumstances of the loss" he had written "Unknown"; neither of these were strictly true or what I had reported. Later, the phone company took one look at this mealy-mouthed document and refused to put an international block on the phone meaning the thief is probably still wandering around making free use of my expensive property. Thankfully, the female operators on the Metropolitan Police non-emergency line were less judgmental and considerably more helpful and, after hearing my tale of telephone woe, promised to send a crime report. (This is their number should you ever need them: 0300 123 12 12).
Look, I realise being the duty officer in a London police station on a Saturday night cannot be much fun and must involve fobbing off drunks and trying to spot fraudulent claims. What I should have said was women of a certain age with energetic young children who get up early and who are on the last night of their holiday in London have better things to do in the early hours of the morning - like sleep - than hang around police stations trying to convince members of Her Majesty's police force that they are not simply a dozy cow but a genuine victim of crime.