Monday, 27 April 2009

iPhone, uPhone, noPhone

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.


Dumdad said...

What a horrible way to end your holiday. And what a horrible sounding policeman. I could feel myself getting angry the more he fobbed you off.

Anonymous said...

Use your contacts, girl!

annie said...

Il me semble qu'en France votre plainte pour vol aurait été enregistrée sans problèmes, non ?...Et si jamais cela n'avait pas été le cas, vous auriez été encore plus virulente...

Cimon said...

@ Annie

I remember having been to the police in Les Halles in Paris after someone intended to rape the intern (who came from Spain and had no idea of how to proceed, and was obviously upset) we had hired.

You might think a rape intent (which, in French law, is considered a successful rape, if I may write it this way, which means a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison) would be considered something important by the police station.

It seems it was not the case, since we were sent to various police stations, that all (but the last) declined to file a complaint, and later discovered they did not want for the police station statistics would be just too bad.

A policeman even told us that the police would never find the agressor, so why file a complaint ?

I guess there are disfunctions in London as well as Paris, and we cannot draw statistical conclusions from our personnal experience. So consider it just the way it is : a personnal experience.

Parisgirl said...

Thanks Dumdad and Dragondays. I was upset but it's true, it is just a telephone albeit a very expensive one!

Annie, I have had no personal experience of the police in France so it wouldn't be fair to comment. As for being virulent; I do believe that people everywhere have a right to expect respect and consideration from their public servants including - even especially - police officers.

Cimon, thanks for your comment, which puts the petty theft of a mobile telephone into perspective. You are right, personal experiences are not general rules; I just hope the London police officer I dealt with is more sympathetic to someone who has suffered a sexual assault like the poor intern you helped.

Anonymous said...

Having lusted after an iPhone since
last Christmas, I share your grief over it's loss.

What a bummer of an experience though, I was getting cross just reading about it.

You must have been just about ready to explode,


scotty said...

Deepest commiserations my dear girl. Having once parted company with a laptop with almost £3,000 in unsigned travellers cheques in the carrier flap on my way home from an assignment in Paris, I recall that queasy feeling in the gut only too well.
My poor partner went through the same hell a couple of weeks back when her handbag went missing on a trip to the supermarket.
She was too shaken and tearful to make all the calls cancelling bank and credit cards, applying for a replacement driving licence, etc. etc. All her expensive makeup was gone, along with her purse, personal diary and contacts book.
When we phoned the police they didn't want to know.
All the constable offered up was a website where we had to register the details ourselves.
The other day, however, events took a dramatic turn.
While cleaning out the garage, I picked up my golf bag and found it a bit heavier than before. When I turned it round, there, hooked round my putter, was a shiny black leather handbag with contents intact.
My partner didn't know whether to laugh, cry or give me a whack. The clubs had been in the boot during the shopping trip and it had all been one dreadful piece of bad luck that the handbag took such a unnoticed fancy to them.
Hope to move back off the sofa some night soon :o)

Nota Bene said...

What a shame. That you had your phone stolen. And you met PC Pratt. When my car was broken into, the police were less than interested 'Happens about 20 times a day they' said. 'So that's twenty times a day you don't do your job then.' I retorted. It felt good at the time.

Penni said...

Oh really. If it was a lie, it would have been far more believable. Does he not know the first thing about fiction? Someone should make him do a creative writing course. I do despair.

Crime sucks (though the idea of you being shot at in warzones made me suck in my breath...of course I knew you were a war reporter. But still. Scary stuff.)

Hopefully the iPhone makes your criminal miserable, and they mend their wicked ways, in a sophisticated way that somehow involves your policeman and there is a morality tale for all.

Anonymous said...

use your influence and report this incident. The police are paid to do a job and although they have to work some nights that is part of the job. Courtesy costs nothing and the lack of caring was obvious. Probably did not want to do the paperwork attached to the repoted crime.A letter to his boss would not go amis either, and what a lovely story for the papers.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

poor you, what an awful business. That's all you need on the last night of yr holiday plus a really unco-operative, sarcastic police officer. I agree with Penni, why on earth wd you be wasting time in the middle of the ngiht concocting such a story. I guess it made you happy to go back to France...

Parisgirl said...

NWBD, if you get one just make sure it's insured. One in five are being stolen.
Thanks Scotty, but didn't the Good Lord reimburse you on exes! Hope you're off the sofa by now.
Nota Bene, well done for thinking of a good retort at the time. I only think of them afterwards...
Penni, I am trying not to be vindictive but I hope the thief is really, really unhappy and that what goes around comes around.
Anon, Indeed I have complained but it seems it happens so often these days it's not even a story.
Paradise, I'd rather liked to have stayed and tracked down the bloody thief!

Iota said...

Horrible. He should have been all tea and sympathy.