Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Citizen's Arrest

It is a Saturday morning last June.

I am at a suburban train station seeing my friend off. The train doors begin to shut, and I step back, ready to wave.

To my left, with the corner of my eye, I see someone sprinting from the front of the train.

"That's funny," I thought, "people usually run for trains, not away from them".

That notion wanders around my mind, like Arthur Dent's yellow bulldozer, in search of something to connect with.

Suddenly I am running too.

There had been a shout of "stop thief!" as the running man went past me and so I turned and ran too, through the station hall and onto the road outside.

"That's funny," I was still thinking, "people usually run for trains, not away from them".

I used to sprint quite well for at least a minute, but that was 11 years, and an extra three stone, ago.

But now I was sprinting after a taller, faster man.

"That's funny, people usually..."

Then I realised what I should be doing.

"Right, barrister training, identification, what do I do?"

At Bar School, one thing you are taught quite early on is how to discredit eye witness evidence. "Oh, you say he was tall, do you? So it could be ANY tall man? You don't remember anything more, do you?"

"Right, sex, height, hair colour, build, jacket, bottoms, trainers, fabrics, colours of clothes, memorise them all before he goes out of view."

And then.

"Oh fuck, my ankle."

I had forgotten my ankle, twisted the year before late at night after an Index on Censorship dinner.

The tall running man went round the corner.

I turned the corner, and he had gone.

There was only one other person giving chase, and she now caught up. It was the victim. She was as short to me as I was to the thief.

It was her new iPhone which had been taken, she explained. She had dropped it on the floor on the train whilst at the station, and the man had just snatched it and jumped on to the platform and started to run. She also got off and ran after him, but could not keep up. It turned out that I was the only other person to run after the thief.

We stared at each other, wondering what to do next.

It seemed odd that he had disappeared. If he was still running, I would have been able to see him. I had heard no car or house door close.

He seemed to have silently vanished.

Then, two blokes loading a van beckoned us over. One of them put a finger on his lips, and the other pointed behind a low hedge.

And there he was: the tall running man was crouched in someone's front garden.

"Right, sex, height, hair colour, build, jacket, bottoms, trainers, fabrics, colours of clothes."

It was the same man.

And by him was the victim's iPhone.

The man now tried to run off again. But the two blokes could see how upset the victim was, and so we held him down to the ground.

The man was not happy, first denying loudly - that he did not know what this was about - then making various threats.

However, by this time we had dialled 999, and I told him his voice was now going to be recorded.

He shut up.

I also told him we were holding him only until the police arrived and they could deal with the situation.

On the phone I told the police control room what I could and was careful to detail the identification details I had memorised from the run a few moments before.

And for about ten minutes we all waited in what was the most awkward of silences, whilst the man struggled to get out of being held down.

Eventually the police came and arrested him, and they put him in the back of the van.

The two blokes now moved away, clearly wishing they had not got involved.

They had taken the brunt of holding him and, although sympathetic to the victim, they had not had a great time of it whilst we waited for the police.

The victim was emotional and delighted; she thought she had lost her phone to a snatcher and that no one would help her, and she was gushing with praise to all involved.

It then occurred to me what had just happened - "what if he'd had a knife" - and knew that I had been rather unthinking about the risks.

It turned out the man was a notorious snatcher on the railway network, and that he was wanted for questioning in respect of other and more violent snatches, but that he had never been caught. His method was to steal phones or computers when the train was at a station and to then jump off and run out of the station.

This month, after a series of adjournments, he was sentenced to 32 months, on five counts of robbery and theft. He pleaded guilty. I was told by the police that the identification evidence had been helpful, connecting the person who snatched the iPhone with the man apprehended in that front garden, and once he decided to plead guilty to that charge of theft, he pleaded guilty to the other four counts.

I am not a supporter of vigilantism or of anyone who takes law "into their own hands". I would much rather have a uniformed and professional police force than any alternative. I have no wish to ever perform a citizen's arrest ever again. Nonetheless, I am glad to have helped catch this particular criminal on that sunny Saturday morning.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Anonymous said...

Does this event further evidence your real position as a police officer?

Man up and just admit it!

Anonymous said...

Did a similar thing a few years back.

At a friend's house, sitting in the dining room and we suddenly felt a draft coming from lounge. Got up to find a chap had got in through the patio doors while we were in the house and he was helping himself to my wife's handbag.

He scarpered when he saw us. Needless to say another friend and I set off after him. I'm a little fitter than you sound though David so I caught him. Not a particularly big chap so my friend and I wrestled him to the floor and sat on him until the police arrived.

He did try telling us that he was having an asthma attack and we needed to get off him. I pointed out that I was a doctor and so was my friend and he didn't sound like he was having an asthma attack. He shut up at that point.

Police arrived v quickly, arrested him and took statements. No idea what happened to him after that.

While we were wrestling him, he tried pulling a large screwdriver out, but we got it off him. It was only afterwards that the realisation hit us that it could have been a knife / gun he was carrying and things might not have turned out so well. At the time though, we were both just furious at the intrusion into our friend's house and the theft of my wife's handbag.

Would probably do the same again though.

Red Maria said...

My hero *swoons*. A lovely post, that.

Ben said...

Chasing after and apprehending a thief? Sounds like the old police officer training kicked in. Nicely done.

Alice said...

Congratulations David!

sarchi said...

well done...
me being somewhat older than yourself find this intrusion frightening to say the least but then its not the spur of the moment
I was a keen amateur photographer but these days what with all the fuss about copyrights and where and where you can't take photos pisses me right off where did human rights go is it gone

Photon said...

Well done! But you must find a better way to get some exercise...

David Landon Cole said...

If he'd had a knife, you'd have stared at him blankly before saying "that's not a knife; this is a knife" and pulling your handily concealed machete.

Yep, definitely that.

Claire Nelson said...

Well done! To give another Hitchhiker's reference, too many people prefer the "Somebody Else's Problem (SEP)" approach, and would rather not get involved. Always nice to hear someone helping another in these situations.

Tom said...

I picture you doing all this in armour.

mark hunter said...

Go on then, what's your 400m pb? You know you want to tell us.

Thomas said...

Nice post. Like the author, I would have no wish to end up in that situation. But over the years I've seen a couple of news stories about people "making a citizen's arrest" and subsequently being charged with holding a person against their will.

I looked around the internet a bit, but cannot find a definitive way of that not happening. Presumably the statement about "only holding you til police arrive" is helpful. But what if their are no witnesses, or if no phone is nearby and you have to march him to a police station? I thought I read, also, that you have to have witnessed the crime to make a citizen's arrest.

So many questions for someone who claims not to want to be a vigilante, I know. But neither do I fancy facing criminal charges if a kid steals an old lady's bag and I grab him.

bensix said...


Scrapper Duncan said...

Good work that man! Baffled by comments claiming you are a police officer - what difference would that make? Many people act like you did in this situation and only think of the risks after; this basic solidarity instinct holds us all together!

Sandrine Lopez said...

Well done David, and also to the two men who helped.

In hindsight, yes, it was an unconsidered response to someone needing help, when police do advise "don't get involved' because of the very danger of the thief being armed, but I'm glad you did.

This morning I was also witness to something which raises my opinion of people in a crisis. At a roundabout I was about to join, a learner motorcyclist skidded and fell off. The two cars immediately behind skidded to a halt, fortunately stopping the flow of traffic, and the two drivers got out and helped the cyclist (who was injured and limping) to the kerb with his bike. Also fortunately, a police car appeared on the far side of the roundabout as they struggled to the roadside, and was able to come round and give assistance.

But like yourself in astonishment at how no-one else gave chase, I had contempt for a couple of cars which, as the men attempted to help the cyclist, pushed their way *between* the two stopped cars, with little regard for the accident which had happened. The rest of us waited patiently until the two drivers had pulled over with the police car, and the way was properly clear. *sigh*

hewstonew said...

Great post,

I'm with Thomas here, can we have a blogpost on what the law(s) say about 'citizen's arrests' and whether it is in fact legal to make one...

Anonymous said...

It certainly takes an element of physical courage to attempt to restrain (or 'coerce' as some would put it) a member of the public. Of course, it's to your credit that you wanted to do this in an attempt to bring a criminal to justice and prevent further crime. Well done !


Alex Deane said...

Very well done, David.

Hexe Froschbein said...

He doesn't need a knife to seriously hurt you and leave lasting damage, and size or fraility is no indicator of danger either.

You picked up a nasty lottery ticket there :(

In essence, the only situation you should ever get involved with is if a human is being hurt badly and even that is often a stupid idea, especially if you don't have experience in fighting people, as it often tends to end in one more victim for the ambulance to pick up.

Regards the service to society, well, in times gone by, it would have been one. As stands, the guy got 16 month holiday camp this time round (it clearly was not his first time and probably won't be his last..) and all it did was waste taxpayers' money and risk your life, just for a cute damsel in distress who was careless with her toy.