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."
"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.
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