Steve and I dined out at Pizza Express in Rochester tonight.
As usual, we chose an outside table as we like to watch the world go by. Two ladies (mother and daughter) soon took the only other outside table available. Towards the end of the meal a car drew up and four people (two men and two women, all in their mid-late twenties) alighted. I noticed that each went in different directions, and they were all clutching similar papers. The driver of the car headed towards Pizza Express. He was holding up his papers (pages from an estate agent) but his eyes were scanning the two outside tables. He noticed I was watching him and averted his gaze. He did, however, walk up to the table where the two women were sitting. I heard them chatting but did not hear what was said. The man then returned to his car, opened the passenger door, put something in the car, then calmly walked back towards the restaurant and entered briefly, before leaving again.
As he was walking away, one of the women shouted that he had stolen her phone. Calmly he walked back and remonstrated with her, accusing her of dishonouring him. The woman was insistent. Her phone had been on the table when he had approached them a few moments earlier. Apparently (she claimed) he had put his papers down on the table (they were estate agent's papers) and asked if they knew where the featured property was located. As he picked up his papers to return to the car, he had picked up her mobile phone and stolen it. The man, in broken English, was cool and calm. He invited the ladies to search him and search his car, whilst continuing to say they were abusing his honour. Even though I was suspicious from the start, I too doubted he could have taken the phone whilst remaining so composed.
The women however were showing no such doubt and called the restaurant manager and told him to phone the police, which he did. The driver was stuck, his colleagues had not returned to the car, so he couldn't drive off and leave them, but clearly the net was closing. One of his colleagues reappeared and he went back to the car and spoke to her. Calmly he returned to the table, insisting that the woman allows him to search her handbag to "restore my honour". As he dived into her bag, the phone suddenly "re-appeared". The restaurant manager, however, saw it happen. As his hand entered her bag, the phone dropped from his sleeve back into place. He then started demanding that the lady apologised for accusing him of being a thief.
At this point the second of the two women was on her phone informing the police of what had occurred. And here is the worst aspect of this whole story. Despite the theft and the return of the phone being witnessed, and the man responsible standing feet away, and his three accomplices probably pulling similar stunts in nearby pubs, the police operator said, "oh well, as you have your phone back there's no point us coming out, is there?"
By this point the other three had returned to the car, the driver calmly walked back to his vehicle and drove off. Although there is no evidence to make such a claim, this looked like a very well organised gang. I am sure whilst the driver was stealing phones in Pizza Express and then facing down his accusers, his three colleagues were not walking around the cathedral precincts enjoying the evening air.
Despite there being witnesses and CCTV cameras all around, the police did not attend, and I guess as the phone was returned it would have been recorded as yet another "no crime" in Kent police statistics. The victims passed on the number plate to the police, I wonder what will come of it?
Further info on Kent Police's enthusiasm for "no crime" stats HERE