Stolen Phone Experience

Texting has become one of the most popular methods of communication in recent years. With the introduction of smart phones, it is not surprising that so many people are constantly texting or playing on them even when they are in the middle of doing other work. Almost everyone has a phone these days and they are not afraid to use them at any possible moment. But can being on your phone all the time have consequences?

It was a cold Monday afternoon, and as usual, I was in a lecture at The London School of Journalism, patiently waiting for it to end so I could go home. Normally, I take my time leaving after a lecture, often leaving the building with some of my fellow students. But that specific day, I had an important phone call meeting at 6pm and wanted to make sure I got home in time. The lecture was meant to finish at 4:30, but to my delight, our lecturer dismissed us 10 minutes early. Trying to take advantage of this, I immediately put my coat on and left as soon as possible. I am fairly sure I was the first student out of the classroom that day.

Once I’d left the building and was on the pavement, I took out my phone and rang a friend. The walk from the school to the station takes about 15 minutes and I spent the first five minutes of it on the phone to her, arranging plans to meet her the next day. After I’d finished the call, I started checking my texts, twitter, email, facebook as I walked. I’d received a text during the lecture from another friend and decided to reply to it. I had my phone in my right hand, casually walking down the road with my head down as I typed when all of a sudden, I realised I no longer had a phone.

There was a moment of confusion, then shock, as I discovered there was a guy standing next to me, too close for my liking, looking at me. Before I had a chance to decipher his face properly and understand exactly what had happened, he cycled off. He went to a smaller street (Biddulph Road) to the right of the main road (Elgin Avenue), and it took me a couple seconds before I decided to run after him. In my always optimistic attitude, I was trying to convince myself that I could catch up with him and ask him to give it back. Stupid of me. Of course, there was no way I could reach him as he cycled away faster and faster. There were only a few men, builders, in the middle of that street. They looked like they were on a tea break. I tried to tell them to stop him. Shouted out “please stop that guy, he stole my phone!”, but it was clear they couldn’t understand my words through shocked and scared breaths. The thief heard me calling out for help though, and after a quick glance back started cycling even faster, disappearing from my view before I knew it.

I stood there, in complete shock. I’ve always been extremely careful with my phone, it almost never leaves my hands or my pockets. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I briefly explained to the builders what had happened, hoping they could help me. But my real help arrived when a lady walked up towards me. She seemed to be in her mid-thirties and was pushing a push-chair with a baby boy in it. She’d been walking down Biddulph Road towards Elgin avenue (and therefore me) at around the same time the robbery happened. So she’d seen the thief. She stopped when she saw me standing there in fear and I quickly told her what had happened. “That guy on the bike stole my phone!” I said. She said she’d suspected something was wrong by the way the guy kept looking back and was cycling so fast and genuinely apologised for not having tried to stop her. This surprised and comforted me. I had not expected her to stop him. But it was nice to hear she really seemed to care. I asked her if I could use her phone to ring the police – she did it herself. She had a very old phone, one that only has basic functions, so it took a few minutes – but soon I found myself on her phone, talking to a woman from the police force near Maida Vale. I explained what happened, told them exactly where we were, and she said she’d send a police car within the next five minutes. I spent the waiting time, chatting about the incident to this kind lady who had helped me, telling her how surprised I was to find my phone stolen in an area which is known as one of the better parts of London. She said sadly it is not uncommon for such robberies to occur there. She was a local, but her accent was Australian. As we were talking, I could hear her baby cry and I felt guilty for making her wait.

Once the police car arrived, I thanked the Australian woman numerous times and went inside the car. The next 20 minutes were spent talking to two policemen about the incident, as I desperately tried not to cry. They were extremely helpful and made me feel at ease, one of them even made a couple jokes trying to take my mind off the main problem. They asked me if I could describe the thief and I soon realised that I couldn’t. In that quick moment of shock, all I’d seen was a guy with dark clothing and a dark hat. Having spoken to the Australian lady before though, she had told me that from what she had seen, the thief was black and looked about 17. I could not be sure of course, but I trusted her and told the police what she told me. They also took other details, from my name and address to the background image of my stolen phone. At one point, as I was recounting what had happened, I told the officers I blamed myself for texting whilst walking. One of them responded: “It’s good to be careful on the streets, but it’s not your fault. You can’t expect people to never use their phones in public and to live in fear. People need to live in a place where they feel safe enough to use their own belongings in public if they need to”. That made me feel better. Though, I was still annoyed at myself. During my conversation with them, I discovered that these ‘snatching phones out of hands’ robberies are very common in London. They have become increasingly popular in the past eight months and the target areas are the streets near tube stations, regardless of the ‘niceness’ of the area. It is advised to try and avoid having smart-phones on display near stations and in the event that a robbery does happen, it is strictly advised to not run after them. Again, I felt stupid. I was determined to chase the thief and get my phone back and the only thing that stopped me was the realisation that it was impossible. The police however, told me that it can be dangerous. “Some of them carry knives and aren’t afraid to use them if they have to” he said. After spending 20 minutes in the car and exchanging all the necessary details, the policemen dropped me off at the station and I faced a long and lonely tube journey home.

It was the hardest 30 minutes I’ve spent on the tube. I had no phone, I was worrying about my safety (all my personal information had been on my phone) and was desperate to talk to someone I knew. When I got off my stop (Victoria), I quickly ran to the O2 store to get my phone blocked before anything. For some illogical reason, I expected everyone to be sympathetic and support me, so found myself annoyed when the O2 staff took their time and helped very little. Eventually, I got the phone blocked though and went home. As soon as I got home and saw my mum, the tears started. I have no idea why, I wasn’t exactly upset about the loss of the phone itself. I think it was just shock and trauma. And I was just relieved to finally be in a safe environment with people I loved.

A few weeks have passed since the accident, and I now luckily have a phone again (I was insured) and have finally started being able to walk down Elgin Avenue without constantly looking around me. I still feel very wary when I’m in Maida Vale though, and the walk to and from school has felt different ever since. I now make sure I always walk with a friend, even if I’m in a hurry to get home. I am also overly careful of taking my phone out in public, to the point that some of my friends are now complaining that I take ages to text them back! But I’d rather be safe than sorry. It was just a phone, but it taught me a lot. The thief is unlikely to be found and punished, but the experience made me realise how dangerous every day life can be. But more importantly, it made me realise how kind people can be in times of danger. I will never forget the Australian woman who initially helped me calm down, and am forever grateful to the comforting policemen who knew exactly what to say to make me feel relaxed. The next time you see someone walking in a street with their phone in hand, look out for them and don’t give thieves the opportunity to do this again.

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