Summer in London, hot, steamy, and teeming with tourists. They’re everywhere, filling the streets, cafés, bars and restaurants, bringing their colourful vibrancy to the city.
I stand on the steps by Westminster Bridge watching the stream of bodies snaking endlessly over the Thames to South Bank. They come in all shapes and sizes, old ladies in coats, young lads in shorts and giggling girls wearing hardly anything at all.
Every nation in the world is represented here. Tourist Guides hold their striped, furled umbrellas high as they stride purposefully forward like Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea. On rainy days the umbrellas are open and held high. The bridge becomes a pageant of colour with umbrellas vying for space on the crowded pavement. Today the sun sparkles on the water and gilds the windows of the buildings along the riverside.
The Guides are followed by a raggle-taggle of weary sight-seers eager to cram in yet more history and an over-indulgence of culture. Some are anxious to get on while others would tarry to enjoy the view, thrilled at just being here. An abundance of cameras, smart phones and tablets are on show to record scenes viewed through lenses that reduce the city’s splendid opulence to bite size pieces, losing its magnificence in the process. Easy pickings.
I pick out the vulnerable ones, the elderly and frail, the young and naïve the unaware and unsuspecting in the hustle and bustle of London as she puts on her glamour, glitz and shine to woo the visitors.
Over the bridge I watch boats bobbing against the pier offering the chance to cruise a river older than the dawn of time. Music drifts up from the steel band below mingling with the aroma of candy-floss and fried onions. The atmosphere is one of lively noise and confusion. Easy pickings for some.
There’s a few of us out by the river today. I don’t work alone. I’m the spotter. It’s my job to identify the possible victims. I’m good at my job. I work out my best choices for easy pickings: pick-pocketing, snatch and grab, the please help me con. It’s amazing how many old ladies and gentlemen will get out their purses to help an innocent-looking young person if approached. No one is safe. All should be on their guard, but few are.
I spot an old lady, oblivious to her surroundings, handbag hooked loosely over her arm as she cranes her neck to take a photo of Big Ben. How difficult would it be to snatch that bag? How worthwhile? Hmm. The elderly can be quite tenacious. They are not easily overcome.
Along South Bank people dawdle, stopping and staring at the street artists, statues, and entertainments. Easier pickings.
A young girl walks down the steps on the south side of the bridge. She’s completely engrossed in a technological world of her own, focussed only on the screen on her phone – probably taking pictures no one will ever see. She’s wearing red hot pants, a sleeveless crop top and flip-flop – no good for running after an assailant. Her long skinny legs are brown from the sun and her blonde hair is tied back. Her headphones isolate her from the world around her. Does she even know where she is? Does she even care? She’s brought her world with her and it’s not allowing her to become part of ours. Will it be her today?
The stream of bodies moving along South Bank slows as they approach the London Eye. Crowds have gathered at the entrance to the attraction, everyone bent on their own progress. Experience tell me this would be the perfect place.
Sure enough I see him, a lad on a skateboard weaving his way through the crowds, just another youngster out enjoying the sun? Within seconds he runs into the oblivious girl, knocking her off balance and grabbing her phone. Then he’s away, skating through the crowds before she even has time to realise what has happened to her. It’s quick, no one is ever quite prepared for the speed of it. She’s stunned and paralysed with shock. I text my contacts, we work as a team. We’ve been together for years now – very successfully.
The lad races away, a grin on his face. The grin disappears like smoke in the wind when he sails straight into the arms of my waiting colleagues, PC Nick Brown and PC Earnest White. I imagine the smiles on their faces as they give the time-honoured greeting, “You’re nicked son.”
He’ll be in Court in the morning. No defence. I’ve caught it all on camera. London will be a tiny bit safer today. No easy pickings while we’re around.
I scan the crowd crossing the bridge. Who’s next I wonder?
(First published on the www.londonist.com site as part of their ‘Summer in the City’ Season 2014)
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