The sad case of the non-existent-bank robber

`We thought we heard music - but there shouldn't be anyone in a bank after 9pm except bank robbers'
AN extraordinary trial is going on at the High Court, of a bank robber up on charges of robbing a bank, though both sides agree he didn't rob a bank... but perhaps an extract from yesterday's proceedings will make things clearer.

Counsel: You are, I believe, a bank robber by trade, Mr Hammersmith?

Defendant: That is a loaded term, sir. I prefer to say that I make hostile takeover bids for the contents of banks. It is quite fashionable at the moment.

Counsel: Quite so. And on 17 July last year, I believe you were making a hostile bid for the contents of the Great City Bank in London EC1.

Defendant: That's so. I cannot tell a lie.

Counsel: When you say you cannot tell a lie, do you mean generally, or just in answer to the last question?

Defendant: Just in answer to the last question.

Counsel: Good. Now, what were your preparations for the hostile bid, or robbery, as the rest of us would call it, of Great City Bank? Was it your plan to walk in, point a gun and ask for money?

Defendant: No, sir. I do not behave like some cowboy financier in the City. My plan was to dig a hole to the vaults, seal it up, and reopen the tunnel for access when needed. I had already masterminded the construction of the tunnel in 1993. Now it was just waiting for me.

Counsel: How did you get away with building tunnels round a bank?

Defendant: I gave people the impression it was test-diggings for the Jubilee Line. That's always an alibi for anything.

Counsel: I see. Now, we come to the night of 17 July last year. How did it go?

Defendant: At first it went fine. We reopened the tunnel, got down into the vaults, made our way to the main body of the bank, preparatory to entering and taking the money.

Counsel: What stopped you?

Defendant: Nothing, to start with. Then we got a bit worried; we thought we could hear music somewhere, which wasn't right, because there shouldn't be anyone in a bank after nine at night, except robbers, of course. But then we thought we must be imagining things. When we got to the last door we heard voices, so we thought maybe there must be some kind of meeting going on, and it was too late to go back by then, so we drew our guns, 'cos we were all armed, and rushed in, shouting: "Hands up, hands up, this is a bank raid!"

Counsel: And what scene greeted you?

Defendant: There were about 30 or 40 people sitting around at tables, drinking, smoking and laughing.

Counsel: This is quite unusual for a bank, is it not?

Defendant: Quite unknown, I would say.

Counsel: And what attention did they pay to you, as you waved your pistol?

Defendant: None at all.

Counsel: What was the explanation of this unusual sight, Mr Hammersmith?

Defendant: The explanation was that three years previously, unbeknownst to me, the Great City Bank had been bought up by a brewery and turned into a theme pub. It was still a bank building, but now contained licensed premises. We had raided a pub, full of drinkers.

Counsel: And instead of the millions you had hoped for, what did you in fact get?

Defendant: We all had a pint each and then scarpered.

Judge: Just a moment, just a moment!

Counsel: Yes, my Lord?

Judge: Do you mean to say Mr Hammersmith didn't take any money at all?

Counsel: That is so, my Lord.

Judge: Then he didn't commit a crime!

Counsel: With respect, my Lord, it is the Crown's submission that if you believe you have broken and entered a bank, then you are guilty of breaking and entering a bank, even if the place turns out not to be a bank.

Judge: Couldn't you charge him with breaking and entering a pub?

Counsel: No, my Lord. It is not a crime. Not during opening hours, anyway. That is why we have tried to get him for entering a bank.

Judge: But it wasn't a bank!

Counsel: But it had been once.

Judge: But it wasn't now!

Counsel: But he didn't know that. In any case, by his own admission, when he first broke and entered the premises six years ago, it had been a bank!

Judge: But he hadn't been caught!

Counsel: No. But we've got him now. Judge: I'm not so sure about that. I shall have to think about it. Case adjourned!

The case continues