All I saw was a hand. So unhurried – polite, even. Snaking down over my shoulder, aiming for my open palm, in which lay – of course – my phone. I was 20 metres from my house, on a rainy dog walk in the park. The hand grabbed the phone. I thought, “This is it. This is what I have warned my children about so many times. I am having my phone stolen.”
I’d never been mugged, even though I’ve spent most of my life in the capital. Burgled, yes. Once, even burgled by the window cleaner. But I have never been mugged. Now it was happening. A scenario which every urban-dweller must have imagined many times over was a sudden, shocking reality. How would I react? I didn’t really know until I was put in that position. Who would? Well, this is how I reacted, and this is what happened.
For a start, I forgot all that stuff about walking away, it’s only a phone, etc. And I also forgot all that self-defence stuff. But I did think, “You aren’t going to get away easily”.
I spun round and faced my assailant. He was six foot, thin and gaunt. In a jumper. I grabbed the sleeve of the jumper, as if he was one of my children running off. Then I opened my mouth and I yelled. Really, really loudly. My neighbour, doing yoga in the top floor of his house (that’s Islington for you), said the longer it went on, the more terrifying it was. I made noises I didn’t even know a person could make. Meanwhile, my dog just stood there wagging his tail.
Eventually, the man with my phone yanked his arm upward, sending me flying into a flowerbed. Only then did I notice two park wardens who were charging towards the man as he sprinted for the gate. Two men from Islington Council who were doing a bit of gardening jumped into their van and sped after him. The police arrived, so fast. Someone must have called them. Then neighbours turned up, some in pyjamas. A runner came on the scene, breathless. He had been alarmed by my screams, taken chase and had had a good look at my assailant. One of the wardens found my phone, abandoned in the wet grass by my assailant, who by then had been fleeing from about a dozen people.
The runner and I both got into the police car. The two officers said that a man answering our descriptions had been picked up round the corner. They debated whether we should do a “drive past” identification. This is not always advisable. Apparently if victims of a crime drive past a possible suspect surrounded by policemen, they are far more likely to assign guilt. The policemen were hesitant. In the end, we did the drive past. The runner and I rubbed the condensation from the back window, and stared at the suspect. We both agreed, it wasn’t him.
So the police took me home. Was I an idiot reacting as I did? Could he have had a knife? Very rare, said the coppers. He was a bit of an amateur, being on foot. Most phone muggers are on bikes, apparently. So far no one has been arrested. I’m the victim of just another unsolved crime. But there’s one thing I do now know, and that’s how I react to being mugged. And how the people around you might react.