in the early hours of this morning.
I was driving back from presenting Bacon on 5live at TVC when I remembered my pushbike was still locked up on the London-bound platform at Walton on Thames station. I thought rather than have to walk the 25 minutes to the station to pick it up the next day I might as well stick it in the boot and drive it home.
It did strike me I might look a bit dodgy, rolling up at a deserted station at 1.45am, and driving off with a bike that I couldn't prove was mine, but I felt able to convince any interested police officers of my outstanding moral rectitude, if challenged. And I had the keys to its lock.
What I wasn't expecting, as I walked onto the fully lit station platform, was to see two young (15 - 17), very spotty when I come to think of it, hoodie-wearing lads walking towards me carrying an expensive looking front wheel in their hands.
They clocked me, and their completely relaxed body language made me question what I was actually seeing, but as no innocent explanation sprang immediately to mind I stopped 10 yards in front of them and asked:
"Is that your wheel?"
There was a brief pause.
"No." said the one holding the wheel.
"Give it to me then." I said.
There was another very brief pause whilst they considered their options. I was obviously weighing them up too - both were pretty scrawny and only about 5'6 so I felt reasonably confident if they decided to rush me I wouldn't get a proper kicking. I just hoped if they did decide to do it, neither had knives.
I reached into my pocket and put my hand on my mobile phone.
I was covering the only exit from the station, so they'd have to get past me if they wanted to leg it, and as that seemed to be the most likely option the adrenalin was making my head sing and I was trying to decide whether or not I would really try to tackle them or just let them go.
Thankfully the lad holding the wheel gave it to me. I said, rather pathetically, "You can't just go nicking other peoples' stuff.", when patently, they could.
As they calmly walked past me I got my phone out and dialled 999, and I'm ashamed to admit my hand was shaking - I couldn't actually hit the dial button at the first two attempts.
They heard me say "police" into the handset when I did get through to emergency services, and one turned round and said "Alright, mate?" as they walked off the platform.
I followed them out as I spoke to the police, and evidently wasn't making much sense, as the officer kept asking exactly what was going on, but I wanted to follow the lads to double-check what they were wearing and where they were heading.
They didn't bother to quicken their pace, which meant I got a good look at them, and they soon ducked out of sight down the subway under the tracks.
Of course, the copper couldn't be less interested.
"What's your name?"
I told him.
"Where do you live?"
I told him.
"What happened, then?"
I told him.
"Have you got the wheel, sir?"
"So nothing's been taken now, then?"
"Well, no, but..."
"Can you describe them for me?"
I started describing them and before I'd gone too far he cut in "And which direction are they headed?"
I told him.
"We'll keep a look out for them, sir, in case they're up to any more mischief, then, sir."
"Right," I said, "What am I supposed to do with this wheel, then?"
"Well I don't know if you've got any paper on you sir, but if you could leave a note by the bike and take it home..."
"Don't suppose there was any CCTV, was there, sir?"
Well yes there should be absolutely loads of it as there are cameras all over the station, it's incredibly well lit, and thanks to the station clock I can tell you exactly what time it happened.
"Well, I'll mention that too. Thanks for your call, sir, goodnight."
Obviously he didn't want to pursue this as it would mean a crime number, and then it would count against their stats. I imagine he would make a brief call to local control to mention what I told him and that would be that.
I started writing a note to the owner of the bike (who had secured the rear wheel and frame to a metal fence with 2 massive locks) and then gave up.
It would just look odd "I've got your front wheel - call me...." and be a whole bunch of hassle for me and the owner of the bike.
Unless they're queueing up to nick stuff from Walton on Thames station the wheel was probably safe for the rest of the evening, so I tucked it behind the bike and left it.
I went home angry and profoundly depressed. Angry these little oiks knew that they could walk into a well-lit, CCTV-monitored area, lift whatever wasn't nailed down and walk off with impunity because even when they were caught red-handed, they knew there was absolutely no way anyone was going to do anything about it.
And, of course, I was angry that despite the fact they were caught red-handed, despite the CCTV, despite the vast amounts of money the police take from our tax bill, the unsexy, difficult to solve, thankless to deal with, low-level crime that actually bothers most ordinary people is never, ever going to get dealt with whilst we have the system that we have in place.
I don't want to be called sir, I don't want a victims of crime counselling leaflet (which is what happened when I got the hub caps nicked off my car a couple of months back), I don't want someone in a remote call centre pretending to take my details before making some desultory call to a control room who may or may not pass on the information to the one or two squad cars on patrol in the 20 mile radius who will then ignore it because they've got other things to do.
I want to go through to the duty sergeant in the local cop shop who can take a proper description, recognise who I'm talking about and go and find out where they are. OR give me a crime number, promise to look at the CCTV and then follow these f***ers up.
Because, of course, people like this know they can get away with it even when someone like me catches them red-handed, and they're going to keep nicking stuff until they graduate onto something more serious.
If they exist in such a moral vacuum that they can go thieving in the early hours of Saturday morning, with impunity, as a lifestyle choice, then you might as well try to put them through the criminal justice system, because nothing else is going to change their ways.
People say prison doesn't work. I KNOW prison doesn't work, but it also keeps thieving lowlife off the streets. So whilst brighter minds than mine are working out a way of making prison work, let's not stop sending people there who are perfectly relaxed about make other peoples' lives a misery because they don't give two s***s about their fellow human beings.