Beware that a new mode of theft from cars is in operation on the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Côte d’Azur. The way I spent my Wednesday afternoon is described below. For those who don’t have time to read the long story, the moral to be found is that ALL things are connected and although there is bad, there is also good to be found. Stay alert. Don’t overreact. Befriend the angels.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
I returned to my vehicle in the Mandelieu shopping centre at midday, stashed my handbag securely behind my ankles as is my custom to prevent roadside thefts and pulled out of the parking. Hearing a strange noise from the back of the car, I stopped a little way down the road and got out of the car to realize that the right rear tyre was completely flat. Angry that I was going to be late for a lunch appointment, I started the process of jacking the car up and changing the wheel. When I was well into the task, crouched down at the wheel, a woman started screaming at me “Monsieur, le mec a volé votre sac”. A guy had just quietly opened the driver door (obscured from my view) and helped himself to my handbag. Luckily the woman passerby has seen it happen and in the instant alerted me. This was my first angel of the day.
The bag contained only 100 Euros or so in cash but all of my ID papers, cards, PocketPC, etc. so I instinctively gave chase because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing all that. The guy just trotted off calmly into the shopping centre and I lost him from view. First lesson I learned here was DO NOT PURSUE ROBBERS. All your papers and money and gadgets and jewels or whatever are not worth it. Losing the guy was the work of the second angel of the day (see later in the story).
I returned to my car and the woman had already called the police, she handed me her portable and I gave them a description. Within 2 minutes (I kid you not – it wasn’t a second more) there were 5 Police Municipale on the scene. Another member of the public turned up and gave a detailed description and asked me if I needed help with my car. Third angel. The sky was starting to open. The Police Municipale radioed for backup for a manhunt with a good physical description.
I went with angel number 3 into the wider carpark where he had seen the robber and by now there were 10 cops in cars and on motorbikes. They were operating a clearly prearranged search pattern and they got a buzz on the radio from a school traffic warden lady to move over to the smaller shopping centre. She had heard the description on the open radio alert channel (plan Vigipirate) and flagged a motorbike cop to look at a suspicious guy. Nicolas Sarkozy vigipirate readiness goes all the way to school wardens! Fourth angel of the day within no more than 10 minutes.
The thief holed up in a hairdressing salon. All the women customers came out screaming while the armed cops went in. The thief escaped out the back into a huge housing estate and as far as I was concerned he’d got away. The police told me to go home and cancel my credit cards.
However I wasn’t out of angels yet for the day. I later found out why the dispatcher at the Mandelieu gendarmerie had such a determination for an arrest that day and had mobilised so many resources. As I drove home, I saw around 20 gendarmes and police and supermarket security guys surrounding the whole housing estate. Just as I was picking up the phone to start cancelling the credit cards, the Police Municipale called to say my bag was found, and not to cancel my accounts! How thoughtful of them. Angel number 5 right on time.
One hour later the Gendarmerie called. Arrest made after successful manhunt. They wanted to see me for identification of the criminal and to return my belongings to me. Believing it to be a fairly straightforward (if somewhat dramatic) case, I started to give my statement…
…“how was your tyre punctured” the gendarme asked me. “seems to have been a vandal – 2 knife cuts to the tyre wall” I replied. “Voila!” he said triumphantly. “On l’a eu” (“we got him”). Then he told me “you were lucky you didn’t catch the guy when you chased him – he had the knife with him”.
The final part of the story if you haven’t got it by now is that the gang operates in this way. They disable your car after they have seen you parking and identified you as an interesting target. They then wait for you to return and to stop as you drive away. When you get out to see what has happened, you are naturally disoriented and preoccupied, they sneak in and take your possessions.
The police were the most polite and efficient I have ever seen. Obviously they were glad to have busted a known ring. They handed over my bag and thanked me for acting so fast. At this point I came down to earth and remembered – it wasn’t ME to be thanked – it was the angels – notably the first one. The police had her number so I called her to thank her and it was then we both realised that ALL things are connected….
I rang her and told her simply that the guy was caught and my affairs returned and many thanks for her quick thinking. “Oh” she said, “you were lucky today”. (as if I didn’t already know this!). “Yes”, she continued, “normally I would have finished my shopping an hour earlier. But I was on my way back to Feu Vert to pick up a new tyre for my car. I got a surprise puncture in the car park.” “It’s funny” she said, “but seeing you changing your wheel on the road made me think how awful it would have been for me to have to change a tyre – I just crawled straight into Feu Vert and got them to do it”. “How was it punctured?” I asked her. “someone cut it with a knife”, she replied. Long pause. "Non! ,Mon Dieu..." Then it dawned on her as it had dawned on me. All things are connected. Today she was not only a victim of petty vandalism; she had beaten the system and become a guardian angel preventing major loss.
Angel #1 will be getting a free tyre change very soon.