Travelling home from a meeting at the Payments Council on Monday afternoon, I was enjoying the peace and quiet of the train gradually emptying as it drew further out of town. At Sunningdale, a station normally notable only for the most prosperous passengers, a group of excitable teenagers joined the train obviously looking for trouble. Brandishing camera phones, they seemed more of an irritant than a threat.
Avidly reading advice on strategies to avoid arrest by over-zealous US police officers, quoted in an article from the latest edition of Cryptogram, I felt comfortably detached from my surroundings. The luxury of a half-empty train on the Reading line is a rare treat.
The author of the article advised that unlawful activity is best indulged in from the comfort of your own home. If you must commit crimes in public, avoid drawing attention to yourself. In particular, even if you become aware of an officer while performing an illegal act, it is better to continue rather than raise suspicion through a sudden change in behaviour.
At this point I became aware that I had unwittingly become the focus of the gang, who had moved on from threatening to punch random strangers to wielding newspapers and cigarette lighters while daring each other to take my phone. Suddenly alert to the situation, I put my phone away, muttered ‘excuse me’ and wandered gently up the carriage. They left the train at the next station.
I’d made the mistake of forgetting that my brand new phone which I regarded as a standard device for accessing content and keeping in touch, could also be seen as a status symbol with significant market value. On reflection, it gave me a tangible example of one of the key risk concepts being investigated by the TREsPASS project: attacker motivation. This had moved from the general to the specific, as an opportunity was spotted and the incident unfolded. It was clearly unpremeditated and yet in many ways predictable.
As my brother commented the next morning, teenage gangs in our area just aren’t what they were in our youth, when they would steam the length of trains in groups of twenty or more. He also gave me a great tip for protecting my phone in future, which in his experience deters all potential muggers. Waterproof, costing only a few pence, with the option of additional cotton wool for extra authenticity: an attractive little black plastic bag with yellow drawstring, as commonly carried by dog walkers.