A young man finds that strolling along the streets without an obvious purpose can lead to trouble with the law. One misunderstanding leads to another until eventually he must appear in court for trial……
A Brush with the Law
I have only once been in trouble with the law. The whole process of being arrested and taken to court was a rather unpleasant experience at the time, but it makes a good story now. What makes it rather disturbing was the arbitrary circumstances both of my arrest and my subsequent fate in court.
In happened in February about twelve years ago. I had left school a couple of months before that and was not due to go to university until the following October. I was still living at home at the time.
One morning I was in Richmond, a suburb of London near where I lived. I was looking for a temporary job so that I could save up some money to go travelling. As it was a fine day and I was in no hurry, I was taking my time, looking in shop windows, strolling in the park, and sometimes just stopping and looking around me. It must have been this obvious aimlessness that led to my downfall.
It was about half past eleven when it happened. I was just walking out of the local library, having unsuccessfully sought employment there, when I saw a man walking across the road with the obvious intention of talking to me. I thought he was going to ask me the time. Instead, he said he was a police officer and he was arresting me. At first I thought it was some kind of joke. But then another policeman appeared, this time in uniform, and I was left in no doubt.
'But what for?' I asked.
"Wandering with intent to commit an arrestable offence,' he said.
'What offence?' I asked.
'Theft,' he said.
'Theft of what?' I asked.
'Milk bottles,' he said, and with a perfectly straight face too!
'Oh,' I said.
It turned out there had been a lot of petty thefts in the area, particularly that of stealing milk bottles from doorsteps.
Then I made my big mistake. At the time I was nineteen, had long untidy hair, and regarded myself as part of the sixties' 'youth countercultrue. As a result, I want to appear cool and unconcerned with the incident, so I said, 'How long have you been following me?' in the most casual and conversation tone I could manage. I thus appeared to them to be quite familiar with this sort of situation, and it confirmed them in their belief that I was a thoroughly disreputable character.
A few minutes later a police car arrived.
'Get in the back," they said. 'Put your hands on the back of the front seat and don't move