(Original edit, and original title, of article written for Taxi magazine).
I hadn’t found any lost property in the cab for a long time. I was keen to get home to start a three-day weekend when my vigilance deserted me and I let a man leave his phone in my cab.
These things always seem to happen at the end of the day before a day off. I have an excellent record for re-uniting folk with their mobile phones though. What usually happens is they call the lost phone, I answer it; then arrange to deliver it make to the owner. No call came this time, so I took the official lost property route. It was frustrating though because I remember where I picked my man up and where I dropped him; I just didn’t know the door number.
It was 6.30pm, so the TfL Lost Property Office at Baker Street was closed. Not to worry, I knew West End Central Police Station would be open so I headed to Mayfair. The problem with police stations is that there’s no parking. They hardly encourage you to report a crime, do they? I parked on the rank in New Burlington Street and made the sixty second walk to Savile Row. I wasn’t there long. Just long enough to read the notice saying they were closed.
It was Thursday and I was in Going Home mode on ComCab. I wouldn’t be back in London until Monday. Bearing in mind the twenty-four hour rule I thought where else could I hand in the phone? I then remembered a bilking incident from 2016. A PC at West Hampstead helped me recover some money after a penniless student fled from his own house leaving an unpaid £41 taxi fare. His parents weren’t in to lend him the cab fare from Shaftesbury Avenue to Hampstead and he panicked and fled the scene. Anyway, I remember the police officer saying that he worked nights, so I was confident West Hampstead Police Station would be open, and it was on my route home.
The last time I handed something in at a police station was about twenty-five years’ ago. As a young butter boy I foolishly accepted a £50 note that two youths gave me as payment for a fare. When I went to pay for my meal at the Royal Oak caff we could all see the note was a fake.
Later that evening I heard a radio report about a gang of counterfeiters who had been apprehended. I figured my moody £50 note was probably one of their creations. When I handed it in at Tottenham Court Road, I half expected a reward;, but all they did was put my fifty into a plastic bag and send me on my way. Don’t forget I’d also given the two scroats about £40 change.
Tottenham Court Road Police Station is long gone, but I was pleased to find that West Hampstead was open. Great. I had my apology prepared as the male and female greeted me behind the glass: “It’s a boring one… Lost property.” The lady was even more apologetic than I was when she told me they no longer accept lost property. She also pointed out how lucky I was to find them open. She could clearly hardly believe it herself as she exclaimed that they only open three HOURS per week!
She had the air of a provincial librarian. In fact the whole place felt like a small town library. It wasn’t like the police stations I’d come to expect from watching TV. There was no harassed bloke in white shirtsleeves trying to tap stuff into a computer while folk drunkenly fell all over the counter mumbling nonsense. There were no streetwalkers sat sullenly on a bench awaiting processing, or hoping to be let off with a warning and a lecture on keeping yourself safe. It was just two middle aged people manning the station; and, I noted, a pet dog lying under a desk.
I know little about mobile phones, so I asked their help in trying to open the device to identify the owner. The man couldn’t open the phone either. They said I could go to Kentish Town Police Station as an alternative. I explained I was heading towards the M1 and home. He said I’d done my bit by trying two stations, so I agreed I’d have my three days’ off and take it to Baker Street on Monday.
We try our best to do the right thing and re-unite people with their lost property, but cuts to the Police Service have resulted in the situation where we’re put in a difficult position: TfL Lost Property Office works office hours; most police stations closed; and there’s nowhere to park if you are lucky to find one open.
They say the police are never around when you want them. Several days later I passed a rank of police vans parked up on Bridge Street prior to the anti-Brexit demo. There was a policeman in a yellow vest stopping people drive into Parliament Square. I wondered what station all these coppers came from, and whether if I tapped on the door of the van they’d take down some particulars and put any lost property into a plastic bag for me?