One afternoon in late-October of 2011, I was sat in the back of a car in a street of the Burundian capital of Bujumbura. An Irish colleague sat in the passenger’s seat in the front of the car. Clement, our Burundian companion, had stepped into a nearby shop.
Burundi ranks among the poorest countries in the world and the street was filled with impoverished people struggling to make an income by whatever means possible, including criminal activity, if necessary.
There was a tap on the window of the car from someone walking along the broken concrete pavement. Looking out of the window meant turning away from the empty seat beside me on which lay my camera. The moment of inattention had allowed an accomplice of the man on the pavement to steal the camera. The men disappeared into the crowd and there was nothing to be done.
Five minutes later, Clement reappeared.
“My camera was stolen,” I said.
”So the men standing there told me,” he said. Turning the ignition key, he put the car into reverse and we flew backward down the street, making a handbrake turn at the corner worthy of a Hollywood car chase.
”Where are we going?” I asked.
”Be quiet,” he said.
A few seconds later we stopped beside a patch of waste ground, a group of youths stood talking in the middle.
“Stay here,” said Clement. He stepped from the car and ran towards the group. At six feet six inches, he was at least a foot taller than those he approached. There were a few brief words before Clement was holding the camera aloft. He took banknotes from his pocket and threw them into the air. The youths started fighting with each other over the money as Clement walked back to the car.
”How did you know to come here?”
”Because this is where they always come. I could have recovered it up to two days’ time – and then it would have gone out of the country. No-one here could afford a camera like that.”
”How much do I owe you?”
”The money I threw to them was about €10.”
I took money from my wallet and handed it to him.
This afternoon, my sister’s family, with friends from Belfast, went to the River Parrett at Langport. While they were away from the car, thieves smashed the car window, stealing the dash cam and a handbag that had been hidden.
The response of Avon and Somerset Police was to give them a crime reference number so an insurance claim could be made.
The only time I have ever seen the police in Langport has been a motor cyclist with a speed camera on Picts Hill, waiting to catch people travelling at speeds like 36 mph.
Clement would have known where people sold stolen dash cams; Avon and Somerset Police presumably possess similar information, yet do nothing about it.