On this side a middle ranking Government Minister, over there a Bishop of the Church of England.
Me? Alone, sipping my latte and listening. From both these separate tables came exactly the same phrase: it went like this: "We hope they get away with it."
I almost choked on my coffee.
But such extraordinary sentiments have been repeated across our law abiding nation in the past few days. Ever since a gang of daring thieves kidnapped the manager of a security depot, held his family at gunpoint, and then emptied his premises of — wait for it — more than $90 million in untraceable used banknotes.
That's one pig of a heist!
The British police are running around like crazy. But nine days after it happened, the money has vanished off the face of the earth and many of my countrymen are quietly cheering.
We don't normally approve of criminals. We resent robbery, we abhor violence and we don't carry guns.
But equally we hate the state robbing us. We resent greedy taxes. A gallon of gas costs us four times what it costs you. The people who supply drinking water can, as of this week, force us to put in water meters and charge us for every bath we take.
So maybe we sympathize when some enterprising bad boys get their own back. This gang's victims, so the thinking goes, weren't real people. The money was being held on behalf of the Bank of England. It was, in a way, the people's money, OUR money. And it was all properly insured.
I suspect we are also slightly ashamed of the way the perpetrators could be treated. Rapists often get tiny sentences. Murderers walk free in less than eight years. But big British bank robbers always get the book thrown at them.
Now the middle ranking government minister at the next table would never dare say it out loud. The Bishop would shake his head in anguished condemnation. But this morning I suspect that they and much of Britain are silently a little bit proud of the crime and the criminals.
by Ed Boyle