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I Did It! I Witnessed a Bank Robbery!

A cash case, a disguised assailant, a midday heist and a speedy getaway — yet it all falls short of an action movie.

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This piece is part of our "I Did It!" series, a collection of first-person essays celebrating outlandish means and wild achievements. Submit your own story to "I Did It!" by emailing The Airship’s editor at

It was about 11:10 A.M. I was walking from a meeting with one of my supervisors to a seminar, strolling through Bloomsbury, the beating heart of literary London. I crossed over Upper Woburn Place and walked past the HSBC branch on the corner of Barnard Street. There’s a Bangladeshi man who sells Union Jack postcards and mugs from a large stall just outside the entrance. Dozens and dozens of people milled around. A security van was parked outside the branch entrance. A driver was walking from the van to the bank entrance, on my left, holding a grey-colored hard plastic money case. I barely noticed him.

Corner where the robbery took place

Corner where the robbery took place

As I drew level with the entrance, a barked shout snapped me from my reverie. (I still have no idea what was said.) I looked to my left and saw as a man dressed in a grey Nike sweatsuit and silver motorbike helmet ran up behind the delivery driver as he entered the bank lobby. He shoved the driver in the back, hard, and the driver fell forward. He dropped the money off to his right. The robber made a slightly ungainly shuffle-step and scooped up the case.

Everyone froze — well, apart from the thieves. It was disbelief rather than fear. It was, momentarily, a breakdown of society. Fairly basic tenets, things like property rights and the rule of law, showed themselves to be mutable and surprisingly fragile.

The robber spun around. For a second, I was in between him and the moped he was making for, driven by another helmeted guy in a black or navy tracksuit. Tackle him, I thought. Then I thought, GUN, KNIFE. He ran past me.

“Go go GO,” he shouted. His visor was up, and I saw that he was white. He jumped onto the back of the moped, and they zoomed down Barnard Street. I walked four or five steps after them, trying to memorize the licence plate: JVIII 9PH.


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