Despite $10m reward; still missing

Last week, a notorious mob boss was murdered in an American prison. Now, a detective claims he was involved in an art theft and handed over stolen art to the IRA. The stolen paintings, including a unique Rembrandt, have never been recovered, despite a $10 million reward.

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Laptop thefts 10: Advice

Over two weeks after having been an innocent witness of what might or might not have been a laptop theft, to which later was added a might have happened or might not have happened camera theft …

You still there? If not: see part 1 and related posts.

If you had asked me earlier, if I had deemed my treatment by police being possible in a civilised country which prides itself on being an EU member state and is quick to use its “right” to criticize and accuse other countries of trampling all over civil and legal rights, I would have raised an eyebrow. But probably have answered you it might be possible but unlikely.

Now of course, I had first-hand experience of what “innocent till proven guilty” in this country now means. After receiving an “invitation” to get to a local police station for a suspect-interview, instead of a witness-interview, it was time to get advice.

The credit crisis, banking crisis, financial crisis, any crises has been used to cut back access to free or affordable legal aid here. This has been going on for decades in practically all EU member states, where inhabitants had access to free or affordable legal advice and aid.

There is now only one office left here, where a first advice is free. So I cycled to it, joined the long queue waiting for this overworked office to open, then got a number, sat down, waited.

Once it was my turn, I went to the counter and while telling what had happened Saturday (see part 5), broke down. The trainee certainly got a hands-on, swim or sink introduction to legal aid to innocent, witnesses having been subjected to police intimidation.

Like friends earlier, she advised to lodge a formal complaint against the policeman involved. It was totally unacceptable and definitely unprofessional behaviour!

Despite friends and now legal aid urging me to file such a complaint, any victim of similar treatment will understand I was wary to do so – before the scheduled interview at the police station. I was totally convinced any complaint would be used against me.

One of many things I wanted advice about was also, if blogging about what had happened might get me into trouble. What a relief to be told that posting about what had happened and how I had experienced things, was not illegal. It might even be used by lawyers as a basis for additional statements in case this ever became necessary.

The bad news: I’d have to deal with the police thug on my own during the suspect-interview at the station. Getting a lawyer involved at what should have been marked a witness-interview, at this stage would cost over 300 Euro per hour and that was a waste of money. Only if police were going to charge or arrest me, would I be entitled to free legal aid.

As I was innocent, I was advised to stress I was an innocent witness, not involved in anything – not in any laptop theft nor camera theft – and state I was using my legal right to remain silent. At the same time, I was advised to try and find out, if anybody had accused me.

Laptop thefts 9: ripples

About two weeks after the theft, the immediate after-effects were becoming clear. It was like the effect of a stone having been thrown into a pond. I suspected the fanning out ripples had only just started.  (See earlier posts, starting from part 1)

We tenants had been used to leaving doors open, trusting nobody would violate privacy and territory. That had already started to change before the theft. With maintenance guys showing up unannounced, members of groups renting rooms on the ground floor level deciding to have a decco and wandering everywhere, plus other incidents – most of the time I was not on the right floor, the doors of my place were locked. They were always locked, when I left the premises.

My gold coloured watch with brown leather straps, as well as a bracelet had gone missing several weeks ago? I still had not located them. Before the theft, I had presumed they would be somewhere among my belongings. But now I was no longer sure. I never locked doors, when I went showering – giving anyone free access to rummage through belongings for a considerable time. I started to lock my door even when going for a shower.

The victim had started to lock her doors about two days after the theft. She locked them, even when needing to go to the bathroom.

Another tenant, who had been out of the house during the laptop theft, had started to lock her doors even when she had to cross the landing.

Interaction between various tenants had always run up and down a scale from ice-age cold to spending days on end in each other’s rooms. Interaction between some tenants had been maintained by using layers of false goodwill and hypocrite attitudes.  Now cracks were starting to appear.

I suspected these would increase and fraught relations would not benefit from what had occurred. Some tenants were already suspected more than others in this affair.

As things did not look bright for me, on receiving an evellope with an “invitation” to come to a local police station, I decided to seek advise.

Laptop thefts 8: buckling

Tuesday, over a week after the theft (see previous posts, from part 1 onwards), I had gone through backups of letters and mails I had sent to friends over the past years. I seemed not to have mentioned an an earlier theft of a camera from the same person and room anywhere.

Neither had I found anything about it, while skimming my diaries and mails. But one of my diaries did contain a story about an earlier break-in and theft. It had occurred a while ago. Apparently, witnesses had reported a man had thrown a brick through a ground floor window, grabbed the computer or laptop, climbed on a bike and sped off.

I presumed my memory had tricked me. I was no longer sure there had been an earlier camera theft from the same person, quite similar as the theft of the laptop now – and possibly also including a camera.
I had also noticed, I actually made a mistake regarding how the door to the victim’s room opened.
It is in a kind of separate hall on that landing and does open into the room. But when opened, it may or may not block the view towards her dining room table. Regardless, the only way to have a clear view into her room, was to stand right in front of that door.

Even if an earlier camera theft had occurred, the victim would have to be willing to confirm it. After all, such a theft from the same person, the same room, under similar circumstances – but with another person or persons being accused – was too much of a coincidence.

By then, I was no longer sleeping nor eating well. I was unable to concentrate or focus. I made mistakes with events I was offering and scheduling. Clients who contacted me, to tell me they were going to take along non-paying friends to outings even though the guest lists had closed weeks ago, received a confrontational “No”, instead of diplomatic customer relation enhancing turn-downs. I even forgot scheduled events I was going to host for friends. Since the police thug’s visit, I could not focus nor function. (See part 5)

I could not concentrate on courses I was taking and supposed to complete well before September. Friends inviting me to come and stay with them for a while, were turned down. Under the circumstances, accepting invitations for a free or semi-free stay abroad, did not feel right.

If police was convinced it was okay to hassle, intimidate, accuse an innocent witness like me, because they were after an easy solution, would surely misinterpret a short holiday abroad.

There might be people in this country, still believing in “innocent till proven guilty” – it seemed it was no longer how the system and its manikins worked.

I wished I had followed my ordinary Monday morning routine.
I wished I had realised me moving out of the premises, instead of tolerating bad living-conditions because I needed cheap lodgings.

Though I had slowly managed to start putting my life back on the rails and made a start sorting out my own and other’s problems – for the umpteenth time – it looked like my life was going to be shattered yet again.

I did not know if I would have the strength to cope with everything.

Laptop thefts 7: friends

By Monday, mails and text messages from friends started to arrive. One texted a name of a family lawyer. I doubted a divorce lawyer might be useful.

Another texted from Paris, giving a name and advising to contact this friend through LinkedIn. This lawyer was living in Scandinavia.

One was unable to help straight away, as there had been heavy rainfall and the cellar of his partner’s home had flooded.
But he wondered what had happened to the basic corner stone of this country’s legal and justice system: presumed innocent till proven guilty.
Had that gone out of the window together with the laptop?
Moreover, there was nothing to connect me to the vanished laptop – provided it had disappeared.
Police had no clues, so they were intimidating people hoping to crack one and get a confession. How deep this country and its police had sunk.

Ever since fingerprints had to be handed in – and were stored in a database – to obtain the obligatory passport or ID-card here, I had known “innocent till proven guilty” had left this country.
In this country, everybody is now “guilty until proven innocent”.

A few others mailed, outraged at what had happened. What kind of third world dictatorship country was I living in? Who’d accused me? What proof was there? I was innocent, there was no proof, the case would be thrown out of court – provided someone was stupid enough to let it get that far. The case would collapse. And police knew this! They were wasting time and tax-payers’ money.
No idea who’d accused me and of what. I had not stolen the laptop, had not stolen the camera – but could not prove it.

One friend mailed and ordered me to vet the policeman. He sounded like a phoney and were those women playing a dirty trick on me? I should keep my cool. I had nothing to fear.
I did not think the policeman had been a phoney one: just a thug policeman.

A former colleague wondered if correct procedures had been followed. He urged me to launch a serious complaint, as no innocent witness could be treated like this in this country. Witnesses and even criminals had rights! This policeman had seriously misbehaved!
I felt sick, had not eaten nor slept properly for close to 48 hours now. Filing a complaint was not top of my list. How on earth was I going to be believed, if police had already concluded I must be guilty.

Another friend took a dim view of the whole handling of the theft: Kafkaesk. A week later and police had come no further than witness intimidation? It might have been an insurance scam.
I did not know about procedures nor about my rights. When I had been a witness of anything, police had always treated me kindly and decently and taken a witness statement at my home.

This was my reason for trusting the policeman, who had responded by intimidating, treatening, upsetting me Saturday evening. (See part 5)
I had never been anywhere near the laptop and had not even known about the camera! I was an innocent witness – and that was enough for police to bully, intimidate, threaten, accuse me.

From now on, I would never ever trust police again, nor speak to a policeman on my own.
People were right: they were no use and should not and could not be trusted.

Laptop thefts 6: memory playing tricks?

After having been treated by the police thug as the laptop thief, instead of an innocent witness, I hardly slept. (See part 1 and related posts.)

Early Sunday morning, what had been jarring popped to the surface.Was I dreaming? Was my memory playing tricks? Or was I right and had the phrase about bucket and camera been used before? (See part 3)

Like the person working somewhere downstairs Monday morning, the camera had dropped out of the story. The victim and miss spare-key had told me, not only the two window cleaners had been working in the house and at the back. They had told me someone else had been working at ground floor level, at the back.
I had seen the window cleaners. I had never seen that other person.

The laptop had gone missing Monday morning.
Tuesday morning, the victim had told me she also missed a camera.

Was my memory right and had there been an earlier theft of a camera?
A theft of a camera from the same table, the same room, the same person – but much earlier?

If the thug was right, that very same person had lied to me about the window cleaners having been interviewed at the police station Tuesday afternoon at 15:00. Had she been playing some kind of sich joke? (See part 5)

Or had the lie been part of his intimidation to make an innocent witness crack and admit to a deed she had not done, because it suited and solved his case?

Had a camera been stolen as well as the laptop?
Had another camera been stolen as well, but a while ago ?

If my memory was not playing tricks, when had that earlier theft occurred? I seemed to vaguely remember a discussion between me, my upstairs neighbour, and possibly her spare-key friend.
If my memory was not playing tricks, I had been standing on their landing, close to the stairs.
Someone else had been suspected. If the phrase about bucket and camera had been used earlier, it had also been a window cleaner.

I wanted to check my memory, so a large part of my Sunday was spent skimming the diaries I keep.
But either the theft had occurred before I had started living there.
Or it had occurred during the stressful time when I was juggling my problems and caring for a sick relative.
It had been a fraught and exhausting time, during which my life and problems and not had priority and the relative had.
There were long, blank periods between entries and apparently, nothing about a camera.

Yet I felt pretty sure, the suggestion a bucket might have been involved in removing a camera from the house, was not new.

However, I doubted police would bother checking earlier thefts.
They had a suitable scapegoat, while expenses remained within budget and case solved would enhance their monthly crime solving targets.

That I was not involved and totally innocent, was of no importance at all.

Laptop thefts 5: Saturday evening

All went quiet for a while on the laptop-front. By Thursday, I did try to figure out which police station might be handling the case. There were several prospective candidates and I hadn’t a clue.

Friends mailed me not to worry. I had other issues on my plate.
After all: police knew where I lived and the landlord had my contact info and the other tenants could supply my mail address and the window cleaners had my card.

Moreover, the cleaners had been called in by police on Tuesday afternoon. (See part 3)
As I received no mail nor phone-call, maybe the victim and spare-key had been right.
The case was solved.

Saturday evening, around 18:00, I was preparing dinner when a bell rang. It rang again.
Then the victim’s bell rang. She did not budge. I went downstairs.
Some guy in a weird kind of slap-dash grab-together second-hand combat-and-army outfit stood at the front door. Goths and punks looked better.

We get our regular share of sales persons, wrong address, and other problems at the front door.
Turned out this was police.
Not suspecting anything, I asked him to come in and up and into my room.
I expected this to be the witness interview.

Once inside, things turned nasty.
He repeated several times, he had no contact info of me.
Surprised, I told him the landlord has it, the window cleaners have it, lots of people have it.

He wanted my ID card.
I handed it to him.
His pen was not working.
I offered one, but he had another pen.
He copied down info, before handing it back.
I asked him to sit down in a chair, next to the windows.

He kept on and on about me not being registered there and people having good reasons for not being registered at an address.
Owning two other places and still undecided about where to settle – though having decided it would not be this house – I hadn’t registered there.
So I kept repeating his phrase: I had good reasons.
After all: was he there about my property, or a stolen laptop?

Told him I had heard the window cleaners had been called in Tuesday afternoon at 15:00. (See part 3)
No, they had not. They hadn’t been called in and he was the one in charge of the case, so he should know.

I was surprised: someone must be lying to me.
So I told him the victim had told me this, when I spoke to her Tuesday morning.

Things were going to get worse.
Once seated, his accusations started to come. It turned really nasty.

To put it in a nutshell: if he took my statement there and then, he could not use it to accuse, charge, and get me convicted.

So I was not being treated as an innocent witness of what happened Monday morning. (See part 1 and part 2)
I was being suspected of – just short of being accused of, charged with, convicted of – this theft.

So he needed to interview me at the police station.
Not the nearest one, but somewhere else in town.

I got really upset: I had asked this none-suit in trustingly, innocently, hospitably!
He was now actually abusing this trust and hospitality – to accuse an innocent witness of having stolen the laptop! I had not even planned to be in the house that morning!

In shock, I started to hyperventilate and ordered him to leave immediately – asking for his contact information.
I told him I was going to contact a lawyer and would not speak to any policeman again without a lawyer.

He told me I had the right to remain silent.
He refused to hand his card.
He mentioned a name, but I was so stressed out, I couldn’t write it down correctly.
I asked him to hand his card again.
He kept refusing.
I need reading-glasses to read small print – but was too distressed to look for them.
I could not read the card he kept in his hands.
With difficulty, I somehow managed to finally write down the name from the card with him spelling and mentioning a number.
The name on his card was not the name he had pronounced.

While he left, I told him again, I would not show up without a lawyer.
He told me I would receive a letter.
I said I would show up at a date and time that suited my lawyer.

Once he had left my room, I broke down and was hyperventilating.
After about an hour, I had calmed down enough to start typing badly spelled, ungrammatical, incoherent text messages to friends, asking for lawyers’ names.

It was Saturday evening. I was on my own. Everything had shut down for the weekend.
Even if I got a lawyer’s office name, it would not open till Monday and with their diaries, they would not be able to see me straight away.
How nicely it had been planned.

All the time, my large windows had been open; as had the windows above mine. My upstairs’ neighbour – the victim – and her spare-key friend had not missed a single word.

At the back of my mind, something still jarred.