I accidentally stole from the police aged 13 and thought I was going to jail’

A brush with the law – in more ways than one – had me convinced I was going to be hauled off to the slammer with the other hardened criminals, writes William Hallows

Theft is a crime that most people would never even dream of committing, let alone theft from the police.

However, I once unwittingly stole a piece of police equipment – and I was convinced I was going to be jailed for life.

It was seven years ago. The crime took place at my weekly Cub Scout meeting in Street, Somerset. A group of 20 or so 11- to 16-year-olds who met every Thursday to do various activities such as workshops, games, and work towards completing our badges.

At one meeting, we had a police officer from the local precinct come to talk to us about his daily functions as a cop.

He came with all his gear. This included handcuffs, mace, walkie-talkie, the whole copper kit. He even drove a police van to the town hall.

For the first half of the two-hour session, the officer would give his talk to us, show us his equipment, and answer any questions a bunch of teenage boys could throw at him.

We sat quietly in a semicircle around his chair, eager to hear what he would say.

As he was discussing his role as an arm of the law, item by item he showed us his police equipment to hand round each other and inspect.

This is where we come to 13-year-old me, bouncing my crossed legs with fidgety energy.

It was towards the end of the talk that a can of mace found its way to me. I was the last person to have it. It was a fist-sized, nondescript can with a white body and black head.

I didn’t want to interrupt our guest speaker so the next move would be to give the offensive weapon to an adult, right? I tried to hand it to my Scout leader – simply known as Steve – but he told me to pay attention to the rest of the talk and return the mace at the end.

So, I put the mace in my hoodie pocket and listened.

Not a lot of my peers were listening towards the end though – everyone was too excited about what was coming after the talk.

We were to go outside to the police van, clamber inside it and learn the routine for arresting a suspect. To a group of adolescents, this was the coolest thing ever.

So, when the police officer said, “Right, everyone to the van”, you can imagine how quickly we shot to our feet and ran outside.

All thoughts left our minds, including my awareness of the mace can as I hung my hoodie on a peg.

There the mace sat in my pocket all evening; I think it speaks to how entertaining the Scouts was, but it probably speaks more of how careless and silly I was back then.

It wasn’t until the evening of the next day that I was rumbled.

That Friday, I had a regular day at school, came home then promptly went out to play with the neighbour’s children.

When I returned to the house, the mace (which had been in my room) was now on the kitchen windowsill, with my mum furiously washing dishes in front of me.

She told me that she had received a call from Steve, saying that the officer had reported his mace missing. Steve had been calling round all the kids’ parents trying to find the thief. She said I would be dealt with my dad returned.

Up until this point, I had regarded this debacle as a simple mistake. A slip of the mind. But my dad came in with harsh reality. One of my most prominent memories ever is him sitting down with me that late evening and saying pitilessly: “Four words, Will. Stealing from the police.”

While my parents gave me a brutal discussion about responsibility and the dangers of crime, I was panicking inside.

I thought my life was over. I believed I was going to be carted off to the slammer to be among the other criminals.

Luckily, the grown-ups eventually saw this for what it was – the stupid act of a carefree, forgetful teenager.

My punishment was no iPad and early nights for the week. One of the most lenient justice ever been given to someone who’d stolen from the police.

And that is how I (accidentally) stole from the police.

Seven years on, this is still my favourite and most-recounted anecdote.