Revealed: The secret sleight of hand used by thieves to remove a watch from a victim's wrist
by VICTORIA MOORE
Last updated at 00:44 14 June 2007
George Bush might have had his pinched from his wrist - or not, depending on whether you believe the White House press office - as he worked a particularly enthusiastic crowd this week.
But since I have invited Dave, 36, a professional magician, specifically so he can show me how the trick works, I am hardly going to be so daft as to fall for it myself.
The U.S. President was mobbed like a rock star when he visited the farming village of Fushe Kruje, 20 miles from the Albanian capital of Tirana on Sunday. And at some point, as he plunged in and out of a mass of locals who clutched at his arms and shook his hands, the Timex Indiglo he usually wears on his left wrist vanished.
Video pictures clearly show that the watch, apparently inscribed with the words "George W Bush, President, January 20, 2001", was securely in place when he arrived just after 2.15pm.
Less than ten minutes later, his tanned arm was suddenly and embarrassingly rather bare.
No doubt anxious to avoid a diplomatic incident, the President "put [the watch] in his pocket and it returned safely home," claimed his chief spokesman.
But Dave Bonsall, who specialises in the sleight of hand movements that are a pickpocket's trade, says: "I'm sure it was stolen."
He explains: "I've watched the footage very closely. I've been doing these tricks as part of my magic act for years so I recognise the gestures and movements.
"And 57 seconds into the YouTube video there's a tell-tale moment.
"You can see that someone has their hand exactly over the place where Bush's watch would be and you see him give Bush's wrist a quick squeeze."
A quick squeeze? Wouldn't that only draw attention to the fact that a watch might be about to go missing? Bonsall shakes his head.
"No. It's a vital part of the move. Just before you slip the watch away, you squeeze it very hard against the person's arm so that it leaves an imprint, giving the sensation that it's still there, even when it's not."
So like most illusions and magical feats, it depends on a key element common to both the performer and the street thief's arsenal: a cunning use of psychology.
"Misdirection" is the most important thing, says Bonsall.
"If I want to get away with something, then I need to make sure you are looking somewhere else.
"One side of the brain is used for memory, the
other for creativity and imagination.
"If I ask you to remember something, your eyes will tend to move to the right as you think, and even if they don't actually move, that's where your concentration will be directed.
"If I wanted to divert your attention to the right, I might say: 'Can you remember which card you chose?'"
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Street thieves don't use quite such sophisticated devices, but they are still wily and - as George Bush discovered - if your guard is knocked for just a moment, it's horribly easy for them to strike. Bonsall has no shady history behind him.
He has previously worked as a lifeguard and then served in Bosnia with the Marines.
He also trained as a professional athlete, specialising in the javelin ("I could throw 53 metres") and pole vault (best jump, 4.80m) before a series of injuries put paid to his hopes of trialling for the Olympics.
He turned to his other passion, magic, having been obsessed with it since being given a Paul Daniels set aged ten ("I didn't like the tricks -they were too cheesy - so I started to invent my own").
He is familiar with all the tricks, not just of the magician's trade, but also those of the street pickpocket.
"Like this one," he says, approaching me with his suit jacket folded neatly over his arm, in the same way a City commuter might carry his on a sticky summer's day.
"Excuse me, is this Tube going to Liverpool Street?"
I look at him blankly, as I have at so many strangers on public transport, and remember to grasp vaguely at my arm, pleased to see, he has so far failed to steal my watch.
Then I notice that, using the jacket as cover, he has kicked my handbag which was under my chair so far along the ground that if we really had been on a crowded train rather than in my own front room, an accomplice could easily have picked it up and taken it.
"Always be careful of anyone with a jacket over their arm," he advises, demonstrating in a few fast seconds how easy it is to bump into someone so that they clutch stupidly at the front of their handbag, slip a hand into the back of it, extract a wallet, and hide it under the suit jacket.
Men should beware of keeping valuables in the side pocket of suit trousers, because in the middle of a crowd, a pickpocket can grasp the slippery pocket lining, and feed it easily through their fingers until they've turned the pocket inside out and removed any valuables.
Keeping a wallet in the back pocket of your trousers isn't safe, either.
"All someone needs to do is bang into you from behind," says Dave, "and the impact will send the wallet shooting up out of the pocket so they can lift it easily out.
"And, as with the watch, you'll still think you can feel it there."
What about the watch? How easy is it to pinch one off someone's arm without them noticing?
"Actually, it's quite hard," he confesses, Because you need to grip their arm quite tightly, which you wouldn't normally do in a social situation."
It might, however, happen, to an old lady if she fell over and an apparently kind passer-by helped her to her feet.
Or, as in the case of George Bush, in a crowd where there is a lot of physical contact.
"Ninety-five per cent of people wear their watch on their left wrist," says Bonsall, "So I've learnt to do this only with my right-hand -if you wear your watch on the other arm, you're probably safe."
As he demonstrates how it's done, it's hard not to notice how frighteningly slick it is: in comes his big hand, covering the watch face with its palm, and taking a grip on my wrist.
His middle finger finds the loose end of the strap, and slips it free of the leather hoops, then back so that the pin slips out.
The strap feeds through the buckle, he gives my wrist that tell-tale, reassuring squeeze - and the watch is spirited away in the palm of his hand.
I can't help feeling rather smug that although
he demonstrates other tricks with aplomb, he hasn't taken my watch unawares.
And then it happens. Just as I wasn't expecting it.
He's standing in the middle of the room talking to our photographer, who's trying to show him where he wants him to stand.
There's a lot of "No, not here, let me show you" and some manhandling - "Can you hold your arm out
like this?" - going on.
And it provides the perfect cover. In a couple
of seconds, he's divested the photographer of his watch.
Unlike the Albanian who took George Bush's, though, he at least has the courtesy to give it back.
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