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UK man arrested for stealing half a penny’s worth of power to charge iPhone

Jul 13, 20153 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

A UK man plugged his iPhone into the train to charge it and was later arrested for 'abstracting electricity.'

As ridiculous as it was when police in Georgia arrested an electric car owner for stealing five cents of electricity, it may be more ridiculous that a UK man was arrested for stealing about a ‘penny’s worth’ of power after charging his iPhone on a train.

The entire episode was “ridiculous,” artist Robin Lee told the London Evening Standard. He had plugged his iPhone into the train to charge it during a trip that took about “eight or nine minutes” and was then arrested for “abstracting electricity.”

A police community support officer told Lee it was a crime to abstract electricity; she then called out to four other cops on the station platform, saying, “This guy’s been abstracting electricity, he needs to be arrested.” Four “aggressive” cops allegedly surrounded him and then handcuffed him.

“I was just incredulous,” Lee said. “It was an overzealous community support officer. They should never have arrested me, they knew it was ridiculous. The whole thing was just ridiculous.”

The “penny’s worth” of power stolen was reported by the Daily Mail, but the Metro did the math: “If you were to completely drain and recharge an average mobile phone every day for a year it would use up about 2,000 watt hours (or 2kWh) of energy.” That would cost about 19 pence, “but Mr. Lee only charged his phone up once – and we don’t even know if he managed to charge it up fully. Therefore the absolute most Mr. Lee would have cost the train company in electricity is roughly 0.052 pence.”

In the same way $1 is equal to 100 pennies, Money Converter showed £1 (pound) being equal to 100 pence. According to the CoinMill currency converter, .052 pence doesn’t even translate as it showed the converted U.S. price being equal to $0.00; in other words, Lee ‘stole’ about a half of a penny’s worth of power.

Wow, it must have been a slow day for the British Transport Police. When asked about the incident, the British Transport Police (BTP) told Yahoo, “We were called to Camden Road London Overground station on Friday, 10 July to a report of a man becoming aggressive when challenged by a PCSO about his use of a plug socket on board an Overground train. Shortly after 3.30pm, a 45-year-old man from Islington was arrested on suspicion of abstracting electricity, for which he was de-arrested shortly after. He was further arrested for unacceptable behavior and has been reported for this offense.”

Lee tweeted and then later deleted a copy of his arrest sheet. He was arrested, and then de-arrested, and then arrested again for “unacceptable behavior” after “becoming aggressive” when he objected to being arrested for stealing half a penny’s worth of electricity. Wouldn’t most reasonable folks find that crazy?

A Transport for London spokeswoman told the Evening Standard that “on board London Overground trains” have “signs near the plug points state they are for ‘cleaners use only and not for public use’.” Yet Lee said, “I just sat down and plugged my phone in because there were no signs saying not to.”

He summed up the experience as “To put it politely, they were overzealous. To put it not so politely, they were pathetic idiots. They should never have arrested me, they knew it was ridiculous. The whole thing was just ridiculous.”

Some users on the London Underground Forum pointed out that the cops might have just dropped it if he had simply apologized instead of trying to push past them.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.