"Inside every thief there’s a human being, and in every innocent bystander there could be a bastard.” Those were the words of police officer Emmanuelle Oster after extraordinary footage of the incident emerged.
The clip, taken from security cameras on the Paris Metro, shows a pickpocket making quick work of robbing an apparently drunken man who is sitting at a station early one morning.
Moments later, the thief has gone, and a separate bystander watches as the thief's victim staggers towards the tracks.
Keeping his hands in his pockets, this commuter simply watches as the man falls to the tracks below. He then slowly turns on his feet and walks casually away, not appearing to react.
Soon after, a train rolls into the station, stopping just in time to avoid hitting the fallen man.
In the next strange twist to the tale, it's the thief who comes running from the other end of the platform to pull the man back up onto the platform.
The clip, below, is given a running commentary in French by police officer Emmanuelle Oster, who points out the 'paradox' that the thief acts as a good Samaritan.
The video clip has been viewed over five million times on Facebook since it was shown this week on France 5 as part of a documentary about bystanders failing to help people in danger.
Oster, who is chief of investigations for Paris transportation, says it is common in the early morning for pickpockets to target passengers who haven’t quite woken up yet or who have partied hard and are on their way home from a night out. She refers to such thieves as the 'corpse robbers of dawn'.
The fact that the pickpocket makes an appearance at the end of the video to save his victim is perhaps the most baffling part of the sequence.
"This thief is reacting as a human being," Oster says in the video.
"He knows he’s a thief, and maybe that makes him a bastard. But he isn’t so much of a bastard as to let this guy get electrocuted on the tracks."
"There’s a philosophical lesson to be learned here," Oster concludes.
"Inside every thief there’s a human being, and in every innocent bystander there could be a bastard.”