I didn't know what to blog today as I've been a bit `elsewhere` of late, but then I heard some wonderous things in the news yesterday, then I saw a thread forming, then a sort of link, leading me to tip a hat to Nickie Goomba, whose own banner flies the message "It Don't make Sense" reminding me that, sometimes, most times, it sure don't. So, yesterday we had the conviction of the `liquid bomb` terrorists - well done indeed and a huge `thank you` to the Metropolitan Police team (which included officers seconded from forces all over the country) and also the 12 good persons and true of the jury.
These counter terrorist investigations are the sort of thing that, for obvious reasons, you read about after the event and are often bizarre in the extreme. Many little sub-incidents along the path of the incredibly complex investigation and trial are forgotten, like occasionally reported police activity across the country, with secretive armed raids by police in black coveralls and helmets, on suspect addresses, of some poor innocent sod in the East End being accidentally shot in the shoulder and the following pious press articles of police blunders and cock-ups. Only the investigators know how dangerous the suspects are and only the officers taking down the door to arrest them know real fear and the strength it takes to hold it at bay. But for me, the most chilling thing that came out of the news coverage yesterday, was listening to the `after I am dead` video message from one of the convicted. Shallow and lacking in anything remotely convincing of clarity of thought through idealism, we were treated to what came across as a yob in a shemag who `um'd, err'd and ya-know-what-a' mean'd` his way to his concluding remark, "An' well, er, don't mess wiv da Muslims, right".
Then there was the little press statement from the Home Sec that his department is now going to back the British `jobless` by making it harder to employ immigrant workers unless the jobs have been offered to UK citizens first. That's nice of them, but this is something our Australian and Canadian pals have been doing for decades.
Why this should be suddenly introduced now, when there is an economic crisis and jobs are being lost across the country and several Polish people I know have been telling me they are leaving to go back to Poland to work, is a little odd. Something of the horse and the bolted stable door about this one.
And finally, there is the continuing tale of Libyans, the Government and the deal that didn't, then did or didn't happen - closely followed by the revelations of compensation (blood money) that the Americans got but our negotiators somehow missed - or did they? Perhaps 30 years of Irish Republican terrorism, aided and abetted by Libyan arms shipments and that nasty Semtex stuff of theirs was accidentally overlooked in all the wheeling and dealing that was (or wasn't) going on behind closed tent flaps. I mean, in a politician's busy schedule these things can happen. "The Judas Kiss in the Garden. The bliss of malice, without accountability". (Marina Lewycka - "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian")
I have a tale from my past which is sort of linked to the intrigue of today's headlines and the half-truths, secrecy and subterfuge. I just felt that in my little tale, the smoke screen was somehow more dignified and, just occasionally, you think, `It makes sense`, especially when you don't believe all you read in the papers.
Names, etc have been changed but the story is 100% true. It took place in England but the incident, that provoked the response, did not take place in the UK. (Oh and they weren't Muslims either, so lets not get whipped up into a frenzy - after all, I'm not working for the newspapers - knowingly).
It’s always created something of a dilemma for me, whenever I read a book about the exploits of people at the forefront of counter terrorist operations, in particular those written by former members of British Military Special Forces. Their stories are both gripping and awe-inspiring and deserve to be told. The dilemma is that by so doing the risk is run of exposing valuable tactical information. Following on from my occasional theme of police firearms operations from my past service, I have a little tale to tell but I still believe that, even after more than 2 decades, there is still some sensitivity in its origins so I have decided to tinker with the identifying features and alter the names. I'm not paranoid but I feel I need to be careful about how I tell it.
The following are extracts from my notes, raw and lacking in grammar:
Summer of 19**. Earlier this particular week I watched a TV news bulletin that said there had been a terrorist attack at ***** (Continental Europe). It said that a bomb and machine gun attack at ***** had killed and injured many people. I thought little more about it as there were quite a few incidents involving ****** across Europe and elsewhere at this time.
My pager goes at 8pm on Saturday evening and it’s the Boss. I phone in and get this: "Hogday, RV at ****** 0200. Go via the armoury. Book out a 9milly for yourself and load up your car with carbines + ammo+ Body Armour and all the CS you can find. Try and get a few hours kip first – you have still got a Merc Estate haven’t you?”. No kip materialised, just lots of staring at the ceiling.
First briefing at 0300 as we take over from 2ic and the Red team, who'd been there all day. Briefing is very bad news. We’re told we’re going to arrest those responsible for the attack I’d heard about on TV and that they have been hiding up in, of all places, ****** Terrorists living in England? Well who’d have thought it?
Spooks (Security Service/MI6) appear. They’ve been there all day, we learn. We are given a 2nd briefing. As entry team Sgt I am taken to one side by the spook after the briefing. He says, "Are you and your team up for shooting someone over this, because that is exactly what I believe you will end up doing". I tell him we’ll deal with what we see and he then says, "If you take any casualties, just fall back and hold them there and we will have military SF take them out, they'll be at ***** standing by". Nice one Mr Spook, isn't it us supposed to back them? Not on this occasion it seems, as Politics dictate the strategy.
2ic and the first team stand down and leave the building.
We draw weapons. I'm the only one with a 9mm Browning; everyone else has .357 Magnums, plus carbines for the containment team. No bloody sniper was tasked despite my strong words to 2ic and The Boss who said the ACC (Assistant Chief Constable) wouldn’t approve them - reiterated on the de-brief a few days later, such as that was. Bit of a joke actually. I have always liked snipers having our backs.
We get the usual highly detailed (not) intel brief on the location and the bad guys. Intel believed there were only 2 or 3 of them but we regard anything from SB with extreme suspicion. The same spook then takes me to one side again and tells me that they really can't be sure exactly how many are in there, but asks me again, in a round about way, if we are ready to use lethal force. I give him a bit of a look and assure him that the entry teams are good to go and will kill everyone, as he requested. He misses my joke and goes all coy and backtracks on me. I reassure him that I am not wired for sound and so he can deny the conversation ever took place, at which point he sort of laughs. He was beginning to get on my nerves.
We brief in detail but as no one can give us an accurate layout of the flats we can't do any dummy runs, as we would do if we’d had the time.
The Boss steps up to the plate and says that as he is in charge he will assume responsibility for `door 1` where main man is supposed to be and that I will hit door 2 with my team, simultaneously, where another two nasties are said to be. I felt my stomach turn over at this news, but it was my job to lead and that included the difficult jobs. All respect to The Boss who was as unhappy as the rest of us, but was a good leader who had my confidence. When we got there, the rooms were so close we were shoulder to shoulder anyway.
All individual team briefs completed, the ACC then gives us his words of wisdom before the final briefing. He tells us what he has been told and a lot of it was news to us! We then discovered the previously hidden tiny details about how dangerous these guys were. I kid you not, after this the lavvies were full of our guys queuing up to dump any excess baggage that had suddenly made it's presence known in their lower intestines. Fear smells like crap.
The Boss then gives me two CS grenades and tells me he has the last one and that we'll lob these behind us to cover a fall back. An ambulance crew turn up and one of them bowls up to us, all red faced, and asks who's been shot? Their call to RV with us had lost something in the translation between the police and the ambulance control rooms. The Medic says, “We’ve been told there was a shooting, who’s been shot”? The Boss says, "No one yet, but take a good look at us two and follow us". I was so ready for this job to be done and dusted.
Everyone loads up in several vans to head to the Form up point. For the first time we meet a local police serial who were there for outer containment. We arrive, de-bus, form up and step off all in about 20 seconds and without a word being spoken. The containment team had to find cover positions on the hoof as these had not been recce'd prior-to. The spooks were shit scared we'd be tumbled by these highly dangerous characters and apparently leaned on our Assistant Chief Constable not to approach the premises until the last moment, so we were told. This would absolutely not happen today and didn't for us, from this point on. On thinking back it seems unbelievable.
Covert approach to premises in single file, weapons drawn covering doors and windows, but its 0530 and broad daylight. I even saw a bloody curtain twitch, though thankfully not at the target address. This was not looking good at the briefing. As we approached the target premises it was looking bad. The landlord then meets The Boss and I at the side door with a bunch of keys. We do a final R/t check and then the Boss lets us in with this big bunch of keys –the landlord stuffed them in his hand and just legged it. We are quietly let in. Boss and Tony 1st, me and Roger 2nd, Dave and Don 3rd (they are there to watch our backs on the landing as we do the room entry and also provide back-up for any eventualities). As we step through the dark hall the Boss scoots in without allowing our eyes to re-adjust to darkness and there's this bike with a busted spoke lying on the floor. I step on it. I feel the spoke snag in my coveralls and have to yank my leg a few times to get free. I later discover that the spoke has actually skewered the skin at the back of my left leg right through, I actually had an entry and exit wound but I didn't feel anything until we'd got back, thanks to Dr Adrenaline.
We stack on the landing o/s our doors. I have eye contact with the Boss as we check the doors, which luckily are typical bed-sit cheap crap. Thumbs up. Silent finger countdown 3,2,1 and doors are hammered and thankfully fly open – we had no `Hatton` rounds in those days. (special door busting munitions)
Boss and his No2 find Target 2 in bed with a local prostitute who wakes up, goes bananas and promptly pees herself. Not the dawn she was expecting. Target 2 surrenders, no probs.
Roger hits our door that actually falls, top-down, like a drawbridge, and we step across it. Two targets in separate beds. I challenge both and they jump out of bed. I am stuck trying to cover 2 men. Without a word needed Roger steps in and takes one off me. Mine won’t drop his bed sheet that he’s clutching to his chest and so I can’t see his hands. I was less than 6 feet from him, on aim at his chest, and genuinely thought I would have to slot him but I challenged him for what I thought was the 6th time (it was only 2 according to Dave, outside looking in). I shifted, aim 6” higher, to his head, at which point he dropped the sheet, revealing only Y-fronts. 9 mil Browning speaks louder than words and saves me from shooting an unarmed man.
I have often pondered on how I would have fared had I done so, bearing in mind the way that these people had been portrayed, as highly erratic and dangerous, at the briefing. Frankly, that is all I could have relied upon, plus the fact I couldn't see his hands behind the bedsheet. Marginal stuff in a liberal democracy.
Unbeknown to us, because we were busy, the door of the third room at the end of the corridor, which Spooks/SB told us was a negative, opened up just as the shouting started and a man appeared, fully dressed and on his way out pronto. He saw Don, who had the Remington 870, and dived back in. Quick thinking Don reacted immediately ran at the door and put it in as matey disappeared inside. He just quietly stood against the wall and faced Don, who had the shotgun shouldered and on aim at his chest. The bloke just smiled at him and showed empty hands. We later discovered this was actually the `most wanted` main player.
Covering our two targets, I call up for the arrest team and after what seemed ages an SB Dc shuffled in. I was expecting my guys but there had been a comms breakdown. I tell him to ‘cuff the suspect as we were covering one a'piece and couldn't come off aim as our back-up men were busy with the unexpected extra targets appearing out of the woodwork. He just ambled in, didn’t seem to hear me and started searching bloody drawers! I was told that one of the containment team, 50 yards down the road distinctly heard me shouting, `for f'ucks sake will you cuff this bastard`, but I can't remember that. He eventually took the hint and after that we checked the rest of the place. I think there were 11 people in total in there - all of ******* origin.
At the main briefing, SB had assured us there were only 2 or 3. I gather we had taken out most of those responsible.
As I exited the premises a containment officer came over and asked if someone had chucked a bucket of water over me - I was totally soaked in sweat, right through my coveralls and into my body armour. I must have looked like a drowned rat.
The de-brief found the ACC and the spooks absolutely ecstatic. He spoke to us and said that he’d genuinely feared there was going to be some fatalities. He then said we'd all get commendations. Yeah, right. I think he realised he'd said too much in all his excitement. It's a tough life waiting in the office – (didn’t Blackadder say that to Captain Darling once?) The MI6 guy said that he'd seen a few jobs in recent times and that we had gone to the top of his score sheet - whatever, I think we were just pleased no one was hurt, apart from the holes in my leg.
We were all too full of adrenaline to say much more than general banter, but everything calmed down and suddenly we were back at PHQ and I genuinely cannot remember either getting there or anything afterwards until I got home.
Later it began to hit me how ill equipped we had been, particularly in terms of specialist kit we'd been asking for for ages. I immediately went all aggressive on 2ic, demanding to know why, despite our previous requests, we had insufficient ballistic helmets, paltry CS munitions, inappropriate ballistic shields, no decent door openers, you name it. I certainly made myself unpopular with him for a while. I don’t think as a force, we were alone because this was part of the incremental development that always seemed to be the way in which police forces do things. But we were the best we had at that time and our kit just wasn't good enough. Where have I heard that recently?
The targets were spirited away that day and handed over to the foreign secret squirrels and were gone, whoosh, bye-bye, just like that. The detained person records were held in secret, too. There was a news blackout. The spook told us before the op that under no circumstances were we to use surnames etc.
4 days later and we were up at PHQ in a de-brief. It was with 2ic and The Boss as far as I can recall. They were quite subdued about our comments of how we were given a task that was just `off the page` as far as suitable kit etc, but at least it flagged up deficiencies we'd been griping about for ages, including the need for more training, particularly in ballistics first aid, MoE, etc. The SB search of the premises revealed some interesting stuff. Before I withdrew I saw small circuit boards and batteries attached to small pieces of plywood being bagged. There was other interesting and slightly worrying paraphernalia but, as expected, no-one mentioned anything to anyone. It was believed the bombs they used at ****** were in oxygen cylinders as well as a grenade being thrown. Certainly they managed to kill and maim. All the stuff seized was also spirited away somewhere. Funny lot, SB.
It wasn't until years later that I discovered foreign authorities had announced how they'd arrested them in a totally different country. Before we went in to the house, the spook said that this group were part of ****** and had been very successful and were wanted across Europe. He said it was essential that neither our names nor where we were from became known to them as they were just the sort who would do a reprisal job to save face. I have never ever cared who gets the credit for a collar anyway but I was happy to keep this one quiet although it certainly made me extra sceptical about what I read in the newspapers.
Mick eventually told Mrs Hogday and I that he was shocked by what 2ic had said to him when they handed the job over to my team that night and he had always felt very bad about it, even after 13 years or so. He said he'd been waiting for the right moment to `get it off his chest` and tell me the truth for years. He told us his secret whilst we were having dinner in a pub. He said, "2ic was white as a sheet and just before he left he got me in a room on our own and said, "Mick, this job is a real bad one and I think we could lose someone on this. Whatever you do make sure that you are not on the entry team. Let Hogday lead the entry, you run the containment team". Knowing 2ic as I did, I can't say I was surprised to hear that, but it still caused me a little shiver down the spine. I think we said something monosyllabic about him.
An internet search on this organisation today tells me that they are not an active terrorist organisation any more, but when they were, they were very active and very successful. They do not have oil or other valuable resources in their land, that I know of. I bear them no malice. The incident that resulted in my little job was something of a turning point. I wish their nation peace and continued respect and recognition of their troubled past. I hope they choose their friends with care.