Tuesday, 30 June 2009

It must be the `Batman` in my soul

I watched BBC's "Crimewatch" last night. I haven't seen it for ages. I only watched about 3 minutes because I was in need of sleep after a busy few days which included a lot of work, a bit of motorcycling in the hot weather (no complaints there) and watching Bruce Springsteen and the blistering E Street Band, live from Glastonbury, until 1 am on Sunday morning followed by another long day of work - I take a little longer to recover, these days. The 3 minutes of "Crimewatch" featured an armed robbery on a small bank and used actors for the re-enactment, interspersed with actual security video. What I saw took me back a few short years, to a job I was tasked with and it also served to remind me of the raw fear and shock that these thieving, robbing bastards inflict on innocent people who are just going about their business trying to earn an honest living. I joined up to nail thugs like this - and very occasionally I would see a bit of `justice` prevailing. The job it reminded me of, and it was the fear portrayed by the actors that jogged the memory, was an armed robbery committed on a Friday afternoon at a small south coast town's equally small bank. It was 4pm and I was the duty firearms tactical adviser, just tidying my desk before leaving work for a weekend at home. My pager directed me to attend `Smalltown` police station and speak to the superintendent. I threw my `go bag` in the boot of my car and headed out into the Friday afternoon traffic, heavy with workers heading away from their work except for me, or so it always seemed on these occasions. I arrived at the police station and made my way to the super's office. He was sitting with the detective inspector and they briefed me on what had happened about 90 minutes before. In the office was a TV and video and we watched the grainy images of the lone suspect (what am I saying, `suspect` for? I was watching the man who robbed the damn bank, he wasn't a suspect to me). He was stood quietly in a small queue seemingly waiting his turn. He even had a short conversation with the lady stood behind him, in what was a typical modern open plan bank foyer. Then, realising he was now alone, he chose this moment, pulled out a handgun, leapt onto the counter and went into his robbery routine. We watched as the staff, 3 women and a man, were forced to put their hands on their heads as he ranted his demands at them. One poor young woman was forced to her feet and made to empty the cash into his happy bag. We could see her shaking with fear and could see her pained expression as the pistol was pointed into her face. Then it was all over. He grabbed up the bag and was gone. Then came the moment that stayed with me. There followed several seconds where everyone remained frozen to their chairs so that it seemed as if the film had been paused. Then, almost as one, they collapsed in various positions across their workstations, the young cashier who had taken the brunt of the threats bursting into hysterical tears while the others, some head in hands, tried to comfort her and each other. The film then ended as the superintendent switched it off. The villain was a thug, recently released from prison (surprise, surprise) and this was the town he grew up in. The woman he'd had a short conversation with actually knew him. Cases with perpetrators this stupid rarely require intensive detective work, but a gun could clearly be seen, hence I was sat there with them. So before I'd even arrived to offer my tactical advice on the arrest, the local police had a name, an address, a witness who knew him and who was there talking to him just before he pulled the stunt. Bank transaction records can be so helpful at times like this. So, off I went to recce stupid thugs's address. I always travelled in plain, ordinary clothes to jobs like this. Senior officers eventually got used to this, because I had taken great pains to explain to them that me and my team always liked to do our own `eyes-on`. It was essential. We trusted no information presented to us 100%, until we had acquired plenty of corroboration and that always included our own observations. I returned with all the information needed to put to the arrest team. Satisfied that no one had made any enquiries that could lead directly back to him, it was agreed that we would do a subterfuge entry the following morning at daybreak. The plan was committed to paper, along with all the contingency options I could think of, and the boss duly signed on the dotted line. I arranged for the duty team to RV at our base at 0500 the next day and was just about to set off home when another gun incident was paged to me. I had a 15 mile `blue light run` in heavy commuter traffic to an incident on a `sink` estate where handguns were being brandished and shots were being fired. I was in an unmarked car with just a pair of dashboard mounted blue strobes. This would not be a fun run. But no more of that tale for now. The next day my team assembled at Smalltown police station. When a tactical firearms team arrives at a police station it always creates a lot of interest. Local `old hands` would say hi to those of us they knew and then leave us to get on with our thing; the newer officers would stand and stare at the mysteries of our arsenal, as we kitted up and armed ourselves with self loading pistols and carbines. For some it was the first time they'd seen this for real and I know that it came as a shock to some them, facing the fact that this is what it often came down to and that although they were unarmed officers in a predominantly unarmed police force, they were policing a society where guns were used by criminals. To this day I always maintain that the police who face the greatest risks are, by and large, the unarmed ones who are the first to respond to spontaneous incidents involving weapons followed by the Armed Response Vehicles close on their heels. The plan was in two parts; subterfuge to get the door open nice and gently, backed by a direct entry of the more up-front, overt dynamic nature. We hoped that our previously gathered intelligence would do the trick, as we had the added risk of there being a wife and two children in the house. I'd condsidered a `contain and contact` option (usually my favourite as it put my officers in less danger) but this loon's profile suggested a risk he'd go to seige and neither me or the superintendent wanted that but it was a calculated risk as it always is, mainly because the suspect never attends the police briefing so never knows or does what he's supposed to do. After the brief, we moved out to our tactical rvp. There the two teams formed up. The one man, one woman (I only had the one female, much to my frustration) subterfuge team, wearing jeans and casual shirts covering covert body armour, were to knock on the door and ask for the suspect by name. Having been told that his wife always answers they would then foot the door and hold it whilst the overt team flowed in and `did the rooms`, the priority being upstairs, again calculated by the hour of our entry. Containment/entry teams formed up. Subterfuge team formed up. I was concealed in bushes at the front of the premises and counted it down. "Door team stand by, stand by, strike now". A Mk.1 knock on the door, a pause, a second knock, a third. Any more and I'd call for an overt entry. Thankfully, the door opened a few inches, there was a short exchange of words and I could call "Entry team strike now, strike now". The stick moved briskly (we didn't run anywhere) and as the last one disappeared inside I called the containment team to tell them I was going in. Amid much shouting I scaled the stairs of the smelly house and came up behind Sgt Bob, one of the most experienced officers in the unit, with hundreds of armed ops under his belt. he was issuing a hard challenge into the bedroom. My hand on his shoulder, `any weapons Bob`? `None seen Boss - COME OUT FROM BEHIND THE BED`. I peered into the room. There was a bed on its side. One of the team had removed the children from their room and the thug, realising what was happening, upended his bed to hide behind it. He eventually stood, with his hands held up. He was looking down the barrels of 3 Heckler and Koch 9mm carbines and he had pissed in his pants. The gun he'd used to rob and terrify turned out to be a replica, but neither us nor the poor bank staff knew that. I guess he knew our's were not, hence the soiled underwear. That little message was one I was determined to get home and I broke with my own policy of not engaging with the people we arrested for others to deal with. As we cuffed him and waited for the local police van and CID to answer our call of `all clear, one detained`, I took just a few moments to whisper in his ear that I was making it my duty to let the bank staff know how he urinated in his undies, in his own bedroom, when we came to bring him to justice. I wasn't expecting him to receive a more deserving penalty than that. Those 3 minutes on "Crimewatch" can never convey the full story and the personal anguish and long term damage done by these worthless bottom-feeders, but they did a good job on me last night. Then again the images I and countless others like me recall are most often those little snapshots of activity that take place away from the newspapers, the You Tube snappers and the ten second TV soundbites.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

There's a Place for us....

My old force was about 3,200 strong. Pretty big by non metropolitan standards. It had an interesting history, as most do, and was formed in the wake of Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 by the passing of a similar Act for County Forces to be created. Many of the first chief constables and their senior officers were very recent former military officers and in the very early days it was quite common to see them in their old military dress uniforms, including sword or sabre, at civic functions, although this did subside somewhat, as moving away from the use of the military to quell disorder was one of the reasons the police was formed in the first place. Even the constables helmet was a similar design to military headgear as can be seen on this hobbyist's website I make no secret of my support for our military. I have a nephew in The Guards, many of my extended family fought in WW2 in all branches (I was a late arrival in my parents life, in case you think I'm a real relic) and a great great uncle of mine was killed in the Zulu Wars at the massacre of Isandlwhana. That's his posthumous medal. As a result, I really enjoy studying military history. During my police service I worked alongside special forces on drugs interdiction operations and counter terrorist exercises, enjoyed regular jollies with the Army Air Corps and spent what seemed like half my latter years involved in counter terrorist search operations at public military events, as well as occasionally trying to catch the would be bombers in covert operations. I like the way our military conduct their affairs, their rank structure and how they make it work for them. Anyone who has enjoyed being entertained by the British Military knows how their traditions come to the fore and are celebrated. It is a wonderful part of this Nation's history. But somehow, I ended up a policeman and often regretted my career choice until I learned not to look back and remind myself of what I am not, now. My old force had a `senior officers mess`. It may still do for all I know. Little was known of it below the inspector ranks, but why should it be, as you were only eligible to join if you were a superintendent or above. One day I received a letter from the mess secretary inviting me to join. I wasn't a superintendent, but the letter went on to explain that as the role of the `command` ranks was changing, it was felt that officers of my rank should be allowed to join as our responsibilities had changed to such an extent as to make us suddenly eligible. I was not in the least bit interested, but I made a few enquiries from some friends in that circle. The truth, it seemed, was a little different. Because the superintending ranks were getting thinned out in the savage economies of the day, there were fewer of them resulting in the coffers of the mess becoming pretty empty and they needed to boost the numbers. So what did they do? Go down a rank! Well the monthly subscription, helpfully deducted straight from one's wages, would pay for 4 mess nights per year where a six course meal would be served, one could invite a guest once a year and the bar would be free throughout the evening. Suddenly my invitation looked even less inviting. I declined. A few months later I bumped into the chief who cornered me and gently chided me as to the fact I hadn't joined his mess and asked me why. I explained that as I wasn't a big drinker, I had a young family and a big mortgage I didn't think I could justify the fees, plus I didn't want to spend nearly £400 on the `mess dress`. Yes, there was even a quasi-military `bum freezer` jacket and dark blue trousers with a nice fancy stripe down the outside seams. He was at pains to point out that a dinner jacket was OK. My biggest blunder was telling him that I didn't fancy getting all dressed up to eat in what was, by day, a police headquarters canteen. I managed to gently extricate myself but still didn't join. Thereafter, I was always cornered whenever we met and I'd get little `digs` about my non-mess membership. After a particularly dark period in my life, a trusted colleague persuaded me to join `just to see how I liked it`. I signed up and along I went to my first mess night. I was in my DJ, as the dress code allowed. The bar was bursting at the seams, full of the upper ranks of the force. I was engaged in conversation with a few colleagues and it was all rather falsely casual, with first names being used, although it seemed to me that the more junior sycophants relished doing this rather more than their senior mess mates who would have been more comfortable being called `sir` as usual. The atmosphere was excruciating. It was one of those typical social networking events where the eye contact was as insincere as it was fleeting and you could see people constantly scanning for someone they perceived as more useful or important whilst they `made do` by talking to you. Peter Cook would have dubbed it, `Pseuds Corner`. So did I. After the dinner, served with much wine, the hardy drinkers were well at it, back at the bar, pouring it down in order to recoup their monthly subscription. The chief spied me, came straight over and welcomed me to the mess like a long lost friend. Then he chided me about not wearing the mess outfit, trying to make a joke out of it. We sort of laughed it off and I thought that was the end of it, until he leaned into me and in a sort of fatherly tone, quietly said, "Get the mess dress, Hogday". Many of my peers seemed to try and `out guest` each other by bringing some head of local industry, a local politician or a sports personality, usually a professional footballer. Some would bring a member of their family as a treat but guests were generally in the former category. I stayed a member long enough to bring my particular `guest`. It was the landlord of my local pub, where Mrs H and I really did enjoy a drink! On what was to be my 3rd and final mess night, 9 months after I'd joined, I had finished my meal and had actually enjoyed a fascinating conversation with our police surgeon sitting opposite me. For a moment I wondered whether I was judging it all too harshly. Then I noticed one of the regular drunks. A senior civilian (yes, police support staff were allowed if they were above a certain pay scale) was rat-arse drunk and was leering and letching and whispering her usual obscenities to whichever man she fancied, which looked to me like most of them. I overheard her once and it was the stuff that, elsewhere, would have resulted in dismissal, although this was technically the workplace. Not that I'm flattering myself, but I'd been treated to one of her propositions at an earlier event. Nothing could have been less alluring. Anyway, I don't do drunks unless it happens to be my wife, but she can out drink me so I never really know what happens. No, I realised that my original feelings about this sort of senior officers mess thing still held true. I looked around and, with very few exceptions, I could not see anyone that I had the remotest thing in common with. These were not my friends. My friends in the police were mainly Pc's and Sgt's whom I'd spent 2/3rds of my service on pretty much equal terms with, shoulder to shoulder. My mates were my mates because they were my mates, whether they were police or not and when I retired, my local pub was overflowing with them. I telephoned Mrs H and asked her to beam me up. She was there in 20 minutes and we were home enjoying a drink together in another 20. I cancelled my subscription and never went to another evening, not even as someones guest - what a surprise! I don't know why I've written this? I'd be interested to hear from any serving or ex officers as to whether this sort of thing happens in their force and what they make of it. Personally, I do not think there is a place for this sort of thing in a modern police service, but I may be wrong and may not see its true value. All I know is that I really did not like it. It made me feel uncomfortable and even though I'd regularly worked with the military and, at times, had to act a little quasi- military, I knew that I was not the military. I was a civilian , a peace officer, set slightly apart from the public its true, but I truly felt that senior officers mess nights were best left to those that have the heritage that goes with it. These are my views, thats all.

Violence is violence...is violence

A call to a case of Domestic Violence (DV) is something that can cover anything from a simple argument between partners that involves nothing more than raised voices, to the death of one of said partners and can include all crimes of violence, on a sliding scale of seriousness, in between. DV is also one of the few areas in the field of policing and crime pattern analysis where a future murder might be predicted with some degree of accuracy. It therefore follows that the attending officer will have an awful lot to weigh up in respect of evidence, or at least the officer used to.

The 21st Century police officer has been delivered of a policy from `experts` that has, in effect, minimised the need to weigh up evidence because the policy is one of positive arrest. Put another way, if the call ends up being a simple case of raised voices heard through an open window from, say, a passing member of the public or even a vindictive neighbour, PC Plod will have little option but to follow policy and make an arrest, because to choose otherwise would open up a small cabinet full of forms and computer time explaining why there was no arrest. Discretion, judgement and wise decisions from supervisors have been flushed away.

Despite working closely with DV forums and being guided and advised over many years by experienced women working in this field, including those managing refuges and their field workers, I was not convinced that a positive arrest policy would save a women a savage beating, any more than my discretion in not arresting the other party would place her at greater risk, based on what I surmised at the scene. The policy was introduced to `engineer out` any lack of good judgment or a male officers potential prejudice in favour of the male partner, when in reality it has actually just `engineered out` the chance of being blamed if the row flares up and someone is killed. But does an automatic arrest regardless of evidence or a partner’s unwillingness to press charges prevent this? An arrest for a noisy argument between husband and wife would not result in a remand in custody, even assuming that a charge was brought, which it wouldn’t be, yet the 21st Century police officer has to arrest regardless – or else you breach policy. You get bail for far worse than shouting at your spouse, but therein lies the rub because, to quote one of the many classics from “Catch 22”, it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who is dead.

I policed mostly during the last 3 decades of the 20th Century. I have always detested bullies. Violent partners are inevitably bullies; controlling and cunning destructive bullies. I do not know of a cure for this deep-rooted attitude although I’m sure there is a `cure` out there somewhere, for some of them. As far as I was concerned I wanted to nail bullies in the best way I could. Janis was a battered wife. Not `battered` as in fish and chips but battered as in she regularly got the shit beaten out of her by the fat thug she’d once thought she loved. Loved enough to marry and have children with. It wasn’t always physical violence. Bizarrely, the actual beating, when it finally came, as it always would, came as relief from the psychological beatings she’d be taking for weeks. This was the sadistic prelude to the punches, kicks and head-butts that she knew would come, eventually. The belittling, the humiliating, the name-calling, the insults,” You’re fat/thin/ugly/clumsy/stupid”, followed by a few banknotes thrown in her face and “Get down to the charity shop and buy yourself some clothes, you look like a tramp”. When the physical assaults started, as perverse as it sounds, she could relax a little.

The first time she reported it to the police was actually an accident. She’d had plenty of beatings before and never got the police involved, making the best of it, blaming herself, covering up the bruises as best she could with make up and plausible stories. But this time she went to her doctor because she was passing blood after a particularly well aimed kick in the lower abdomen. Too emotional to realise what she was saying, she agreed that her best friend would call the police. Officer `X` arrived a few days later and, stood in her kitchen drinking a mug of tea she’d made him. He tried, as quickly as he could, to get the background to the assault. He did it quickly because he knew it wasn’t going anywhere, because she always withdraw the allegation just as soon as the fat thug got arrested and cried down the telephone to her. She really, really believed that deep down inside he really loved her and that if she could just find the key to his problem, she could cure him and everything would be beautiful. She blamed herself. This call was about average for the likes of Janis. She’d been assaulted 30 or 40 times before starting to report them to the police and I think the call we took was about the 8th report that year.

It was Christmas Day late shift. I had minimum shift coverage because Christmas Day meant double time and the force budget didn’t like double time at the best, or should that be `worst` of times. As usual, officers who were single or had no children volunteered to work so that those with kids could have the time off. I had a wife and children but being a supervisor I had no option. I was working. The plan was to do a full sweep of our vulnerable points and properties and then keep our heads down and our fingers crossed we wouldn’t get too hammered by domestics. Usually, these are at their height over Christmas, usually fuelled by the extra drinking and the fact that couples suddenly find themselves in each other’s pockets for 2 weeks and realise they get on each others nerves after 3 days.

And so it was for Janis and Alf. He’d come back from his club, boozed up having promised her otherwise. The expression of dismay from Janis set him off and she was taking another beating. She managed to get off a quick 999 call before he ripped the phone from the wall. Knowing how long we usually took, he let her have a few more kicks and punches before doing a runner. We arrived as 3 units, 2 single crewed section cars and a double-crewed Area Car. We could see the aftermath as we walked up the driveway. A smashed car windscreen (Janis’s), clumps of black hair on the hall floor (also Janis’s) a smashed coffee table, lots of broken glass, portions of Christmas dinner on the floor and the victim herself, fat lip, bloody nose and shaking like a leaf. Julie, the one female officer, took her into the kitchen while myself and the other officers checked the house and gardens for the attacker. By the time we re grouped in the lounge Julie gave us the story and finished by stating that Janis didn’t want to go to hospital. I explained that from what we could see and had just been told we could arrest him for making threats to kill her, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and criminal damage to the car, as that was in her name, not his.

Julie asked her gently if she would give us a statement. “What’s the point? As soon as you lot leave to try and find him he’ll come back and give me a bigger pasting for calling you. He’s over the road in the woods somewhere, watching the house, waiting for you to leave like he’s done before”. Being a great believer in subterfuge when dealing with thick people, I hatched an arrest plan based on the assumption that if thugman was watching us, he probably didn’t count us all in and therefore would not count us on our egress. I used all my powers of persuasion on Janis and promised her I would have him locked up for Christmas if she gave us a statement – a promise I intended to keep as I wanted to nail this p.o.s. once and for all. I delegated Julie to remain in the premises, with her radio as the sole means of communication. I told her that the rest of us would `leave`, but deploy nearby. As soon as fat bastard approaches the front gate to re-beat his spouse, all cocky thinking he’s knackered the telephone, Julie calls `bingo` and we nab the nasty scrote and lock his obnoxious arse up until the special court sitting the day after Boxing Day – Happy Christmas!

Away we went, all casual-like and secreted ourselves half a mile away and waited. 45 freezing minutes later and Julie’s quivering voice came over the radio, “He’s in the house NOW”! This was somewhat shorter notice than I’d actually wanted and after calling in my snatch team I floored it. By the time we arrived under a minute later, Julie was in between Janis and the thug and he was in full rant, now faced with not one, but two of his favourite prey – `women`. He’d really given them serious grief, with some blood curdling threats and a few attempts at throwing my officer out of the way, so Julie’s expression of relief as we appeared quietly behind him was a picture I can recall vividly. A tap on the shoulder and, `clunk-click`, it was all over and Janis got her quiet Christmas. Alf spent the two public holidays in the cells and I had him charged with making threats to kill, assault (actual bodily harm) and criminal damage. He went before a well-known lady Magistrate who just happened to be a leading light for the local Women’s Refuge. This really was a very good Christmas. Remanded in custody, he spent almost month inside before an application to a Judge in Chambers got him bailed.

After 9 months of too`ing and fro`ing back to court, we finally got him before the Crown Court. During this time he'd left her well alone and Janis had, at last, set a new course for her life, without Alf. .Just before the trial, the police barrister sidled up to me and Janis, as only barristers do, and tried to gently persuade us that as the defence had offered a guilty plea to an amended indictment of `Common Assault` and guilty to the criminal damage charge if we dropped the threats to kill, it would `save Janis the trouble and trauma of a 2 or 3 day trial`. I was expecting this standard ploy and was good to go for the full trial, but after 9 months of stress Janis was now beginning to roll over. I explained to her just what a piss-poor charge Common Assault was but that if we got lucky with the Judge he would see through the smoke and mirrors and might dish out something half reasonable. She decided she just wanted to go for the easy plea and go home.

Luckily for us, the Judge was one who I knew to be totally in touch with real life, as well as being a former Coroner and an excellent solicitor. Alf stepped smugly into the box, looking just like the slippery second hand car salesman that he was. The preliminaries were delivered and the facts of the case outlined. After the mitigating pleas from his barrister were listened to, the Judge gently delivered his decision. 3 months for Common Assault (the maximum) and 6 months for the criminal damage. Alf waited for the bit he was expecting to hear, that this would be suspended for 12 or 18 months and he would be down the pub by midday. To be honest, that’s exactly what I was expecting to hear, too. That’s when the Judge delivered the coup de grace. “The sentences to be consecutive – take him down”. I had a job not to laugh out loud. Janis asked me what that meant and I explained that he was being sent back to jail for 9 months, less the time he’d already been remanded, making 8 months in stir. She was one happy bunny.

All this happened before there was such a thing as Victim Support Services and Janis had to endure this pretty much on her own, apart from me trying to keep her updated and reassured. It was hard work, as she was just one of many. She wrote to me and told me that I had changed her life. I went to see her and told her that it was in fact she who had changed her life. I was just determined to nail the bully that was ruining her life, only this time she had provided me with the means. I also told her we were lucky with the Judge. I never had a domestic violence case as successful as this one, but it became my benchmark and I continued to keep trying. Looking back over the rest of my service, it never happened that way again. Janis sent me a Christmas card for the following 5 years.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Integrity.....now what WAS that all about???

Having had to endure the latest revelations of our `government` [Latest Motto: "You Jump Through Hoops whilst We Jump Through Loopholes"] in its attempt to de-sleaze itself and circumnavigate Freedom of Information legislation, I was sent this from an old colleague in Idaho. Thought I'd share...

A Reminder!

When you have an 'I Hate My Job day' [Even if you're retired, you sometimes have those days] Try this out: On your way home from work, stop at your pharmacy and go to the thermometer section and purchase a rectal thermometer made by Johnson &Johnson Be very sure you get this brand. When you get home, lock your doors, draw the curtains and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed. Change into very comfortable clothing and sit in your favorite chair. Open the package and remove the thermometer. Now, carefully place it on a table or a surface so that it will not become chipped or broken. Now the fun part begins. Take out the literature from the box and read it carefully. You will notice that in small print there is a statement: 'Every Rectal Thermometer made by Johnson &Johnson is personally tested and then sanitized. ' Now, close your eyes and repeat out loud five times,'I am so glad I do not work in the thermometer quality control department at Johnson &Johnson.' HAVE A NICE DAY; AND REMEMBER, THERE IS ALWAYS SOMEONE ELSE tWITH A JOB THAT IS MORE OF A PAIN IN THE ASS THAN YOURS! .........Remember, if you haven't got a smile on your face and laughter in your heart...Then you are just an old sour fart; Maybe you should go and work for Johnson & Johnson!!!!!

PS: But I suspect there's a few MP's who would love to be that J&J thermometer right now.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Exposed

As a result of the court case that has exposed Nightjack, I have decided to pre-empt any investigations into my true identity and wish to declare myself, here and now

Monday, 15 June 2009

But now I smell the rain..and with it pain...and it's heading my way.....

What a day. Brilliant blue skies and warm temperatures plus a day off work means walk the dog for a couple of miles then hit the road. Airmesh jacket is the order of the morning - this is summer riding! A nice blast across the Vale and up a sweeping main country road for a fab bacon sarnie with HP sauce and a cappuchino in a great little bistro in a great little market town. A chat with a few local customers that included a retired couple who trade some freshly picked garden produce for a caffetiere coffee. I am also introduced to a friendly but slightly tense guy who shakes my hand firmly. I ask him if he is a postman (he had what looked like a Post Office issue blue shirt. "No, I don't work, but I sometimes get bread and other things for them here, if they need it". I am advised, discreetly, that he is Schizophrenic. Clearly, the meds were working today. Ready for the off, I check the sky and it is very, very dark in the West and heading my way. I am heading....West. I chug out of the town as the market in the cobbled square is in full swing. The Harley Davidson's familiar `potato-potato` rumble causes a few heads to turn. I keep the throttle gentle so as to keep folks happy - too big a twist and I'd have those parked up BMW car alarms sounding. That's why I don't ride with the Harley Owners Group - too many weekend cowboys with their very loud straight through pipes, I mean, these big bikes are `in your face` enough as it is, without making people wince. I see a small patch of bright weather on the horizon, a small oasis amongst a 99% black sky. I am in no hurry, I'll just aim for the bright weather and see where it takes me. 15 miles further on and it's cooler and breezier now. I can actually smell the rain in the atmosphere. One of the reasons I love motorcycling so much is that you can sense changes so much more acutely. I'm now rolling along the city by-pass, over the big river and into the flat lands that I must cross, 20 miles of it, before the terrain turns to high moors just beyond my home. Ten miles to my 2 0`clock a massive lightning bolt comes pretty much straight down. I can see rain coming down in a number of individual squalls, but it's still dry where I am. My bright patch of weather has now shifted too far to the South and I must edge South West to darker skies. Now on a minor road, I am bowling along at a steady 60. Traffic is minimal and I am swinging through the sweeping bends, but that storm is now right on my nose. Another huge flash of lightning about 4 miles ahead. Cars coming towards me have their headlights on and are clearly wet. I need to weigh a few things up. Do I stop in a pub and sit it out? How can I sit in a pub and not have a beer?? I don't drink when I'm on the bike, so thats out. I pick the brightest part of the sky, now back East from whence I came, but I'm closer to where I need to be and can dog-leg West again so I swing right, down another country road and skirt the edge of a famous battlefield from the first English Civil War (aka The War of the Roses), where Britain suffered its largest loss of life on its own soil. Some 30,000 men were killed here in just one days ferocious fighting, accounting for something like 1% of the entire population of the time - 1461. Wow. This is a special place. My diversion is not quite enough and I am suddenly aware of rain on my visor. I stop and pull on my rain jacket but I'm rolling again in under a minute, winding the bike up to 65 in quick time. On a Harley Davidson you don't ride the revs, you ride the torque. Owning a Harley taught me the value of torque over brake horsepower. It doesn't sprint like a howling banshee, it sort of thumps you in the back and powers you along , the `pa-dump, pa-dump, pa-dump` of the motor like the imaginary paws of a huge Grizzly pounding the ground. There is nothing quite like it. Bosh, a lightning bolt cracks down half a mile to my left. Sod this, I'm turning right whatever the road is. Another twisting lane through hamlets of grey stone houses and the odd farm building until I emerge on the trunk road I need. A sharp left and I'm cruising at 65 again, only now the rain is hammering into my visor and rattling on my clothing. Thanks to that ex US President's invention, I can feel the rain on my legs but I remain dry - I really rate that Ford-Tex stuff. Home at last, just as the storm lets rip over the house. There's our trusty pooch hiding under the chair - he hates thunder.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Of Mice and Men.... and yobs and dog crap [sorry Mr Steinbeck]

Having just returned from a 45 minute stroll through the countryside with my dog I needed to jot down a few things that got me thinking about a few things that, in turn, got me thinking. When I dog walk I am always equipped with a few bio-degradable plastic bags for those embarrassing moments when he just can't wait to use a proper public convenience. I always ask him why he didn't go before we left, but he just doesn't get it. Even though we walk on a semi rugged path with rough vegetation either side it is, nevertheless, frequented by lots of different people and occasionally their kids, so I feel that unless he manages to park his behind into places that others would clearly fear to tread, I still want to `pick up`. The only trace of our passing I want to leave behind are out foot/paw prints - and the occasional pee in the bushes. This morning I met a lovely English Springer Spaniel with an outwardly nice lady owner. Spaniel dumped right in the middle of the path and lady owner carried on by. I called over to her and offered her a plastic bag. She seemed bemused and her face changed from pretty/moderately happy-serene to `mouth like a cats arsehole` in a blink. I offered her a bag and she muttered something about not bothering on a country walk. I politely said that the path is frequented by me, as well as smaller kids, and that I didn't like stepping into a Richard* slap bang in the middle of the path. She huffed a bit, but then I gave in and showed her how it was done, retaining a clean, pong free hand in the process. I knotted the bag and offered it to her. More of the cats arse expression. This time I became a little serious, placed the bag in another clean bag, tied it off and handed it to her, telling her that there was a bin near where she would have entered the lane. On my return, I found the bag casually tossed into the grass so I picked it up and binned it myself, but hopefully she won't walk her dog there anymore. So this got me thinking about the state of play in UK Ltd. and a story Ray, an acquaintence of mine, told me a while ago. He lives in a part of town where there is quite a high rate of juvenile nuisance, which means anything from graffiti, noisy hoodie gatherings with lots of obscene language and empty lager cans being dumped in the street, to bag snatches and the occasional robbery at knifepoint. I won't bore you with the usual story that goes with this, suffice to say they continue blighting the area with impunity, because they don't fear an ASBO (I mean, f.f.s. what is there to fear?), they don't fear their parents (if they ever see them) and lowest on their list of `things to fear` is police or court. Ray's wife was six months pregnant. One autumn day she walked to the local shop,just under a mile from their home, pushing their 3 yr old in his push chair. On leaving the shop she was surrounded by the gang of six regulars all in their teens. She was verbally abused, her personal space was invaded and her pregnant bump was groped i.e. she was assaulted. The shopkeeper saw it, helped her and reported it to the police by telephone, but by the time an officer responded 4 days later, she declined to report the matter. The reason was that Ray had come home on leave. Ray is a Royal Marines Commando, 5` 6" tall, built like a wiry athlete and is someone I would describe as a one man armoured fighting machine. He is not well known `on the street` because he keeps a low profile plus he is rarely there because his membership of that elite miltary unit keeps him very busy on behalf of HM Government. Ray was told the story of the incident, the persons responsible were identified to him and he planned his solution. Every evening he would go out for a run as he always did when home on leave. On the second evening his quarry were there. The groper was sat on a low wall with his mates who were doubtless bathing in his personality as they smoked their fags and drank their beers. It was just past dusk when Ray jogged along towards them, only this time he pulled down the woolen cap comforter/face mask down over his face and as he came within range, he landed a neat right hook to gropers pasty chin. Groper was knocked clean over the wall, taking one of his admirers with him, as Ray casually continued on his workout run. Ray represented the Royal Marines at boxing. He told me that as he disappeared he saw groper being carried off by his mates and a few days later, he saw him looking very bruised and very groggy. A few weeks later, with Ray back on base the shopkeeper told Ray's wife about the incident with the mystery jogger and how the precinct had never been so quiet since it happened. Ray told me how he hated doing what he did and asked me what his actions actually represented in law, although he knew he'd broken it. I explained that he had committed an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, possibly grievious especially as Ray believed it was a perfect right hook and he'd broken the gropers jaw and a few of his rotten teeth. In the eyes of the law, he would have been arrested and charged and could have been imprisoned, certainly fined, and would have a criminal record. And what of the groper and his gang? Well along with their countless, cautions, ASBO's and community service, they also get community police schemes where, under the supervision of a local beat police officer, they get to play basketball and get taken to watch premiere football matches to keep them off the streets once a week. But Ray's wife still visits that shop and the shopkeeper says he's had no trouble since the `mysterious man in black` flattened the groper and frightened the shit out of him and his pasty obnoxious mates. The trouble is, if we all started to think and behave like Ray, would this be the beginning of the rise of the BNP ? I mean, surely no right(no pun) minded electorate would give them a mandate in either the UK or Europe, would it? No, lets just trust in our lawmakers and those that are charged with upholding what seems to be increasingly unenforceable justice, law and order. *Richard, as in `Richard the Third` - Cockney rhyming slang??? Work it out for yourself my American/Canadian chums! - thats why I always had a chuckle whenever I heard Little Richard, 'cos I bet he could be a `right one` at times.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

S`not my job, mate.

I had a chuckle when I read this one from Inspector Gadget about the jobsworth's and the body in the wheelie bin. It prompted me to recall a time in sarf-East London when our night shift was summoned to the local railway station. A train driver had reported `hitting something` as he was about half a mile from the station and thought it might have been a man. Our inspector and a local British Transport Police officer gathered us together and, with the appropriate precautions in place, we started a line search just as dawn was breaking. It wasn't long before we started to come across the usual grisly bits and pieces associated with a ten stone human coming into contact with several hundred tons of fast moving train. Within half an hour we'd located pretty much everything except the head. Our diminished search team set off to sweep the area where we'd found the torso and where we expected to locate the final part of this awful human jigsaw. We'd covered pretty much everywhere we thought it could have landed, but found nothing. As we re-grouped around our glorious leader for another think, a railway worker appeared from behind a hut at the side of the track across from where we were standing and shouted out the strangest thing I think I've ever heard, "Oi, are you lot looking for a head"? Quick as a flash, our witty Inspector shouted back, "No mate". The rail worker just stood there looking a little lost. The Inspector waited a few seconds, milking the moment for all it was worth, before shouting, "Why, have you got one"? With that the bloke disappeared behind his hut and re-appeared with a galvanised metal bucket. Sure enough, it contained a head and, as luck would have it, it was the one we were looking for. I often wonder what he would have done if the inspector hadn't followed up with that crucial question. My second grisly tale comes from a dark, drizzly winters night in Ruralshire, when we took a call from a man whose wife we knew well. She was a poor troubled soul who had made many attempts to take her own life and it sounded like she'd succeeded on this occasion. We located the poor thing's remains along a fast stretch of line way out in the sticks. She'd lain across the line and was cut in two, quite neatly considering. In the time honoured fashion, we had to call a police surgeon to the scene to pronounce life extinct, even though the body was in two parts, about 30 yards apart. The Doc duly arrived, just after the acting sergeant from the neighbouring sub-division, a young chap who was destined for higher things and desparately wanted to take charge of the scene. Being a `veteran` sergeant with 3 years in the rank I happily allowed him the honours. The police surgeon arrived and came straight up to me, probably for two reasons; 1. I had the real stripes on my tunic and 2. He knew me quite well as not only was he a regular visitor to my station on general police surgeon matters but also, he had only that week performed a vasectomy on me. His first words were `Hello Mr Hogday, how's the stitches`? The high flying acting sergeant dived in as he clearly wanted to take the lead and keenly gave him a full briefing, explaining straight out of the book, why we had called the Doc and asked him if he would examine the victim and pronounce `life extinct` in order that we could continue the investigation. The surgeon looked at me and I explained that acting sergeant Newbie was in charge of this one. "very well" he said and, with a poker-straight face continued, "I can confirm that this half is definitely deceased but I haven't checked that half over there yet". The acting sergeant, still too tightly focussed to realise the dark humour, smartly ushered him over to the other remains to see if that was dead too, whilst the rest of our little trio had a quiet chuckle, as only police, ambulance, fire and other practitioners of the dark arts of dealing with life and death can. Disclaimer: I make no apologies for what may seem my irreverence at the scene of these grisly events, the images of which remain with me if I choose to think of them, but nevertheless wish to assure anyone reading this that all relatives were treated with the utmost compassion and dignity.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Happy to help you,.... by passing the buck back to you

A story I heard from an `A1` source last week. Young woman drives off from home in the family Land Rover, with toddler, Labrador and associated baby gear on board. Unbeknown to her, there is a big leak in the diesel fuel line somewhere. She has driven about 3 miles when, at her first stop, she notices the diesel smell, pulls over and sees a growing puddle underneath the vehicle and the trail of diesel behind it. She also notices the fuel gauge has dropped notceably. She pulls off the road and switches off the engine. Having motorcyclists in the family, she knows the risk diesel spillages poses to bikers, plus the spillage at the place she stops is large and she feels she must report the hazard so someone else can assess any appropriate action. She telephones the Hampshire police, taking the trouble to use the non-emergency 0845 number. She relays her story, and her route, to the call centre where one of the call handlers tells her "Nothing to do with us, you need to ring the fire brigade luv". Asking how she does that and being a helpful soul she requests a local number but is told, "Dial emergency 999". She queries this, apprehensively, but is nevertheless told a second time to do so. The Fire and Rescue service tell her this is not an emergency and she should notify the police who will probably contact the local highways authority. She concurs, but tells them the police told her to call them via the 999 system. There is a moment of silence. Being now more concerned about getting off the side of the road with her son and doggy, she disregards plan A as a bad idea and sets about looking after herself and arranging personal recovery. Speaking as an ex control room type, we would have accepted the call, logged the message and then we would have passed it on to Fire and Rescue or the local highways authority. From personal experience, it would have been the latter as diesel does not represent a fire hazard in the same way that an equivalent pool of petrol would have. We'd have thanked Ms Joanne Public for the call and asked if she needed any help before ringing off. Job done. Bloody `helpful` these non-emergency call centres. Actually, that was not the balanced view I like to apply, so I'll re-phrase my last - that particular call-centre operator was not as helpful as s/he could otherwise have been and would benefit from operational advice or closer supervision otherwise everyone else in there, as well as the real police, will get a bad name. That's better. But how many experienced call centre supervisors or police advisors are there available in these places anyway? They must be frazzled. Oh and there's an epilogue. When she got home her neighbour informed her that two cycling PCSO's had called ( on their own initiative, the control centre hadn't directed them) having discovered and followed the oily slick back, from about half a mile from her house, to tell her she had a leak. So a hip-hip hoo for the other non-police, non-emergency service who, had the call centre taken the bloody call, could have squared the circle and made them (and the police, who the public think they are) look on top of their game. Ain't hindsight wonderful. Whereas I admire someone public spirited enough to become a PCSO, I was not convinced of the wisdom of the move in such large numbers, towards what I somewhat cynically saw as a real sleight of Government hand in dressing them up in almost police uniform but only empowering and training them to deal with :
  • issuing of fixed penalty notices (e.g. riding on footpath; dog fouling; litter)
  • Power to confiscate alcohol and tobacco
  • Power to demand the name and address of a person acting in an anti-social manner
  • Power of entry to save life or prevent damage
  • Removal of abandoned vehicles
  • Bloody hell, there isn't even any mention of Ghostbusting in there. Tapping into my cycnical side again, I might call this a Government exercise in `bullshit` or a `con`. Whose idea was it anyway?

    Ancient target set for the police - please don't get here in time

    Watching the non-surprise-of-the-year departure of the current Home Secretary (there will be another following shortly) and the mile-wide oil slick in her wake, made me recall a previous one and how there is a clear history of setting unrealistic targets for the police, even at the very basic street level. Of course, in those days we had no facts at our disposal about second, third or fourth homes, floating duck islands, phantom mortgages, soft porn films (there was no satellite TV then) or the mysteries of allowances - we just always assumed there was a great big pot from which they could scoop out nice supplements to their wages. On that occasion, our assumptions were wide of the mark and thanks now to the Telegraph and the Freedom of Information Act I now know that we'd seriously underestimated things. Yet somehow they mostly all seemed likeable, in fact some seemed positively `likeable rogues` although I will not use that latter expression in respect of the Hon. Peter `Duck Island` Viggers whom I had a professional working knowledge of in my latter years. I don't know about him being a `rogue`, but likeable he definitely wasn't. Come to think of it, neither was Tom King - perhaps none of them were likeable after all? No, surely not. Willie Whitelaw was a gent and I really enjoyed the occasional word with Merlyn Rees - oh dear, is this how time clouds ones memory? I mean, with the news just in this morning, of the resignation of Hazel Bleary, I can't even remember how a Prime Minister is supposed to re-shuffle an incomplete pack of cards? I mean, is there any point, particularly when you can only play `snap`? Anyway, back to my rather dull anecdote. The late Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, had his registered main residence in the Notting Hill area of London. We had a very strict timed response to certain very sensitive premises if their alarms were triggered. The Home Secretary's was one of them. We had a 3 minute deadline but at any one time we could be a few miles from the venue. Anyone who knows that area of London also knows the nightmare traffic. Most police Area cars in central London would spend part of their journey up and down kerbs in order to make rapid progress to a 999 call, but ours was an armed response to a specifically high risk government minister and so we had to motor. Depending on the time, our 3 minute response was nigh on impossible to achieve, but our drivers usually achieved the impossible. After a spell of `accidental` alarm activations a memo arrived in our base, from the Home Sec's personal protection officer, via our commander in New Scotland Yard. It requested that, with immediate effect, we stopped using our emergency siren when responding to the Home Secretary's alarm activation as it was annoying the Home Secretary and upsetting his neighbours, which was a bit rich as it was him who kept setting the bloody thing off. Now a silent approach is a tactic that police can use under certain circumstances, but on this particular job there was absolutely no tactical advantage without specific additional information. Our deployment in the immediate vicinity would definitely be tactical, especially as we were inadequately armed with mediocre firearms and with no body armour, but in order to scythe ones path through a mass of traffic and indifferent drivers there was no time for discretion and politeness. We were not much amused. Still, compared to the `targets` set for the police these days by the Government's bright young Home Office `think-tankers` (bit of `Nu Cockney` there?) , it now seems like a very reasonable request. [The picture is of a car I actually used to crew].

    Tuesday, 2 June 2009

    Where does one look for inspiration these days?

    On the left is last months Home Secretary, someone in whose hands were entrusted amongst other things many aspects of internal national security . On the right, a few pebbles that sit in my kitchen window. They are from Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. I cannot think of a greater inspiration than to look upon those five pebbles.