Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"It's The Duke of Edinburgh - Scarper"

In continuing my `Royal` theme from the previous post, I shall fast forward 21 years for this next yarn. By now I'm in a county constabulary in charge of all things firearms and we have The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh staying at one of her dear friends and relatives large estates, somewhere west of London.

Our static protection team have had the usual briefing from our own Special Branch (SB), on site and are set up for a long weekend's `Royal minding`. I should briefly explain that the SB briefing was because in all things Royalty and Diplomatic Protection, the Metropolitan Police have primacy over the safety of the Monarch and her family, the Prime Minister, ex PM's and certain designated high risk politicians, usually former high profile cabinet members, when on the move. There is a permanent `travelling team` of Met officers at the various Royal residences, such as Balmoral and Sandringham for inner sanctum work, but the static protection of such premises is the responsibility of the local constabulary's own tactical firearms teams.

For our little weekend job the on site briefing was done, as usual, by my own force's SB detective chief inspector (DCI). He and his small protection team would support the Monarch's own Royalty and Protection Group officers at any travelling commitments within our county. The DCI didn't wear a uniform and always felt he had to try extra hard to impress on junior officers that he really was an officer of fairly high rank and never missed an opportunity to let them know. The fact that we all knew him and his rank anyway, never seemed to dawn on him.

It was widely known that The Duke of Edinburgh didn't suffer fools, toadies and sycophants gladly, which must have made things rather tiresome and a bit awkward for him because the aforementioned types were always popping up during his typical working day, senior police officers included. On this point I had great sympathy for His Royal Highness because those types had a similar effect on me and the police had more than its fair share. Our SB man took great delight in warning my chaps of the Duke's fearsome reputation and rammed home the point that he had a `strong dislike of the plods` and so keeping out of his line of sight was a top priority. I was never at these SB briefings because my guys in the Tacical Team had all been trained to a very high standard by our instructors who included former special forces soldiers; they knew their job and I trusted them to crack on without the need for me to be there breathing down their necks. I'd been a Tac team Pc and sergeant myself and knew what they wanted from their boss. The local briefing was merely to cover domestic matters, the timings of the Royal comings and goings, comms channels, call signs etc. My team sergeants knew the layout and knew what they had to do. However, on this particular occasion there was a new guy in the team and he clearly took the DCI's words very much to heart, resulting in an interesting anecdote.

On the saturday afternoon, in response to a pager message, I rang the DCI at his home. He was clearly in mixed company because he was putting on one of his `I intend to show all my guests just how important I am` delivery styles. From the words he chose it was so obvious what he was up to within a few sentences.  He was sharp at his job but only so-so in his wit and repartee and, if given the right amount of rope, could easily be steered into making a twat of himself without too much help although I actually quite liked the guy and always declined opportunities to have a dig at him as it just wasn't my style, but I wasn't going to tolerate too much of his current  blast of hot air. I let him have his say. It turned out there had been a `little incident` he needed to discuss with me in person. He went on about how it involved Prince Phillip and one of my `woodentops` as he derisively referred to anyone in the uniformed branch of the job. I could picture the scene in his large conservatory, with all his neighbours and chums sipping Pimms and craning their necks, eavesdropping on his every word, as he warmed his cockles in the glow of his own importance.

He had already intimated that it was a matter that needed resolving later that day, but guessing he was showboating at the other end of the phone and having already been tipped the wink of the matter by one of my lads, I knew it was all bullshit and so I cut him short and suggested I speak directly with the head of the Met Royalty Protection Unit, knowing that this would spoil his act. I had to hand it to him because he came back with a nice trump, saying extra specially loud and clear and just a teensy bit condescendingly, "No offence Hogday but Royalty Protection only like to deal with Special Branch, so leave that to me". I let pass the fact that I used to work at Buckingham Palace and probably knew half the travelling staff and many of the Royal bodyguards - he wouldn't have listened anyway.

The following day I set off for the Royal residence having notified the on-site tactical team sergeant  that I was making a visit, giving an eta and advising him that I would be in my own car, a vehicle that was familiar to all the guys on the unit. I didn't believe in springing surprises. I arrived a good 30 minutes before my appointment so I could have a brew with the lads and get the lowdown. It was actually quite amusing. Apparantly, taking to heart the DC.I.'s  stern warning of The D of E's dislike for plod, the new guy was doing his best to remain out of sight in the grounds of the estate, yet maintaining a good tactical position should the unlikely happen. All sound stuff so far. We trained for the unthinkable and worked backwards from that. It was during the previous morning, just after he'd been relieved from his patrol area, that the team sergeant noticed he'd got mud across the shoulders of his jacket and down the side of his trousers and gently pressed him for an explanation. It was just at this moment that one of the Met protection team strolled in to our little control room, a semi-permanent base that we had established in an outbuilding, owing to the regularity of Royal visits.

Over a mug of tea we learnt that the `little incident` that required me to drive 45 miles for a personal briefing from SB was actually little more than a funny story that would keep the Met team chuckling for weeks, at our expense no doubt. I decided to drop the old school tie into the conversation and told him that no only was I `ex Met` but that I was ex Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Group. As was usually the case, what was left of any unbroken  ice was well and truly melted and with a very subtle change of his tone I felt I had been immediately ushered through the ante room of inter-force politeness and was now sitting round the old campfire, feeling the warmth of Met cameraderie once again. He had the floor; me and my sergeant were all ears.
 "Guv, this'll crack you up. Your guys are good blokes, we really like working with you lot. You're on the ball but relaxed, just the way we like it. Anyway, yesterday morning, the D of E is up bright and early and strolling round the grounds. We didn't get on the net` to your guys `cos truth to tell we weren't that bothered as he always does this, as your blokes know. Anyway, it turns out that your new man hadn't been told that he likes a stroll first thing and suddenly sees the Duke turn a corner by the rhododendrons and start heading towards him. We don't know precisely what happened then, but when he got back to the house, the Duke sees his PPO* and says, `One of those plods has just dived headfirst into the bloody hydrangers but by the time I got to where he was he'd bloody vanished, what the bloody hell's going on`?
*Personal Protection Officer

It did indeed crack us up. Oh how we laughed. Clearly taking the SB warning about incurring the Wrath of Prince to heart, my chap, fit as a fiddle and keen to impress, decided that a dive into the shrubbery followed by a commando roll and cat crawl into the undergrowth was his best option. A pretty neat move considering he was wearing full body armour and carrying a Heckler and Koch MP5. After we'd regained our composure it just remained for me to meet the DCI and award him marks out of ten for over egging this pudding of a story. But the end result caught even me by surprise.

At the allotted time I heard my colleagues voice bombasting across the courtyard, a clear indicator that he was  impressing someone again. He breezed into the police room followed by Her Majesty's protection officer, a man who outranked us both. "Ah, chief inspector Hogday, there you are and thanks for coming to see me. May I introduce.... but he never got the chance to finish as the PPO spluttered, "Christ it's Hogday, how the bloody hell are you, how long has it been, 18? no 20 years! Good to see you mate".

We had been Pc's together on the Met's "A" Division. The meeting took an unexpectedly jovial turn, the lamp started swinging and I detected an expression on the rapidly reddening face of `special branch` that clearly said, `You Bastard`.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A servant of The Crown was I.

Following on from the previous post, you will recall that our hero was left pacing outside the bedroom of the Princess Royal. In order to satify the morbid curiousity of Conan the Librarian, a one time Holyrood stalker, I will explain:

My posting was outside the Royal bedroom, but outside outside, in the grounds of the Palace. My patrol area was a gravel path that ran parallel with Constitution Hill. In order to be allowed an inside job, one had to be on the permanent police staff of said establishment, the outside (that means cold, wet, windy) posts were off-loaded onto the casual attachments. I'd done this one a few times without so much as a peep from HRH. Several months after my demonstration story below, I again found myself in the garden of Buckingham Palace on a 2200-0600 shift. The side of `Buck House` that the public usually see is, in fact, the back yard. The grounds, out of public view are doubly magnificent, right down to the lake at the bottom with its own rowing boat that we would occasionally use when we were being particularly thorough in our nocturnal duties. The building was a truly awesome sight as one strolled back towards it from the darker end of the vast gardens and however tired I felt, it always moved me. I do believe I was proud to be there.

 It was a beautiful, warm summer night and the air was full of the smells of summer shrubs and freshly mown grass (acres of it). The flamingos were nestling down by the lake and I could just hear the soft buzz of the ever present traffic rushing up and down Constitution Hill, that connected The Mall with Hyde Park Corner and ran right past the Palace. How irritating that must be after the tranquility of Balmoral or the Sandringham Estate in the rural depths of Norfolk.

The first few hours were uneventful until about 0200 when I heard, via my radio, that HRH's fiancee was leaving the building in his little BMW Touring saloon. Apparantly, he'd been up in the boudoir discussing equestrian matters before excuses were made and he left for his own abode. About half an hour had elapsed since his departure and I continued my steady, monotonous patrol, my size elevens gently crunching the neatly raked gravel path as I kept an ear open for intruders and an eye open for wildlife. It was still very warm and I would occasionally glance up at HRH's chambers and picture the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It was whilst doing this that I noticed the windows were wide open, no doubt due to the hot, humid night air. Suddenly, to my surprise, the french doors were flung noisily open and there she stood, the moonlight shimmering on her beautiful long hair and night attire.

 `What light through yonder window breaks` thought I. Then she called down to me, I could scarce believe it. My  heart was all a flutter.
 "Officer", she called.
"Yes Ma'm" (ma'm as in `jam`), he replied.
 "Officer, I'm going to give you two choices".
Thinks: `Blimey`!
"Beg your pardon, Ma'm??", he cautiously retorted.
"Either get off that gravel and walk on the grass or take those f'ing boots off".
And then she vanished, as quickly as she'd appeared.

What a doll! 

I walked on the grass.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

20th Century Schizoid Cop

A few posts back I related a few examples of the very robust policing that I was exposed to when I first hit the streets of London in 1970 as an 18 year old cadet and during my formative years thereafter. There were a lot of long service officers all over the country who had been at war and joined the police after de-mob`, their blue and white police long service medal ribbon nestling shoulder to shoulder with real warrior ribbons such as The Burma Star, Atlantic Star and many others I didn't recognise and didn't get around to asking about. I was a rookie amongst some extremely admirable and honourable men, several of whom I was in awe of. I did my best to live up to them and have had cause to thank them under my breath many times over the years, for the grounding that they gave me.

Our divisional head (holding the rank of `commander`, a Met rank equivalent to an asst chief constable)  was a former Royal Marines Commando and to have him alongside you at a demonstration, which were weekly occurrances on my division, was nothing if not inspirational and if there wasn't anything particular to get inspired about he'd wade in and throw you a prisoner to `draw the line in the sand` and set the common minimum standard for the rest of us. I only saw the likes of him, at that sort of rank, twice more during my remaining 2 decades service in the county force I transferred to.

Feb 5th 1972 was a bizzarre day for me. I was slated for  demonstration duty in central London and the following day I was to start a couple of night duties at Buckingham Palace. The demonstration was a fairly large affair and started up in Cricklewood, North London, outside The Crown pub, a hostelry much frequented by the large Irish community of that area. A week earlier there had been the infamous demonstration and disturbances in Londonderry that later became known as `Bloody Sunday`. The march was led by a courtege of thirteen coffins to signify the thirteen deaths that occurred on that awful day.  By the time the march had reached Trafalgar Square there was a decent crowd of demonstrators tagging along. It had been a long cold day, the excellent 3 course roast dinner we'd been served at New Scotland Yard at 10am(??!!) was wearing off and the evening chill was starting to get through to us, but we were expecting things to warm up before too long.

The coffins eventually appeared coming down Whitehall in line astern, passing the Banqueting House, where King Charles the First was beheaded for high treason on January 30th (calm down, it was 323 years and 51 weeks earlier, in 1649). The sighting of the coffins was preceded by the low roars, random shouts and general rumbles you get from a big crowd with a common cause. Chanting Zulu's they weren't, but the sound of a big crowd at a demo that you knew was highly likely to bring trouble with it always put you on your toes. I took up my position by some fire extinguishers that had been positioned at the bottom of Downing Street, along with a very strong double cordon of a few hundred officers - a human shield for the Prime minister's residence. I was a few paces behind the second row and together with my colleague and former cadet compadre, Den Brown, had the task of extinguishing any petrol bombs that may be thrown. At the top of the street behind us, out of sight, was a contingent of the magnificent Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch - our cavalry. Later that night they would save my bacon, something they would do on several more occasions in the future, unbeknown to me at that time. Along with the Mounties, also out of sight, were several serials of  the Special Patrol Group, acting as a fast moving mobile reserve.   Petrol bombs weren't that common outside of Northern Ireland policing which, as far as Dennis and I were concerned, was no bad thing as in those days we just had standard police uniform, no NATO riot helmets, no shields and no flame retardent coveralls, just a Mk.1 issue gaberdine macintosh, traditional Bobby's helmet, leather gloves and the old style truncheon (`with some guts behind it`, as Colour Sergeant Bourne of the 24th Regiment of Foot,Warwickshire Regiment at Rourke's Drift, might have said). My truncheon was made of Rosewood but many of the older ones were of Lignum Vitae and much coveted they were too. Most of the experienced officers would be wearing football shin guards and cricket boxes - once bitten etc.

The finer details of what eventually transpired is another story but suffice to say, they wanted to march up Downing Street and lay the coffins down in the road, opposite the Prime Minister's front door - yeah, right, that was really going to happen? I think not. Unsurprisingly, this request was firmly but politely declined by our Commander. The last  thing I remember hearing was one of the organisers, shouting through a megaphone ( shouting via megaphone, how Irish is that?) and pretty much saying that as it was the police that had refused permission to enter Downing Street to feel free to take out any frustrations on them. It all kicked off with the usual preamble of pushing into our cordons with the agitators, as usual, pushing from the back like the good agent provocateurs they were. Police helmets went flying, arms and legs started thrashing and arrests started being made.

Watching all this happen from just inside Downing Street was a very interesting and adrenaline- inducing experience. We couldn't see what was happening at the `points of contact` because at street level it was just a wall of people in front of a cordon of police. All we could see was the heaving and swaying of our mates as their lines bent, bulged and slowly rippled, resembling a sort of stormy human sea. Occasionally an officer would be helped away through injury and, similarly, demonstrators would suddenly appear looking dazed, confused and occasionally bleeding. Judges Rules applied in those days, but Queensbury Rules didn't. Whitehall at this location, just up from The Cenotaph, is a very wide road and it was packed and heaving with bodies, most densely packed around the junction of Downing Street and stretching a good 100 yds either side. Beyond this, the crowd was slightly less dense but not by very much. You could not get a vehicle up or down the road. Estimates put the crowd at between three and five thousand. Directly opposite was the grassy area in front of the Ministry of Defence and from this area demonstrators were starting to break up paving stones and heave them in my general direction. Then the prisoners started appearing, in ones and two's to start with, then as the dynamics took over, in tens.

Dennis grabbed my arm and shouted that he could see a Pc getting a kicking right in front of us. I couldn't see anything in the huge scrum that was rucking before us but Den pulled me down and as we both squatted on our hams he pointed through a Sargasso Sea of legs. About twenty feet in, towards the middle of Whitehall, we could see him, rolling on the road trying to cover his head. Going down on the deck at any time is a very dangerous thing for a police officer;  surrounded by a hostile crowd was potentially lethal. Without further conversation we left our fire extinguishers, vaulted the temporary barriers and crawled into the midst of the fray, legs and boots all around us but strangely quiet. I often puzzled over that eerie silence and it wasn't until some years later, when I received a lot of psychological input during my level 1 tactical firearms training, that I realised why that was. By the time we got to him he was just about all in and on his belt buckle. Den grabbed one arm and I grabbed something else and between us we heaved him back towards Downing Street and relative safety. Strangely enough, I don't think Den or I took any hits, I certainly can't remember any, which was amazing considering all the hundreds of boots and legs we could see, but we figured our mates could see us and were doing their level best to cover our backs as we withdrew.

As we got to the barrier our injured mate seemed to recover sufficiently to get to his feet with our help. His eye was a mess and rapidly closing and his lip was bleeding nicely. As we climbed back over the barrier, half carrying him with us, I felt a massive blow to my right ankle which hurt like hell, before slowly going numb. I got the injured Pc to one of the many ambulances that were standing by at the back of Downing Street, in Horse Guards. As we were walking him past Number 10, I was mindful of the fact that my mates on the front door were both armed with semi automatic pistols and whether or not they would be presented with justification for using them that night depended on the rest of us. As we reached the ambulance I remember seeing a plain clothes officer walking a prisoner past me to the rapidly filling prison vans. The officer had his short `detective` truncheon in one hand and the prisoner in a hammerlock and bar on the other. This thrashing, kicking prisoner actually got free of the armlock and took a swing but the officer brought his stick down right across the back of his fist. There was this almighty, sickening smack-crunch sound and the prisoners mouth and eyes opened wide and then froze in a grotesque expression like the album cover of  "In The Court of the Crimson King", but no sound came forth - it must have hurt that much. I think I may have said `Ow` on his behalf. .

We returned to Whitehall and headed towards a scuffle involving our Commander and several demonstrators. One of them broke free and ran up Downing Street towards us. Bad mistake. Dennis was a member of the Met Police Cadet Corps rugby team. Wham, bam, out went the lights.
We helped the man to his feet, propped him up against a wall and coaxed air back into his lungs. He stopped gulping, produced a Press card and spluttered, "News of the World". Den escorted him away from Number 10 and gave him some advice. The bloke actually quoted Den in the report in the paper the next day. I think it went, "I was rugby tackled by two burly police officers and punched in the stomach. Once I'd shown my Press card one of them swore at me and shouted, `Do you really think we like doing this s**t on our day off. He then told me to p*** off``". Well that was just crap, it was a clean tackle - and I just watched.

We made an arrest. A man was trying to pull the halter and bit out of a police horses mouth. We finally dispersed the crowd with a combination of a few flying wedges, a couple of baton charges from the SPG and an advance, at the canter, by the cavalry. A magnificent sight and the good news was that there were very few serious injuries, although a Pc had a broken arm and I believe the chap we rescued had a nasty eye injury.  I finished processing my prisoner at Paddington Green nick and was off duty by 11pm. In todays police, with today's unbelievably slow custody procedures, I'd be lucky to have got off at 11pm if I'd arrested a shoplifter at 3pm on a normal late shift.

I got to my girlfriends flat at 11.30pm. Ironically, she lived just around the corner from The Crown at Cricklewood, where the demo started - and she was Irish. My foot had swollen up so much that I could barely get my boot off. I ended up cutting some stitching open with my penknife. The ankle was up like a melon for a few hours but the following night I was on duty at 10pm, outside Princess Anne's bedroom in Buckingham Palace. It was fairly quiet in there, that night.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Crime Initiative?

HQ says, "Too many drugs and too many knives. Get pro-active, get informants and get some prisoners".

Pc stops and searches a known suspect in a prominent area of criminal activity in their part of the city. A flick knife is found on the suspect which is, by its very nature and definition, an offensive weapon under S1 Prevention of Crime Act, 1953. No drugs found.

Pc says, `You will get 3 months inside for this, guaranteed, but I'm after drugs and I know you're not a big player and I want the big players. Your choices are as follows; 1. You do a little job for me and let me know a few of the who, where and when and we'll consider this knife a verbal warning just between the two of us. I will confiscate the knife. 2. You abuse my generosity and after a few weeks have given me nothing and carry on as normal, so I then search you again, cancel the verbal warning and arrest you when I find the knife on you again - and this time no verbal warning, you go down for 3 months`.  3. You abuse my generosity and never grace this area with your face again. You win because I won't have arrested you, but I half win because you are off my patch`. (I know I have the knife as well, but you'll have got another one anyway - so much for amnesties)

What is wrong with the above?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

East Anglian Odyssey

Apologies again for my tardiness in sticking up a post, but its got a lot to do with that stuff on the right - East Anglian clay lump. It's what our barn is made from and it has to be treated right - its the law, at least it's what English Heritage have decreed  a `Grade 2 listed building` ie of some historic significance. I suppose the closest thing to this from the perspective of my occassional American visitor is Adobe.

You can read a bit more about clay lump here. 

We didn't need listed building permission to do the work we did because it was all repair work that left the external structure pretty much unchanged. We wanted to remove the original straw lining in the rafters which was pretty sodden, replace the rafters, add some insulating board (celotex) and replace the original clay tiles. What we did have to do, after consulting with our local council's conservation officer, was to ensure that we used sympathetic materials. Clay lump absorbs moisture and `breathes` so the use of cement is verboten.This was important to know, as the barn had a rather uneven earth floor and I wanted a home for the motorbikes. With concrete being a no-no, we used the recommended `limecrete` mix. This takes a lot longer to set hard but has the necessary `breathing` qualities to prevent the clay lump from getting permanently damp and weakened. The pic on the right shows the loft half finished, with the new to the left and the daylight coming through the old on the right.
This is what the barn looks like. It is pretty much as big as the cottage, but although it sits almost entirely in our garden, 60% of it is owned by next door. They have access to it from their own property and we have one door on our side of the neighbourly dividing fence. These properties were often divvied up by their previous owners, some even won or lost over a game of cards. I know that my great grandfather lost several properties, one of which was a pub in the East End of London, way back in the late 19th Century due to his gambling habits.
To the right is a snap of our excellent builder cutting out a previous owners handiwork at the base of the barn door. It was a mish mash brick, hardcore and concrete mix, most definitely not in sympathy with the original building. Thankfully, our builder and his wife had considerable experience in these structures, having first started his career working almost exclusively on listed structures.

You can see where the bitumen painted wall has been damaged by a huge growth of Ivy, which I cut off at the root before work started. It was partly removed when the roof work started. It had got into the rafters and was starting to lift them up so I think we got going just in time. The rest of it came away fairly easily but you can see how it pulled the clay away with it. It has since been repaired by using bits of original clay lump mixed with limecrete. I re-painted it using a special barn paint that is micro porous - got to keep it breathing. Good job I am current in resus/CPR
The inside walls needed to be sealed. They were pretty much like the top photograph, raw clay lump. You don't paint this stuff, you don't whitewash it either, you use a lime wash. A bucket of this stuff costs £25. It is lime putty and looks and feels a bit like buffalo mozzarella cheese. You mix it with water, 50/50 and paint, allowing it to dry between coats. It goes on like water and you wonder if anything has happened, but once dry the white gradually starts to appear. 4,5 or 6 coats/days later and its snowy white. This shit is not very nice and the smallest splash in the eye is as good as a dose of CS gas. I stumbled down a ladder and into the kitchen, half blind and cussing on several occasions before getting clever and wearing goggles. This stuff smarts. Love those health and safety know-it-alls.

The 5th coat looks really white. My former firearms tac team flame retardent coveralls still fitted my athletic frame. A week's painting later and I'd have been hard to spot in an Arctic blizzard. The earth floor had yet to be dug out and limecreted.
Closer view of the rafters before the repair

Finally, the dear old Harley, below, has a roof over it's head instead of a bike cover. There was already power laid on, so the optimate is hooked up and tickling the battery. It was minus 6 outside when I took this photo, but it was pretty comfy in the barn. There is a first floor (floor replaced also) which will make a nice little storeroom/office/ancillary accomodation. During the removal of the old floorboards this piece of wood (above) was found patching up a big hole. It is stamped "Bomb Incendiary 100LBS NP M47 Without Bursters", was 1943 vintage in excellent condition and was originally from the airbase a mile or so up the road that used to be the home of American B17 Flying Fortresses and B24 Liberators during World War 2. It will remain part of the barn somehow, someplace.

So, that's why I've not been posting much lately. Hope to kick off with some police related anecdotes in a day or three. In the meantime, be careful out there.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Salute the Warrior Prince? Hell yes.

Prince Harry has recently qualified as an Apache attack helicopter pilot. Huzzah, Sir!

I have watched you and your fellow trainees flying over my house since we moved here last September and I forgive you for not spotting me and waving at me whilst I was working on our clay lump barn or walking our dog along the Suffolk fields and byeways. I know you saw me but I also know that cool dudes like us don't wave, even though I occasionally looked after your late Mother when she visited my neck of the woods and even though you, cousin Beatrice and I met last year, up in North Yorkshire ( hope you enjoyed the wedding ). I understand, H, lets stay cool, your OK by me.

To complete that course, to `ride the dragon`, one of the most complex and potent machines in the British Army, is to enter the small and exclusive world of its elite aviators, the very best of the best. To those who have no interest in such things but who like Tom Cruise and therefore need a simple analogy, Prince H has entered the British Army equivalent of "TOPGUN". If you want to read more about this remarkable piece of kit, there is a link to the right of my main blog page under the "Well Worth a Visit" header. Click on Ed Macy MC.

That a member of our Royal Family has achieved this and who, as likely as not will go into harms way (again in H's case, he was a JTAC in Af. until the media bubbled him), is actually something I feel very proud of, and I don't get that feeling very much these days. Bloody good bloke.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Police Reform, Police Cuts, ("its life Jim, but not as we know it")

I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1969 as a cadet. Three years earlier, three police officers had been murdered on the streets of Shepherds Bush. They were in what was known as a "Q" car and had stopped and checked a suspicious vehicle containing three equally suspicious men, something police officers do most days, assuming they see something suspicious or at least something fitting the  modern definition of the meaning of `suspicious`, after it has been twiddled with by lawyers and politicians). On that occasion in 1966, the officers were spot on with their suspicions and, within minutes of their decision to stop and check the car, they were all dead, each having been murdered by gunshot. "Q" cars were crewed by an experienced detective sergeant, a sharp detective constable or Temporary DC (an officer who had shown particular acumen and who wanted to be a detective) and a constable as pilot, who was usually a grade 1 advanced driver. "Q" Cars were very effective anti crime units. The crew of Foxtrot 11 and the story of their murder affected, greatly, my generation of police officers.

In those days there was a crime fighting unit at Scotland yard known as The Flying Squad but universally referred to as "The Sweeney", as per Cockney rhyming slang Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad. There were lots of little jokes and anecdotes about this legendary unit. Eg: Have you seen the latest `Action Man` Flying Squad doll? It's suit is covered in cigarette ash, it smells of beer and scotch and when you pull the cord at the back, it says "Squad" out the corner of its mouth.

The Sweeney would turn up in all sorts of vehicles. Once I was at the front counter of Deptford police station when a bloke sidled in wearing a tatty jacket bearing the badge of a London taxi driver. He pulled out a warrant card and said, "Squad" out of the corner of his mouth, just like the aforementioned joke said he would. He was driving an authentic black London taxi cab, except I swear this one had twin exhausts and didn't sound like a diesel.

I was in the local area car one day when a call went out to support a Sweeney unit who had put out an odd call, requesting handcuffs. They had gone to arrest a man called John McVicar. A unit delivered said item as requested, but the strange thing was that the arresting officers were well tooled up with .38 revolvers so they were clearly expecting something interesting to happen. Funny how they forgot the 'cuffs? I always wanted to ask Mr McVicar about that. The Sweeney was a very effective and much feared anti serious crime unit.

Then there was the SPG. We always knew when `the group` were working our ground. Nobody actually told us, we just knew, because most of the regular street crime would come to an almost complete stop. The SPG was a very effective anti crime unit. We were almost as wary of them as we were the villains.

Anyone in the job out there know what the modern equivalents of the above are? If indeed they exist at all? Genuine question, I'd really like to know.

PS: Just in, this info on what the modern police officer has to contend with. Clearly I was right to leave as soon as my 30 was up: