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`.