Friday, 12 April 2013

Ducking and diving around the law

 No one got paid a bonus by coming up with good crime figures in my day, there was no officical money carrot dangled under the noses of our chief officers like that which was introduced but a short while ago by a government seeking credos. But there were short cuts here and there to be sure. I never knowingly took part in any corrupt practice, but human nature being what it is...

It was a night shift in November and my tutor constable was on rest day. We only had 3 weeks attached to a tutor to `learn beats` before being let out on our own so I hoped I’d get a good stand-in. I was allocated to Ian who had just about 3 years service. Ian was a mature and friendly sort of bloke and I was quite happy to be working with him. After parade and inspection we were dismissed to our duties. The front office was the usual bustle of blue uniforms grabbing radios and batteries, with those on armed duties signing out Walther pistols and spare magazines. The standard `carry` was one up the spout and safety `off` which meant the air was filled with the mechanical clacking and clicking sounds of 6 or 7 pistols being made ready. The public counter was only feet away from all this activity but in those days it consisted of nothing but a `hatch`, which would be slid up in order to peer out at the poor enquiring public. Not the warm and friendly open plan police offices you see today (those that are open for more than a few hours a week, that is). This friendly enquiry desk, in a huge police station, could more accurately be described as a trapdoor or serving hatch just wide enough to be able to reach through and drag someone in by their lapels, should it become necessary. Over the years I would see quite a few people swallowed up into the police station in this remarkably quick and efficient manner, a bit like a Venus Fly Trap.

Ian was an authorised firearms officer and, together, we would be relieving the guys on the front door of Number 10 Downing Street during the shift, but for the first couple of hours we were free agents and so headed up Whitehall for the bright lights to catch some action. Strolling across Trafalgar Square and into Cockspur Street we were suddenly confronted by a guy trying to do a 3-point turn and he wasn’t doing very well, bouncing up the kerbs and stalling the engine. Ian says, “We’ll check this one, I’ll stop him but watch he doesn’t try to run us over”. We signal him to stop and he does so, immediately getting out of the car and putting his hand inside the jacket pocket of his crumpled suit. Eight years later I would recall this moment with a wry smile when, on an exchange trip in the USA, I was in a similar situation, except when the guy got out of his car in downtown Detroit and stuck his hand in his jacket pocket, he became instantly unpopular with the cops I was with and was lucky not to be slotted on the spot. But our man in London didn’t get a gun pointed at him; even though Ian was covertly armed with a Walther PP. Our man just produced this Metropolitan Police I/d card. He was a detective constable, he was driving a car and he was intoxicated. Oh how my heart sank.

Ian was very calm and politely told him to put his I/d away because I was going to talk to him. This was my cue and I went through the standard legal spiel leading up to me requiring him to provide a sample of breath for a breath test. He seemed surprised and asked me if I was joking. I said, “No, I’m too new in this job to be joking”. His reply stuck with me, “Oh f**k, a bloody probationer”. Ian was great and firmly put this guy in his place, explaining that if he’d just let us get on with the procedure we’d all be better off. We radioed for a breath test kit and within minutes big John arrived on the Noddy Bike (just like the picture below). This was a lightweight motorcycle, a 200cc Velocette LE to be precise, and was ideal for central London what with its choking traffic and narrow Mews and alleyways, even though the rider looked slightly ridiculous in his Macintosh and slightly modified but outwardly standard police helmet. Although it was, for its time, a brilliantly innovative motorcycle, water cooled and with a shaft drive, I’d made up my mind never to be seen, dead or alive, on a Noddy Bike, as did most of my mates. Unbeknown to me, that private promise would only hold good for a few years.

The breath kit was prepared. It was a glass tube containing crystals that would change colour progressively if there was alcohol present in the breath. You just snapped the sealed ends off and fitted a mouthpiece and a bag to the ends. I gave chummy his final instructions on what to do, when I was suddenly treated to a remarkable display. He suddenly started shaking like he’d been electrocuted and then collapsed on the pavement, twitching and convulsing. I was both gobsmacked and horrified as my first real live breath test, a pretty simple procedure, started to rapidly descend into a sort of theatrical farce. But Big John wasn’t fooled and said what he thought of this `act` from the intoxicated detective in very uncomplimentary terms. In my naivety, I expressed my concern for his welfare and glanced at Ian who was looking decidedly pissed off with the whole situation. There were a couple of empty seconds where we both tried to think of our next move and a small crowd of people had started to gather round and stare, as they do, when Big John solved it, albeit accidentally. He decided to dismount from the Noddy but in so doing he had forgotten the engine was still running – easily done as they were very quiet. Unfortunately, he had also left it in first gear and as he stood up and released the clutch it leapt forward and ran over the horizontal detective’s leg, causing him to leap to his feet cursing and swearing in pain. Big John didn’t flinch, put the Noddy on its stand and proudly pronounced, “Told you he was bullshitting”. He was arrested for refusing the test and a van was summoned to take him in.

He was booked in by the sergeant, without any fuss and in a matter of a few minutes, declining any medical treatment. Such a contrast to today, where officers frequently have to queue up with their prisoners outside the cells, often waiting ages to be let in. Today’s prisoners have to be asked a myriad of questions about their physical health, mental health, if the arresting officer was nice, dietary requirements, shoes size, star sign and favourite film star before getting anywhere near a cell. This prisoner however was no fool. He knew the system and had clearly started to remember Contingency Plan `A` that had doubtless been worked out by his hard drinking colleagues when the breath test laws were introduced several years before, in 1967. The plan recognised that time is of the essence, or in his case, time would remove the essence. Remember, this was before the advent of breath analysis machines that are now in every custody station and give a reading pretty much within a minute. We had only two options; blood or urine. He failed the second screening breath test and was asked to supply blood. He agreed, knowing that a police surgeon (doctor on retainer) would be called and in central London on a busy night that would take time. Doc eventually arrived after an hour and asked him if it was OK to take a blood sample, at which point chummy refused, with a big grin. This meant we would have to demand 2 urine specimens that had to be given within an hour. 60 minutes later, no urine had passed so we then enter the final phase and revert to asking for a blood specimen. This time he agrees and after another delay the doc arrives and gets a syringe full. Our man is released on bail pending the lab report which, unsurprisingly, came back just under the legal limit. His delaying tactics had worked a treat. My next breath test job, a few nights later, was over and dealt with in less than an hour. Deep joy.

Please, don’t try `Contingency Plan A` if you are arrested. It doesn’t work like this any more.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Officer down

Rest in Peace.

Police motorcyclists are the best in the business and  bikers on unmarked bikes are amongst those at the top of that tree.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Here come da Judge

I think I may have been a little too sarcastic in one of my responding comments on the previous post (`Mass Manslaughter in Derby`) about one of our judges....

so to make up for it I shall concede to an expert, I give you Mr Peter Cook:

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Mass manslaughter in Derby

Its a sad irony that the news media are eagerly waiting at the court to bring us the sentences for the manslaughter of the six children in Derby at the hands of their `parental` wpos (hint, w = worthless).
 Sky and BBC news will interrupt whatever is being screened at the time to get us there live, windswept and almost as it happens. During the olden days of Albions Fatal Tree, we'd be gathering at Tyburn or Northampton Market or at any of the numerous gibbets that were part of the system of the day, although it is highly unlikely that an incident like this one, committed then, would have raised an eyebrow, let alone a hue and cry, fires and infant mortality being par for the course.
As many of my old chums will know, those poor kids had already been sentenced to their chaotic lifestyle, pretty much from conception. There was no media scrutiny of these poor souls then, yet bad times were very much on the cards from the get-go. I guess being placed by social services on the `at risk` register, even as an embryo (if the family background and circumstances were risky enough) pales into insignificance when compared to the end result of this horrendous case. Of course reporters must be factual in what they report - and very careful about saying what they really think. I know what that feels like. Its almost as if we must say, `we know there are awful people out there just like this trio, breeding with complete impunity and no perceivable parenting skills, we just have to let them get on with it and hope for the best`. Its wrong to be prejudiced (although it saved my neck on many occasions, maybe I'll call that `sixth sense suspicions`), so I ought to say that the other tragedy is that none of those children had the chance to grow up and make something decent of themselves, maybe even discover a cure for something horrible. The prospects for that happening were pretty remote, way more remote than some or all of them ending up like the people who brought them into the world, but you never really know for sure until one or the other happens, you just have a pretty good idea.

In the below news article, there is an interesting quote from Professor David Cantor, a name well known in police investigative circles for his work in psychological profiling. He stated, "He [Mick Philpott] lived in a world where he could get away with anything....".   Correct, Professor, him and thousands of others - and I haven't got a tenth of your qualifications. I await hearing of his pre-cons with no anticipation of surprise whatsoever.