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.


Conan the Librarian™ said...

Your photo reminds me of my old school mate Martin Joyce when he was a probationary.
He'd been in involved in stopping a young guy on a Puch moped and had to ride it back to the police station behind the Panda.
He was six foot five and twenty odd stone.
He'd have been quicker carrying it...

Hogdayafternoon said...

Conan: G`day to you, sir! A hilarious picture you created to be sure.

And on a different thread, does Sir Alec Salmond, (Highland Malt and Bar) intend to register the `Drop to the heed`, `Glasgow Kiss` and `Infirmary Shuffle` as legitimate means of deterrence when he approaches NATO for full membership? ;)

Former Sierra Charlie said...

I had to go to court for one. Thanks to a few people going a bit nuts in summer 2011 the case wasn't heard for nearly a year after the arrest. I couldn't understand why she was contesting it. Had I cocked up the chain of evidence and a Mr Loophole type brief would tear me to shreds on the stand?

On the day I didn't even have to give evidence. She didn't contest the evidence, she wanted a hearing so she could plead undue hardship. Something to do with her sick mother.

The bench of course were totally fooled by her pathetic but well-rehearsed act and let her off with points.

I will never forget the face of the magistrate when the clerk passed him her driving history. Put it this way, it wasn't her first offence.

Hogdayafternoon said...

FSC: If only all magistrates could have a first case like that to set them straight. No fool like an old fool.

OldAFSarge said...

Great story HD!

sparkflash said...

I always enjoy your old tales, which pass through my minds eye like a scene from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Keep 'em coming.

MTG said...

“No, I’m too new in this job to be joking” Nice one.

The LE Velocette was quiet and smooth but dangerous by virtue of leaving the rider with no reserve to 'power out of trouble'. Twist the throttle fully open and....nothing much happens.

TonyF said...

Superb anecdote!

Quartermaster said...

That's a cute little thing. I used to have a Honda CB-200 that was enough to nearly kill me when I started. I quickly graduated to a Yamaha XS-650C which had enough torque to get me a out of a lot of bad situations around Nashville.

Here in the US the coppers had BAT machines in the early 70s. The Nashville Metro cars that had them were marked "BAT" (yes really!) and of course they quickly became known as Batmobiles. If you refused the BAT then it was immediately to the Hospital to get blood drawn, and without delay. There was no asking for permission or anything else. The courts held that implied consent existed by simply holding a driver's license. Refusal now leads to immediate suspension of your license for a year.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Old AFSarge:
Cheers matey!

One sunny day, in a pub near Duxford, maybe?

Clearly you know your vintage bikes! The LE was innovative - and as you say, gutless!

A simple tale, but as true as I sit here (wearing concrete boots, playing a saxophone ;)

The CB200 became a police country beat officer's bike. I'll post a photo if I can get to the box in the loft!

BillB said...

I was laughing out loud when that bike ran over his leg.

I have a similar story, but on the receiving end.

Without going into all the details, which would tend to bore most of you, I was stopped at 01:00 going 70 in a 55 on a freeway.

Yes, 55 was stupid, but I was in a little sports car, it was St Paddy's Day, and despite the fact that I was just flowing with the traffic, the CHP had picked me

Did I say that at about 10:00 I was pretty drunk, and realizing that fact, decided I'd better stop until I felt well enough to drive, which was 3 hours later.

I felt fine.

Anyway, one of the CHP says "Are you aware you were going 70 in a 55?"

YHC (to use a term of one of our favorite writers) "Yes, but everyone's doing that! (immediately realize the foolishness of saying that but you can't replay that scene)

CHP, "Well, not everybody or we wouldn't have pulled you over!"

YHC - (from that point on, I am Mr cooperation and polite) - with the physical tests of dexterity given to me the admonition of Dr Samuel Johnson comes to mind, that Nothing so focuses the mind as a noose around the neck

Anyway, I am doing it all, reciting the alphabet backwards, walking the straight line, standing on 1 leg, looking up with a hand on my head, juggling (just threw that last one in)....

Anyway it comes time for the Breathalyzer. I'm thinking, There's no bullshitting them now

it was a cube shaped device about 8" with an LED display and a plastic straw.

Well, I blow into the thing, give it to them, and from me about 10' away they are whispering to themselves.

Five Seconds , Ten Seconds, Fifteen....they aren't saying a word to me - just whispering to themselves.

YHC is getting a bit anxious; after all if I were under or over I think I would have heard from them by now.

Finally YHC sez, " Look, if you let me go I'll go 55 home"

CHP: "Get outta here"

I had to be right on the .08 limit and they were debating whether I would have dried out enough for the formal test at the station.

Anyway I drove home at my promised 55 with cars blowing by me.

Figured I had used one of my nine lives that evening.

Blue Eyes said...

Talking about noddy bikes have you seen those tricycles the PCSOs use to get their fat arses around on?

sparkflash said...

Yes, that would be good. I was driving by Duxford only sunday - no doubt also driving my girlfriend to tears (I am God's own history bore) about how it's 70 years since the American 8th Air Force came over.. and how the derelict airfield by the village of Nuthamstead, near where we live, was built to fly P-38's and B-17's and how they just bulldozed the supplies they didn't take home into trenches when the war ended and I'll stop there...

Hogdayafternoon said...

BillB: Some sobriety test just to bag you? I couldn't do that stuff sober.

Blue: NO??? I do wish you hadn't told me that :(

Spark`: I'll keep you posted, but I want to visit the Old Dux exhibition sometime soon.

BillB said...

HD - all I can think is that it was St Paddy's Day Weekend - I was just going 70 in a little sports car in a 55 -

I know you have experienced a lot in life - some good - some bad - but you really can't say your life experience is complete until you are standing by a busy motorway on one leg looking up - with your hand on top of your head - while traffic is whizzing by at 01:00

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Did a Noddy Bike even have a blue light? What did rural patrol officers do on rainy nights?

Hogdayafternoon said...

BillB: Now I'M lol.

Scott: No blues etc. It was too embarrassing getting overtaken by mopeds when on a 'shout'!
As for the rain, the advice I was given was, "a good policeman shouldn't get wet". Hardly inspiring eh?

Anonymous said...

To be honest I hated plodding so much I'd have taken to a milk float. The nearest I got to wheels was push-starting Panda cars. My first Vauxhall Viva blew its top hose after 25 miles and I seconded to the van as the push man. When a pristine, new model Viva turned up 12 months later and the van finally gasped its last, the dynamic duo still went out double-teamed and for a while we pulled 3 TWOCs a week. Finally, one chase got to the M6 and we hurtled after a Ford Corsair laden with illegal immigrants. The clapped-out oil burner kept ahead for 60 miles until they bailed near a service station. I was just lashing the last two together after a foot race (pipe smoking near to retirement jam-butty driver kept up well), when my partner and I heard the top hose go 50 yards behind us. We cursed Vauxhall for the design fault, but really we should have seen it as an Omen. At that very hour we had ceased to be county officers and had been amalgamated into GMP! It was only in the coming months we realised we had been in an elite force ... and came to work with Noddy and his mates. Working at Bootle Street I came to realise the secret of policing had nothing to do with transport but rather bringing the criminals to within 50 yards of a convenient nick. I often arrived from the train with one or two in tow as my shift started. I was sidelined into CID to give the charge office respite and it was here my police driving career really started. Which was strange (and to get back to the point) as CID did so much boozing none of us were ever safe to drive!

Anonymous said...

For the sake of probity 30 years after any possible whistle-blowing (GMP's response to our complaints our personal radios didn't work was to issue whistles)- I admit I did my share of drinking. However Hoggie, hand on heart, I can say it wasn't me that turned over the crime car on the empty M6 at 5.30 a.m. and that the incident involving drug-dealers and a multiple pile up including a combine harvester and a muddy field, occurring as it did a couple of hours after the pubs opened, was one in which I was entirely compost mentable (I forget the legal French). Not that anyone believed my story until a rather magnificent hound cornered the drug-dealers.
'Bugger', said the patrol sergeant taking the breathalyser tube back off me, 'I thought I'd have to hide that one son and blow one of my own for you'. We used mine for the farmer driving what was really a big tractor ...

Hogdayafternoon said...

ACO: Sometimes the truth just isn't good enough ;)