This is another true story from my time on the murder squad. As always, reader discretion advised...
Croydon. A place of broken dreams, a barren heartland to the south. A place to get proper pissed. Our victim had taken a bucket load of drugs, which he’d blended with a lovely selection of seasonal wines, beers and spirits. The lab are still analysing his blood samples some fifteen years later. The initial scientist on the case was driven to madness and became a hermit living in a cave. In Birmingham.
I was a real life murder squad detective once. Which was nice. I still have nightmares. Please read on, but be aware this is based on real life. This is the real deal. This is a rough draft from my forthcoming book. Sleep well.
A Man is Dead
If you are murdered you get a team of elite detectives on the case led by a Detective Chief Inspector who is known as the Senior Investigating Officer. SIOs are issued with half-moon glasses to peer over. They sit in dimly lit rooms late at night. It is a little known fact that SIOs are also responsible for feeding the electric meter, hence the low level of lighting like on the telly. Most prefer to spend the money on drink which they imbibe in their single bedsits where they’ve lived since their wives left them because they were married to the job.
The Constable pushed his bicycle down the path towards the little wooden gate. He brushed past the blossoming lavender, buds catching on his freshly pressed trousers. The spring morning saw mists clearing across fields of swaying crops as birds soared from the ancient trees at the bottom of the meadow.
The Constable leaned his bicycle against the dry stone wall which separated the police house from the Post Office next door. He tightened the chin strap under his helmet, and ran his fingers across his sideburns. His fingers ran down his tunic, checking each shiny button one by one. A last glance up and down the street and he set off.
An approaching tractor lifted dust from the roadway, the low roar of it's engine joining the sound of the cattle being moved between fields beyond the village boundary. The farmhand gazed at the cycling Constable who waved good morning. The farmhand drove on, offering his middle finger in reply.
"Please Sir, what happens when you get arrested?"
"That's an interesting question Timmy! Why do you ask?"
"I have questionable Internet habits so it's only a matter of time Sir!"
"Timmy, There are many ways to get arrested. You can go straight for the money shot and punch a policeman in the face. Don't go for a fat one or they might not catch you. Or you could get along to the Changing of the Guard and shout, 'Bomb! I've got a fucking bomb!' Some people prefer the convenience of the Internet with the option to either hack the Pentagon or simply call your girlfriend's mum a slag on Facebook backed up with a picture of your penis."
The police contain two sorts of people - men and women. I have worked with both during my career. Police officers can be readily identified by other police officers. The trick is to look for the ones balancing a silly pointy hat on their head. Others will have a variety of pips and crowns or stripes on their shoulders designating rank. The higher the rank, the higher the level of self-regard. You are promoted by people with even higher levels of self-regard than your own.
In London, the rank structure is slightly different to elsewhere. We have Commanders. Nobody knows what Commanders do, but they all live together at headquarters. Above Commanders are Deputy Assistant Commissioners, Assistant Commissioners and the head honcho, the Commissioner. All these people want to be the Commissioner, so they spy on each other and tell the Commissioner tales to get one up on each other. Commanders and above get their own cars with a driver. When they get promoted, they are given a shiny catalogue and model cars to push around to help them choose. The cars are fitted with blue lights hidden in the front grills and two tone horns in case anyone ever needs a Commander on the hurry up. Nobody ever needs a Commander on the hurry up.
Each London Borough has a Chief Superintendent in charge. They are known as Borough Commanders but are not Commanders. They just like the name because it is the best one. They are in charge of the Senior Leadership Team which consists of Superintendents and Chief Inspectors. The Chief Inspectors all want to be Superintendents so make the tea all the time and are the designated drivers at Christmas and birthdays.
The Senior Leadership Team used to be called the Senior Management Team (SMT) but they were often mistaken for the Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) so this was changed. Senior officers are far too important to deal with dog poo. The SLT meet every two weeks in a secret location where they wear flowing robes and blame Inspectors for everything.
Police officers also wear different coloured helmets in public order situations. If you want to lob a brick at an Inspector, aim for the red helmet. He’ll be well behind the lines, so have a good throwing arm. You’ll need some kind of projectile launcher if you wish to hit a more senior rank. They will be surrounded by runners and advisers though, so if hitting a sycophant is good enough, you’ll have quite a wide target area. Be careful not to hit the fire brigade by mistake. It might wake them up.
Some police officers don’t wear uniform. Some are engaged in deep level covert undercover work, so even a small piece of uniform can lead to disaster. Shoulder epaulets on white shirts are a dead giveaway in gang circles. Standard plain clothes work is somewhat different. Here, an officer will don a North Face jacket, blue Levi jeans and Timberland boots. White faced and with cropped hair, they will then stand outside Brixton tube station wondering why nobody is offering them drugs.
Police conduct surveillance in plain clothes. It would be silly not to. Lower level more amateur levels of surveillance are easily compromised. A colleague spent ten hours in the back of a van watching a drug dealer’s address. Exiting the van after seeing no activity of any sort, he was surprised to see ‘POLICE SURVEILLANCE VAN’ spray painted across the side. The van remained in use for another two years as no one could agree what budget a complete re-spray should come from.
On another occasion, a suspected car thief was arrested and taken into an unmarked police van by officers in plain clothes. His somewhat novel defence at court was that they claimed to be members of the Provisional IRA who were going to kneecap him. His argument was that pretending to be members of a proscribed terrorist organisation rendered his arrest unlawful. This was his lawyers argument in reality. The defendant was of very low intelligence and slept with his mother as we discovered when raiding his house one morning. His defence was found to be ridiculous, and he was convicted. No police officer would ever act in this way. Even for a laugh.
We once tried a new technique of overt surveillance when following a Northern Irish paedophile. He had been asked to leave Northern Ireland by concerned local citizens in balaclavas, so had moved to London and changed his name. We followed him for most of the day, peeking around corners then ducking back when he turned, talking into our armpits and walking around shops directly behind him. He called 999 on several occasions telling them that he was being followed by the police. A juvenile and silly operation, but at least he wasn’t sexually assaulting children or being shot by Republican terrorists.
About an eighth of the Met is made up of CID officers. In this role you attempt to charge people with crimes or write off the crime if you can’t find anyone to charge with it and pretend it didn’t happen. You will be shouted at when you don’t charge someone that has been left in a cell by a uniformed officer who has gone home. You used to have to get people to admit to a long list of crimes they may or may not know anything about. This practice has ceased until something less obviously open to corruption is found. CID officers used to smoke roll up cigarettes in the office and start drinking at 1pm. These practices have also ceased. The CID used to be an attractive proposition. Now it is made up of officers forced to work there.
There are a number of specialist detective squads who are known as ‘squads.’ The most famous is the Flying Squad. They used to take blaggers with nostrils over the pavement. Now they are mainly concerned with silly teenagers nicking cash from Group 4 trucks.
The murder squad never close a case. They just forget about the ones they haven’t solved. The more wooden officers get to go on Crimewatch and say ‘Yes Kirsty, that’s right’ for no reason. Murders are categorised as A, B or C. Cat C murders are where someone kills someone else then wanders to the police station to tell them all about it. The suspect will be locked up and ready to go before the HAT car is called. The HAT car is the Homicide Assessment Team. They come out and suck their teeth like a cowboy builder before deciding whether the case is glamorous enough for the murder squad. The proximity to the weekend is also a factor when all the detectives will be on double time.
Cat B murders are where the murderer is known, but we don’t know where he is. He can often be tracked down by someone dressing up as a postman and knocking on his door. If you do it in police uniform he’ll hide in the loft. Cat A murders are where the press film everything and the Commissioner has to use a Commander to go on the telly next to the Scotland Yard sign. Nobody will ever have seen this Commander before so the press can’t ask awkward questions about expenses or why he’s got blue lights fitted to his Range Rover.
The Counter Terrorism Command used to be the Anti-Terrorist Branch but have softened in recent years. Their work is covert and highly specialist. Such is the need for secrecy nobody knows what anyone else is doing. Even their mums. They often phone people up but won’t say who they are so it is assumed they are selling something and get hung up on. They listen to the police radio when a member of the public reports a suspicious package. They lose interest when the attending officer kicks the package and doesn’t lose a leg. Sometimes they speak to foreign people who have been arrested, but never use their real names. They got this idea from Spooks on the telly.
Operation Trident used to target black people but stopped when someone said it was racist to target black people. Now they target people who like the kudos of being targeted by Operation Trident when their mates only have Safer Transport after them for a dodgy Oyster card.
The Directorate of Professional Standards target corrupt police officers. Whenever a DPS officer visits a police building everyone sits silently and carefully deletes their Internet history. If the DPS can’t gather sufficient evidence to prosecute someone, they will use other methods under the discipline code. Hence you will see officers being sacked for having a shit haircut or photocopying their face. The DPS play the long game and consider corporate risk and reputation. DPS officers sleep soundly at night knowing they are not as unpopular as Traffic Officers.
Other specialist units include the helicopter where it is essential you can talk in a fuzzy upper class accent. They spend most of their time chasing young inbreds on mopeds going across fields. The helicopter does not go up in rain, fog or in the dark. Or on a Sunday morning if the pilot has had a big session the night before. If the helicopter is over West London for more than an hour Heathrow Airport shuts down and everyone gets very upset.
The dog unit are a breed apart. Dogs are chosen following rigorous selection. The real nutters are sent to the army. Some kinder souls apparently decide police work is not for them and are sold to kind people in kind houses. The remainder get to drive around and bite people for running away or hiding in mattresses.
Mounted branch stroll around central London pooing on the road.
The Territorial Support Group are the riot police. They are made up of people who are particularly adept at wearing big riot helmets and standing in lines occasionally hitting people. In the hierarchy of people who stand in lines, they are number one. They are Level 1 trained which means they can run around with little round shields and break into peoples houses where the occupier is really really not keen on the police. Level 2 officers are one level down from this. They get to wear helmets, but not all the time. Level 3 officers are not allowed to wear riot helmets at all. Level 3 officers wander about aimlessly, and get to stand next to police tape. Each group has views on the other - Level 1 officers see themselves as highly trained experts in their field. Other people see them as bellends.
Armed officers come in several versions. You can be in Royalty Protection standing outside Windsor Castle where you have to tell American tourists whether the Queen is at home or not. You have to have a grey beard to do this job. Stick on beards are acceptable for female officers since 2012 when they were recognised as an underrepresented group in Royalty Protection. Other armed officers protect diplomatic premises. They stand still for two hours and do not speak to the occupants of their embassy. They are swapped around every two hours to make sure they haven’t had a stroke. They also cover Downing Street and every now and then almost cause the Commissioner to resign by alleging a Cabinet Minister called them a pleb.
Officers at airports are given guns which they use to indicate where Gate 17 is before going for a lie down. Specialist Firearms Officers are top of the tree. They get to drive around in enormous military like vehicles and wear balaclavas. When they are good, they get to wear their own clothes on a Friday. They get special holsters to carry their guns under their North Face jackets, and side pockets to carry their Andy McNab books in.
Then there is Traffic. They wear white hats so the pigeons know where to aim. They deal with fatal road traffic collisions and harass innocent motorists. They also make lorry drivers hand over this little plastic disc things which stops them driving for the rest of the day. Traffic is for a certain sort of person.
When I received my long service medal, each recipient went forward to be presented with the medal by a very senior police officer. Each received a round of applause expect the traffic officer who was booed, much to the surprise of his parents. And there were officers from the Directorate of Professional Standards there. Strange world. The undercover officers had to wear blue blankets over their heads to prevent identification. They had to hold hands and be led up to the stage where they shook hands with the senior officer and had their photos taken. Unusual, but I’m sure you can understand that their safety is paramount - they are also entitled to a free photo like everyone else to mark the momentous day even though they were under a blanket. Like a child molester.