“Look out it’s the TSG”, this screamed by a youth clad head to toe in black, while wearing his face mask.
So I quickly check behind me, having been on the wrong end of a TSG baton charge before while deployed in plain clothes as a spotter I have no desire to feel the pain again. But there is nobody there but a couple more of my officers, oh it’s us, this young lad thinks we’re the TSG!
Working on a specialist unit means people do not normally mistake me for the TSG, normally I doubt they even realise I’m a police officer, which is handy when out on surveillance or meeting a CHIS (a “snout” if you’ve ever seen the Bill). On my unit there are officers from several police forces, and a couple of government departments that hold law enforcement powers. Earlier in the week I was out talking to a group of senior police, customs and SOCA officers about how to extend this kind of co-operation and now I am having bricks thrown at me.
There are so many things I would like to say, so many experiences that have happened over the last 48 hours, experiences of terror, experiences of massive humour and sadness.
Trying to restrain a shop owner who is attempting to run into a burning building to attempt to salvage his stock, and indeed his livelihood. Taking off my helmet so I can hear him better, he sobs as he explains to me about his life, and how he has built up his trade and now does not know what to do. I simply do not know what to say to him, when I survey the streets around us it reminds me of the looting that took place in Iraq in 2003, it’s genuinely heartbreaking. I do something I find myself doing alot over the next few hours, telling him I’m sorry and then giving him a manly hug with a pat on the back. Helmet back on and we’re off somewhere else.
I have never experienced looting of this scale, the wholesale sacking of shops is taking place, we know it is taking place and there is nothing we can do about it, a couple of the more hardcore members of my team want to “blat round and stop it”, we’re outnumbered, we’re encumbered by protective equipment and we’re drained. If we go blundering into this kind of situation we’ll do more harm than good. And that’s when it happens, my moment of terror “MAN DOWN”, two words I never want to hear, we run to form a cordon round the fallen officer, shields up in all directions, everyone alert and scanning for a threat. I can’t see anything but I can feel the impact of stones against my helmet, I can see some glass breaking around us, thankfully the downed officer isn’t baldy hurt and is able to regain his footing, we’re up and we’re mobile, one of my worst fears averted.
The traditional, stereotypical, image of a public order police officer is that of some knuckle dragging man mountain who’s main skill in life is being able to knock a door down in one hit. As I survey the people around me, none of them fit that. They’re all reasonably intelligent, in the van there have been long discussions on what the cause of this is. We can understand the anger of the community over the shooting of Mark Duggan by armed police, we know that they want answers. But we also know that at times the investigative process is painfully slow, waiting for forensics to come back can take a while, the laborious process of locating witness and then taking statements, tracking down CCTV and seizing copies of it, then reviewing it. All of these things are hard enough for us, let alone the IPCC, and I have very little idea of the size of their investigative teams, but I can’t imagine they are that large.
It is something the public do not seem to understand, investigations have to be carried out in a certain way, these ways take time, but they are done like this to maintain the integrity of evidence should a case ever need to be put before the courts. TV and film (which is the only interaction many people will ever have with the police) has put forward an unrealistic view of criminal investigations that they can be wrapped up in a few hours, with a few people and that forensic tests are instant and infallible. Sadly, in very few cases is this true…
We reached a new low at about 0400 when it was discovered a flask of tea had leaked over my kit bag, nobody was upset about my kit, or the fact my book was destroyed, they were however gutted that the tea had gone. Thankfully a few minutes later more was procured. We run on tea and junk food, I had managed to hide from them the fact there was a packed of Haribo Starmix in my bag, I managed to sneak it into my pocked with nobody noticing, they’ll be useful for that moment when we hit the wall again.
Walking down Tottenham High Road during Sunday day time in plain clothes with a colleague the damage is shocking to see, everything has been targeted, the community has been smashed and it looks like there has been a rampage by a herd of elephants, street furnature is squashed flat in places, shops have had their windows broken and then been looted, we deftly avoid what looks like a pool of blood and make our way further down. There are members of the media hunting in packs, looking to zoom in on anybody who has been separated from the herd, I see a man come out of his shop and sit with his head in his hands on the pavement, his crying is audible from 80 or so yards, within seconds he is surrounded by people with cameras, I can no longer hear him crying, all I can hear is the whir of camera motors as his heartbreaking moment is captured on dozens of memory cards, I want to move them away, I want to shield this poor man from these vultures, I can’t…
It’s funny when things like this happen the small things that make you laugh, after leaving Tottenham on Sunday we went into Central London, I needed to get something from the office and then attend a briefing on an ongoing operation where we have surveillance on a target. I knew that a friend had come up to That London on mutual aid so after I established where he would be I popped into the Met police feeding station to see him, and give him some police related swag. They all looked so clean and shiny! I grabbed a chair and sat down next to his table, within seconds I’d been accosted by a member of Met police staff, I wasn’t allowed to sit there, I was blocking a fire escape. I almost wanted to laugh, I’d spent the night having fireworks and petrolbombs thrown at me, there’d been no fire escape then. And more to the point everyone in the canteen, bar me, was in fireproof coveralls. I dare say if there had been a fire we’d have all been able to locate an exit. Of course I didn’t say any of this, I apologised meekly and moved out of the way. But she’d be welcome on any serial of mine, dishing out justice wait her ladle.
We’re back in the car now, listening to the radio (FM not job) and there are a number of callers who are ringing LBC to explain why the rioting happened, a youth worker is explaining how it is all because there are not enough community centres open in the area, and how the youth have nothing to do. Another caller has said it is all the fault of the police, but refuses to expand on this. I am pleased to note there are some very supportive messages from people towards the police though. And when I have had a chance to update my Twitter feed the messages of support I have received have been a great boost. Some of you I have met and worked with, some I know very well and have drunk with you, some of you are my best friends I just haven’t met you yet, some are total strangers but the support flooded in, the concern everytime an injured officer was reported was genuine, we all share something in common.
And this is what makes it all worthwhile, I get to travel all over the UK, I visit a lot of other forces and work in their force areas while on jobs, and we are all the same deep down, we’d do anything for one another, we look after one another and we care. If you ever push your orange button we will come, because we know you will for us.
Thanks really need to go out to officers from the Met, City of London Police, BTP, Surrey, Essex, Kent, TVP and Herts as well as all of those working behind the scenes to support us, those who were out on the front lines who weren’t police officers, the PCSOs who guarded cordons in areas that just hours before we wouldn’t have been able to get to, the EGT photographers, the Fire-fighters, the Paramedics, the staff in McDonalds who provisioned me with 36 cups of tea and an orange juice.
I don’t know what this evening (MONDAY) will hold, I hope that it is all over, I hope that we do not see anymore injured officers, no more wounded members of the public, no more lives destroyed by the idiocy of people who cannot control their own greed. Because that’s what happened in Enfield, Brixton and other areas last night, greed, they saw people looting the Tottenham Hale retail park and they wanted some of that, they robbed, assaulted and stole. My only message to them is this. We will find you, we will bring you to justice, when you are sat in your homes watching your brand new 42″ flat screen TV fear every single knock at your door, we are coming.
I know that whatever happens tonight there will be police officers, from whatever forces out there, standing and walking tall, ready to do the right thing… And I will be stood there with them.