Finders Keepers, Finders weepers, AKA Buffoon of the week VII

This buffoon of the week winner was dealt with by a friend of mine, not me, so is a third party winner, but worthy of note nontheless.

Bob was stupid and a small time burglar, who was happier burgling abandoned houses as there was less chance of being disturbed or bothered with. He would steal copper piping and other metalwork from boilers in abandoned or neglected houses and sell it to scrap yards, for pennies. He must have been paying himself well under the national minimum wage given how much time the whole process would take, no holiday pay or sick pay either, it would have been better to get a job stacking shelves in Tescos, but that was his problem, not mine.

One day, Bob hit the jackpot. He was burgling an abandoned house, when hidden in the kitchen, he found £70,000 in cash! Happy days. Drug money, concealed in a house by someone unwilling to keep it at home, and not concealed very well. Bob has just collected more money in a five minute expedition than he will possibly ever earn in a lifetime of burgling empty houses. The sensible thing to do, bearing in mind it must have crossed his feeble brain what sort of person has £70,000 in cash and a need to hide it, would have been to keep very very quiet indeed about it. Bob cannot have been unaware of drug gang activity in the area, even if he wasn’t involved in it except as a customer.

So silence would have been golden. What was NOT golden was going on Facebook and bragging about having found said sum of money. Although keeping it instead of handing it in is illegal, the police were the least of Bob’s problems from here on in. Bob received a death threat fairly quickly, giving him a day to make arrangements to hand the money back, or else. Unfortunately for Bob, he spoke to the police and spilled the beans, who came, promptly confiscated the money, then served an Osman warning on him and his family.

For the uninitiated, an Osman warning arose out of the case of Osman v United Kingdom [1998] , in a nutshell the police had information that the victims life was under threat, from an obsessive teacher at his sons school. They didn’t take effective measures to protect the families lifes, the teacher ended up killing two people and wounding two more, and out of this arose the Osman warning – If the police have information suggesting your life is at risk, but not enough evidence to arrest someone yet, they have a legal duty to come and tell you that information suggests there is a risk, and to take appropriate precautions. This normally means moving house in a hurry, and if you choose to ignore the advice and something bad happens to you, then they aren’t liable.

Frequently they are served on gang members because of threats from rival gangs, in which case it would be tempting to stand back and let natural selection sort out the problem and then arrest the survivors, but the law is there to protect everyone, even those who break it. But I digress.

Bob now knew who he had taken the money from, and suddenly unable to give it back, needed no encouragement for him and his family to move house. My friend, who relayed the tale to me, took a statement about the threats while the family were packing their life into a removals van and moving to Scotland. To be specific, he persuaded them to leave the washing machine in the hallway until last, and he used it as a desk, quizzing them for details as they passed him at speed whilst loading the removals van and writing them up in the periods they were out of speaking range. He finished the statement just as they came for the washing machine, practically threw it onto the van in their haste, and were the far side of Hadrians Wall several hours later, never to return.

For his sheer ability to snatch disaster from the jaws of good fortune, Bob certainly deserves his buffoon of the week award.

Buffoon of the week VI

There hasn’t been a buffoon of the week for a while, I’ve not seen anyone who I think really qualifies.

Until now.

Young Saddam Miah, drain on society that he so clearly is with 25 convictions on his CV, was lucky to get a suspended sentence for supplying class A drugs. In places like Thailand or Iran, he’d be hanging from a crane before long, and in the USA, he’d be in for so long, he’d forget what the sun looked like.

But here, he gets away with a suspended sentence. While it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and rant about the judiciary going soft, I obviously haven’t read the judges summing up or any pre-sentence reports, so I’ll refrain. But it’s fair to say he was happy with the outcome.

So happy, in fact, that he went out, got blind drunk in a hotel to celebrate, then threw a vase round reception to get the staffs attention. When they objected to his behaviour, he went outside and smashed up someones car, for reasons best known to himself.

That being naughty, he went back to court, and was promptly sent to prison for celebrating NOT going to prison.

The irony made me smile, but I doubt it had the same effect on him.

Big boys games, big boys rules…

It’s difficult to decide who should have less sympathy here, but on balance, I’m going to go with the family. Complaining about the police ‘executing’ your son when he had a silenced pistol and ammunition in his possession is just too ironic for words.

Not that I’m excusing it, but most armed criminals don’t actually want to pull the trigger. Not on moral grounds, they just want to rob whoever it is successfully with the minimum of fuss. The mere presence of a firearm is normally all that’s needed. The days of baddies not loading their guns before a robbery so there’d be no ‘accidents’ that put them on the wrong end of a rope are gone, as, thankfully, is the rope, but the principle is the same.

But having a silencer on a gun is a pain. They’re expensive, more difficult to get hold of, they make the weapon more bulky, difficult to operate and less powerful, all those payoffs are only worth it if you actually intend to shoot someone.  The resistance once assassinated a Nazi collaborator in hospital in Copenhagen in 1944, a single assassin dressed as a doctor walked into a ward full of patients with a silenced pistol called a Welrod concealed, walked up to their bed as if doing a checkup and shot them in the head without anyone noticing. But they’re a big bulky thing, you wouldn’t take it out if you just wanted to scare someone, and the same applies today.

So on balance, tough. As the saying goes, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. The surviving occupants of the car aren’t saying much to the IPCC, which is slowing things down, probably because they might end up facing charges of supplying class A drugs, possessing firearms or conspiracy to murder even, but that’s hardly the IPCC’s fault.

Sympathy meter reading? Zero.

On a lighter note, forks found at work today? Also zero. Today’s lunch was reheated Risotto. Eaten with a teaspoon.

It’s a good start to the day when…

You’re three hours late to work, because of someone threatening to jump off a motorway bridge and kill themselves. I’ll be bringing the cakes in tomorrow for lateness, courtesy of the Independent Cake Punishment Commission, the ICPC. Any similarity to any genuine independent organisations who investigate the police is a pure coincidence. The ICPC don’t take 4 years to investigate something, the decisions are quick, just and final.

Or you get in the door at work to find your sergeant struggling on the floor with a geriatric having a paranoid mental breakdown through too much cannabis use. As one half of the fracas is trained, half the age of the other and twice the weight, it seems rude to get involved, so you just stand and watch in amazement.

On the plus side, it gets better. I’ve made myself semi-redundant today. Normally, my job consists of listening to peoples request for more officers, looking sympathetic, then saying ‘no’, as there’s no-one available I can suggest moving. Today I passed a milestone, when someone actually assessed their situation for themselves, came up and pretty much asked and answered their own question all in one go. With the word ‘No’. I didn’t even have to speak. So, back to the crossword.

I don’t take joy in not being able to help, I just refuse to feel bad about it either. It’s not my fault there’s so few toys in the box. And this is when we’re 12% over minimum staffing today on earlies. Lates, when we’re predicted to be 10% under, will be a nightmare. I’ll be in the garden with an iced lolly or two by then, listening to my son tell me about the last day of his SATS.

Total jobs ongoing just now, around 1300. It’ll hit 1450 or so by 9pm tonight. With less than 200 officers to deal with it all. Not my problem.

What is my problem right now is an eternal one, namely “Why can I never find a bloody fork in a police station when I want one?” There’s thousands of spoons in the various kitchens round the building, enough knives to carve Michaelangelos David out of the nearest tree, but can I find a fork? No. I’m reduced to eating a reheated Chicken Fajita with two spoons. Paranoid thoughts start creeping in about which one of my colleagues has opened a highly profitable second-hand fork shop, until the fajita is gone.

 P.S. finishing this off the day after it happened, I found out why the woman wanted to jump. She was a single mum who’d met a new fella, who moved in and months later murdered her child. Grief and guilt being what they are, I’d probably want to jump too. My son got an extra big hug before bed tonight. 

A dead man did it, Sarge.

One relatively calm night, we were sent to a punch up in a block of flats at around 5am. The usual scenario, everyone was drunk, everyone wanted to kill each other and no-one would tell us who started it. In a desperate attempt to not have to arrest absolutely everyone and sit with them all at hospital for hours, wiping out an entire shift, we managed to separate them and eventually got some sense out of one of them.

In short, there was a ‘party’ going on in one of the flats. No streamers, party poppers, cocktail sausages and pineapple chunks on sticks, no sherry and nibbles on trays, social discourse on current events, nothing like that. Drinks chosen for their alcohol percentage/cost ratio, bad music played far too loud and lots of inadequate people, surely a recipe for disaster. During the fun, it would appear that one of the contestants had been caught robbing things from another flat in the building, and the resident, a particularly gobby young woman, had repeatedly smashed an iron bar over the suspects head. Like you do.

No-one would put this in writing, so the burglary offender/assault victim got sent to hospital and we got and verified details of the others so they could be locked up later if required.

There was still the outstanding burglary of the flat to be looked at, however. The victim/offender had some car keys in his pocket which we’d deprived him of, and acting on the presumption that he would be lazy and park as close as possible, a quick spin round the block pressing his key fob found his car nearby. Which he appeared to be living in. As well as storing stolen property in. Car recovered, property booked in, on to the next job.

We played scissors/paper/stone for the paperwork and followup enquiries, and I lost. The packs of nappies and wetwipes I was quite happy belonged to the girl who’d smashed him over the head, but there were a few VHS video recorders in there as well (remember them?). One of them had initials stencilled on it, which suggests school or business rather than a private individual victim. The muppet who’d stolen it all was eventually bailed from hospital, so we didn’t have to waste a week sitting with him, and bailed back to me.

He complicated things somewhat by dying of a lighter-fluid overdose a few days after getting out of hospital. Which left me in a predicament. I managed to find the school the video had been stolen from, who were pleased to get it back so I could get rid of that without having to do a court file fairly quickly. But the woman who’d hit him over the head with the iron bar heard he’d died, presumed she’d caused it and went on the run for 6 months, as she thought she was wanted for murder.

I spent ages going round to her flat and relatives addresses and making all sorts of enquiries to try and find her, just so I could get rid of these bloody nappies and wetwipes, they became the bane of my life, but the more I looked for her, the more effort she put into avoiding me. Quite why I’d be coming round on my own to lock her up for such a serious offence clearly didn’t occur to her. Eventually I left them with her mum and washed my hands of it, as I was collecting weekly nagging letters from the property store, and was sick of them.

The only plus was that I managed to write the school burglary off to the dead man. There’s a number of Home Office approved ways to write crime reports off without charging someone if you can justify it, i.e. if the suspect is out of the country and likely never to return, if it’s not in the public interest, if the suspect is already doing serious time for more important matters etc. The holy grail of Home Office write offs is the offender being dead. And I did it. If you think I lack empathy (I don’t, it’s just rationed), you should have heard what the head-teacher said when I explained why I didn’t need a statement.


Fooled me once, Shane on you…

Young Shane was naughty. 25 at the time, the same as me, and he was an idiot. Shane’s life consisted of stealing valuable items from Boots, WH Smith, razor blades, posh shampoo, parker pens, printer cartridges, you name it, selling said items round the back of one or two local pubs, spending the money on heroin, then starting again. It’s probably a good job he’s an idiot, if he was intelligent he would realise what a messed up life he has and suicide would start to appeal. Ignorance is bliss, and he was particularly blissful.

His lifestyle brings him into regular contact with the police. Some offenders move from time to time, they’ve upset one dealer too many and have to leave town, or they move to try and break the cycle. There’s a never ending parade of faces on the briefing system, the same gormless expressions and the same gormless events, like a dirty, violent soap opera written by someone with the imagination of a fence post. At this point, not long after I got out of training college, Shane was very much part of the weekly script.

One merry day, Shane was in custody but had to go to hospital. He told the custody officer he’d swallowed a couple of wraps of heroin prior to arrest, so had a precautionary trip to the poisons ward for the weekend. I’m not surprised, the beds are more comfy than ours, the food’s better, there’s pretty nurses (sometimes) to look at, and they know it’s a pain in the backside to us, to have to sit and guard them. Not to mention the possibility of escape.

Shane was behaving himself today, so I was left with him on my own initially. No biggie, the ward door is locked and it was on the second floor of the hospital. So when Shane asked to go to the loo, I wasn’t bothered about standing watching him. The loo had a small window at the back of the cubicle, high in the wall, but no other doors. Watching people urinate is not high on my list of things to do, so I shut the door and waited outside.

After about 3 minutes, when I hadn’t heard the taps running yet, I got a little worried, and opened the door. No Shane. The window was open now though. Bugger. He’d done a good impression of Spider-Man and gone out the window, and jumped 20+ feet out of the window onto concrete. 

I managed to look out of the window, squinted down and couldn’t see his bloody corpse lying there, so that was a plus. Schoolboy error though.

I rang the custody officer to tell her, and bless her, she told me to come straight back in and not tell anyone else. I then had one of the biggest (and entirely deserved) bollockings of my life so far, made well aware of how much shit I’d be in if he hurt anyone prior to being rearrested, and then hallelujah.

The startled rabbit impression I was clearly giving must have struck a chord, as she then asked if I had learnt from the mistake. Most definitely. She then wrote up the custody record to say she’d bailed him from hospital, tying up officers for the entire weekend being a tad excessive in her opinion, rung me to release him, and he’d run off before I could give him his property back.

Thanks, Sarge.

It cost me a round of cakes for the custody staff, which would have been a bargain if they’d come from Fortnum & Mason, in the circumstances. Young Shane got rearrested a couple of hours later, a particularly inept shoplifting, he was arrested on another division, so I didn’t get the pleasure of his company again. 

Since then, sad to say, watching prisoners urinate has moved up my priority list somewhat. The same custody officer, still a sergeant but working elsewhere now, is universally liked and respected by people who work under her, and I’m always inclined to go the extra mile if I answer the phone and she’s asking for a favour. I never saw it happen, but rumour has it if she was considering whether to bail or remand a prisoner in custody, and it wasn’t a clear cut decision, she’d ask if they knew who A.A. Milne was, and the right answer could tip the balance.

Shane came back to the force area recently after a long period living somewhere else, and settled back into his old tricks again. He runs slower now, so gets caught more often, but doesn’t know how to do anything else.

Ever since this incident, and another close shave, I’ve learnt to watch everyone like hawks, not just the ones you think need it. 

Cats and cartridges.

As may have been mentioned before, I’m part of a cat family. We’re currently up to four, long story, two of which are young and playful. As all young cats do, they enjoy batting small shiny things around, which is quite endearing at home.

When you’re on a crime scene, however, they’re a pain in the ass. They like shiny things to move around, and we like them to stay exactly where they are.

A long time ago, John, the victim of email prank extraordinaire, and I were securing a crime scene overnight. A drug related shooting, a civil dispute between dealers so NHI (no humans involved), the end result of which was two dealers in hospital leaking and a road junction with about 20 fired cartridges lying around. Nothing exciting, you just stand there one at either end of the taped off bit and think of amusing new variations on ‘I don’t care if you think you have to go through, or if you’re a local councillor, use your initiative and find another way round.’. Occasionally you swap ends for the sake of variety. It’s dull and cold, but at least you’re not generating paperwork.

On this occasion, the scenes of crime officer came out to photograph the scene, recover the cartridges and generally do his thing in the middle of the night. I stood and had a natter with him while he set up his tripod, camera geek that I am. Firstly he went round in his white paper forensic zoot suit (which are awesome if you’ve got decorating to do) and put numbered markers by all the shell casings, then first picture was a wide angle shot of the scene.

Using a film camera (remember them?) in that light meant an exposure of about 30 seconds or so, and just as he was about to press the shutter, I heard a muttered ‘F*cking cats!’. Bemused, I looked across to see a stray cat batting one of the cartridges with its paw playfully. It was now rolling away from its marker, and the SOCO was rapidly losing his rag. I asked, and found stray cats were frequently a problem this way.

Swiftly donning a pair of forensic paper overshoes (they’re actually made from Tyvek, a very strong, very thin plastic), I walked towards said cat, detained it and put the cartridge back where it had been. Tiddles was most disgruntled at being taken away from his toys, but watched with resignation as the SOCO set up his photo again.

Shutter pressed, and it’s a good job the cameras didn’t record sound as well. A couple of seconds later, I heard ‘F*cking cats!’ again. I looked up, and another one was walking through the scene. This one must have been middle aged, it ignored shiny distractions and went straight across.

At this point the shot was already ruined, so there was nothing to be gained by running back over the scene and chasing it off. We waited patiently for it to finish, before starting again. As soon as it passed out the other side of the scene tape, I chased it away. If any of the locals were looking out of the window at this point, I’m not sure what they’d have made of a police officer chasing a cat down the road shouting at it, with another cat under his arm. I mean, you either want a cat or you don’t, make your mind up, officer!

Once the photography was done and the shiny things bagged up, I could release Tiddles, who promptly went off in a huff. SOCO man finished doing his thing and once we had confirmation that the two clowns in hospital weren’t going to die, we shut the scene down, bundled the tape back into the car for next time, and celebrated with a late night kebab before shouting up for the next job.

I never found out if the incident went to trial or not. But due to the rules on disclosure of evidence in the interests of fair trials (the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996, if you’re interested), we rightly can’t dispose of evidence gathered just because we don’t plan to use it, in case the defence do want to. So somewhere in a police document archive, there is a beautifully exposed nighttime shot of a shooting scene, with a long grey blur through the middle which was Tiddles number 2 taking a stroll, and now preserved for eternity.