Memoirs From A Picket Line – Part Six

Welcome to my last ever tour of duty on the Miners’ Strike.  This week finds me still suspended from driving, sat in the back of a Transit a Minibus as one of the crew, in Ripon, North Yorkshire, of all places.  The furthest north I had ever been at that time.

It was a really boring week to be honest, the highlights were testing the sense of humour of our North Yorkshire Constabulary a Traffic officers who escorted our convoy of Transits wherever we went.

They finally lost the plot when we reached a roundabout that we had been round dozens of times before and did a pre-arranged bomb burst onto all of the roads exiting the roundabout.  The ensuing panic and disapproval from the North Yorkshire officers made us chuckle even more, but they never did see the funny side of it.

The only other event of any note was a drinking completion in the NAAFI between the Met and GMP, which I believe was declared an honourable draw after nobody agreed to lie down.

Friday came, our last ever day up north. Punctuated only by short spells on a a totally calm picket line, until early afternoon when we were relieved and dismissed for the long drive back to London.

As we were being escorted back to the M1 by North Yorkshire our driver thought it would be a hoot to overtake the escorting vehicle. On a dual carriageway.  The Traffic Cops were not impressed, pulled us over and reported our driver for Dangerous Driving (it wasn’t).

The perfect end to our last week. No Further Action was rightly taken against our driver who will probably never want to visit Yorkshire ever again.
End of the chapter, and almost the end of the saga.

And this is as good a time as any to remember and acknowledge an Inspector called Don. One of the finest Inspectors I ever knew, one of that rare breed that inspired his troops and they followed him anywhere.  This automatically made him unpopular with the management.

If you’re reading this Don, please get in touch, I owe you a lot.

To be continued…………..

Advertisements

Memoirs From A Picket Line – Part Five

My next set of adventures was slightly different.  Well, a whole world different really.

For this tour I was ‘lucky’ enough to be the Boss’s Driver. This meant a room of my own, a 2 litre Renault courtesy of Mr Hertz and the privilege of chauffeuring Superintendent ********* around for a week.

The advantages were that I didn’t have to form up in the cordons of officers facing the rampaging miners, I had my place with the boss, completely out of reach of trouble. I also had access to a car for a week.

The downside was parading for duty at 1am every day and not finishing until the boss decided to stand everybody down for the evening.  Because I didn’t have a proper role at the mines (and he was responsible for several) I was treated like his personal Errand Boy and his requirements were sometimes errmm irregular (no, not in THAT way).

One day during the week the Mine Management of Bentinck Mine asked us if we would be interested in going down to the coal face to see what life was like underground.  Quite rightly the boss said that anybody who wanted that experience (he didn’t, surprisingly) could do do once he had stood everyone down for the day.  So one relatively quiet day those that were interested reported to the changing rooms to get kitted out with our helmets, overalls and safety kit.  Every miner has a brass token so they always have a tally of who is underground at any time.  We obviously didn’t have one so they made us each a unique one with our unique Police number on it, which we were then able to keep as a souvenir. I still have mine to this day.

The ‘cage’ proved to be a real bottle-tester as it appeared to just drop under the force of gravity then screech to a sudden halt at the bottom.  We then had to transfer to a Man Rider for the rest of the journey to the coal face. This was just a long conveyor belt with numerous rollers that we just had to lie flat on until we got to the face.

One miner we saw was lying on his stomach hacking away at a coal face just 2’6″ high.  The main seam was 8′ high and was cut by machine. It was noisy, it was dusty and it was hot, very hot.  Believe me, I found a whole new respect for any coal miner that day.

Nothing much more happened until Friday.  The Superintendent found a whole list of things for me to do, leaving him at the pit, while I drove round the roads of Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire doing his bidding.  My very last errand of the day was to drop off at an Army Camp to see the Met Transport Sergeant about returning the hire car to Mr Hertz over the weekend.

I left the Army camp to make my way back to meet the boss at whichever mine he was at, turned right out of the camp onto a three lane, single carriageway road.  As I was part-way through my turn something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I glanced to my left, and to my absolute horror saw a low-flying Porsche bearing down on me.  I had a split second to do something.
I decided that I would complete my turn into Lane 2 giving the Porsche driver the choice of Lane 1 or Lane 3 (fortunately empty) to go past.  The Porsche driver opted for Lane 1 and nearly made it, just clipping my nearside, rear corner.

In a split second I went from F***, to Phew that could have been worse, to sheer abject horror as I saw the Porsche slide past me, pirouette in the middle of the road then disappear off to the left, demolishing a fence, a tree and ending up in a ditch having shed various body parts along the way. I honestly feared the worst until a lady climbed out through the sunroof asking what had happened.  There was not a single scratch on her.

I contacted the local Police Control Room and they despatched a Traffic Sergeant to deal with the accident.

I have no idea how long it took him to arrive but when he did the very first thing he did was to ask the woman what had happened. She didn’t know.  He then went across to the other side of the road to ask a layby full of lorry drivers if any of them had witnessed the accident. None of them had seen a thing. He eventually got round to speaking with me “Blow in here”.  “You must be joking I’ve been working since 1 am” (it was about 10am by now).  “I’m not joking, are you Refusing?”  “I’m not Refusing, let’s get it over with”.

So I blew the negative breath test that I always knew I would. He looked at and said “Right then, Without Due Care it is then”.  I can’t honestly remember if he then suspended me from driving duties or got a Met Supervisor to do it, but the end result was the same.  His next move was a classic.  He called up a colleague, did a complete vehicle exam on my car (thank you for giving me such a good car Mr Hertz), then they closed the road in both directions while they reconstructed the accident and carried out various Skid Tests and Acceleration Test in their Ford Grandads.

For some reason he even felt that he could detain me in an office until everything was done, even though I was not under arrest.

I was eventually collected by somebody and taken back to confront the boss at the pit.  One of the chaps asked me if I was alright, at which point the boss interrupted with “he won’t be, my f***ing golf clubs are in the boot”.

I then had to suffer the ignominy of being driven back to the Met by the boss that I was supposed to be driving, still going on about his bloody golf clubs.

What happened next? All will be revealed.

To be continued………..

Memoirs From A Picket Line – Part Four

Today would change our experience of the Miners’ Strike completely. We didn’t yet know it but we were about to be introduced to violence on the Picket Line for the first, but not the only, time.

This tour also introduced us to a slight change of tactics. We were now a Mobile Reserve being deployed to whichever pit needed our help.

This week we were deployed in sunny Derbyshire and, as was becoming remarkably boring, and predictable, breakfast was about to be interrupted again.  We were breakfasting somewhere in Chesterfield when the news came over the tannoy that we were being sent to a pit (sorry, can’t remember the name) to assist one of our colleagues from Devon and Cornwall who had requested some assistance.

When we arrived and reported to the Ground Commander he pointed to a nearby slag heap with a number of striking miners on top of it, throwing things down.  It seems that a lone PC from Devon and Cornwall had taken it upon himself to scale the slag heap and ask the miners to desist and come down.  Not only did the miners fail to respond to the Devon and Cornwall Politeness Manual they threw the PC down for good measure.

“Go get ’em boys, get them miners down off there and move them away”

So for our first time in the Strike we got down to business and did what were trained to do. Not that you train to scale a slag heap, but we were trained in how to move a crowd and put them where we wanted them to go.

For some reason County bosses always liked the Met to do these little jobs. Whether it was because we had cause to use our training more frequently in London so it became more natural for us, or so that after the Strike the bosses could blame any problems on those bully boys from the Met I don’t know, but I suspect it’s the latter.

There ensued what I believe is known as a skirmish.  At the end of it the miners were at the bottom of the slag heap and our Devon & Cornwall colleague was whole-heartedly thanking the Grockles for their timely intervention.

About half way back down the slag heap we encountered a miner, laying on the ground with his left leg protruding at a rather unnatural angle.  Even to our inexpert eyes it didn’t look right.  We offered to render some First Aid but his response was merely “thank you very much lads, but I’ll be alright, just leave me here”.  So we left him where he had fallen, but on arrival at the bottom of the slag heap we did the honourable thing and called him an Ambulance

And so ended our introduction to violence on the Picket Lines. Our tours of duty were never going to be peaceful again.

To be continued………….

Memoirs From A Picket Line – Part Three

The second episode of any note found me billeted at an Army Camp somewhere on the outskirts of Grantham.

Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, Grantham

Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, Grantham

As far as I can remember we didn’t see a single striking miner for the entire duration of our week stay.  We thought that we were going to be in for a boring week.  How wrong were we.

Having finished our first, completely uneventful day on the picket line we collectively decided to give the NAAFI a swerve and find a local hostelry.

We settled on a pub, the name of which escapes me, but I remember it being at the bottom of a steep hill.  This was OK going, it was literally all downhill.  The problem came at chucking out time, a few pints the worse, and faced with a steep climb back up the hill to bed.

Some made the climb, some phoned for a cab, but we all got back before the witching hour, in time to get a few hours sleep before breakfast, and the start of boring Day Two.

Just as we were thinking that the highlight of our day was going to be the decision how many sausages to have with breakfast life unexpectedly got a whole load more interesting.

A Chief Inspector in full uniform burst into the feeding hall and interrupted our breakfast. “Listen up you lot, this is important”. That grabbed our attention.  Then amidst flecks of foam from his frothing mouth he proceeded to tell us how someone had stolen a car from the pub car park and crashed it outside the gates of the Army Camp. It was obviously one of you Met a Boys so was it? “Come on, own up, or else”. Not a word, deathly silence.

Our hero tried again, a bit more agitated this time, but the result was the same, stunned, stony silence.

“If nobody is going to own up then I have no alternative but to confine you to camp except for when you’re at the pit” “no buggering off down to the pub, you’re all grounded”.  He seemed genuinely taken aback at the rapturous applause and cheering this last pronouncement invoked.  He was last seen shuffling away shaking his head.

Not to be completely had over we just reverted to Plan A, drank in the NAAFI and didn’t go out. On a personal level it didn’t bother me at all. A drink is just a  drink after all.  Work, NAAFI, sleep was how the rest of the week went, until our final day when once again breakfast was interrupted by a local officer, a very sheepish looking Sergeant this time.  He had been sent by Chief Inspector Arsehole, who was apparently too busy to come himself, to tell us the fingerprint examination of the crashed vehicle had been done and a local car thief identified and arrested, so it wasn’t one of you at all.
We knew this, didn’t need telling.

We ended the week happy, Chief Inspector Arsehole was clearly too busy to be embarrassed.  We returned to London smiling, without a stain on our characters. Not everybody in the Met is a car thief guv.

To be continued………….


ADDENDUM

It has been suggested to me that the pub in question might have been The Black Dog.  Any ideas?

Memoirs From A Picket Line – Part Two

I can’t for the life of me remember where we were billeted this week, but I’ll never forget the name of the place that we did our finest work – Coalville, a little town in Leicestershire I believe.

The only thing missing in Coalville was the Driftweed, absolutely nothing happened. 

Coalville Colliery

Coalville Colliery

Our job, as usual, was to protect the pit from striking miners, but I don’t think we actually ever saw any.  Twelve hours a day on Fixed Points around the mine in the middle of winter, guarding something that was never threatened.
It was at Coalville that I personally first became aware of the politics and mind games that were being played out with the Police as the pawns.

It was a bloody cold week in mid winter. Everybody, Police, miners, be they striking or not, members of the public, was cold, very cold.  At each of our fixed points we were provided with a brazier and a radio.  Whenever we ran out of oak for the brazier we were to use the radio to call up the Control Room and the National Coal Board would supply and deliver a JCB bucket load of free coal.  We, at least, were no longer cold.

The coal that was delivered was in its crudest state, fresh out of the ground and contained some strange grey bits.  To this day I don’t know what those grey bits were but we quickly discovered that if you put them in the brazier with the coal then they exploded.  It was probably best to make sure there were none as we put shovel loads of coal into our brazier.
The week went like clockwork. Every day, 12 hours standing by one of the braziers making sure it never went out. Not a striking miner anywhere to be seen.

Eventually we reached the end of a completely eventful week, and a coach load of Leicestershire lads arrived to relieve us.  The main problem was that they were in no hurry to get off their coach and take over from us so that we could leave and return to London for our ‘free’ day off.

“Don’t worry lads, you stay there, we’ll Stoke up the brazier so you don’t get cold”.  So into the brazier went a couple of shovels full of coal, a goodly helping of coal dust, so that it didn’t burn too quickly, and a liberal sprinkling of the mysterious grey bits.

Not long after that the Leicestershire lads debussed and relieved us, and I have it on good authority that about 15 minutes later the brazier exploded in spectacular fashion.

Honour was restored.

If you’re out there Sooty, reading this, I want to pay credit to one of the finest Sergeants I ever served with. Never going to set the world on fire, or maybe even make Inspector, but one of that rare breed that had mastered the art of being your friend, and at the same time getting you to do your job merely by asking you to.

To be continued………….

Memoirs From A Picket Line Part One

Much has been said and written about the notorious Miners’ Strike of 1984/85 and you’ll be pleased to know that I have absolutely no intention of commenting on the politics of it, that is for others.

However, it did occur to me that some of you might be interested to hear what it was like for the average Police a Officer sent 100s of miles to Police a potentially violent Picket Line.

So for those that are interested I propose a handful of short blogs on my personal experiences, so if you’re not interested, simply don’t read them.  On the other hand if you’d like to share your experiences oop norf, send them to me and I’ll happily post, attributed or anon as you prefer.

Each tour of duty for us consisted of 6 straight days away from home followed by a day of Special Leave on the Sunday. If you were fortunate/unfortunate enough to have a Rest Day during the 6 days you were away, tough, you had to put up with being paid for 16 hours at time and a half and losing your Rest Day, unless you opted for the Time of in Lieu option (nobody did).

So my very first foray saw me billeted at RAF Newton, not far from Nottingham. I was used to basic conditions having survived Hendon Training College, but this brought basic to a whole new level.  500 burly cops and their kit in one aircraft hangar, sleeping on camp beds and not very many communal showers or toilets.

My Bedroom

My Bedroom

Out of necessity grew banter and camaraderie. I don’t recall anybody fighting for a place in the shower queue and the banter that developed in those confines was World Class.

Fortunately for us our indoctrination was gentle.  6 days of long hours and I don’t remember seeing a single striking miner at whichever pit we were at, I don’t even remember its name, but the evenings, oh what fun. Not being ex Services I had never experienced the NAAFI,  the prices were ridiculous, something like 10 pence for a shot of brandy or Scotch.

The days were dangerous in a totally different way. We had nothing to do except guard a pit where there was no friction, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a bored copper.

When we went for breakfast it seemed like we were always being fed immediately after a Force with nice shiny spikes on their helmets (I think that was Leicestershire, maybe someone can remind me). Well, what better place was there to park your Granny Smith than on one of those spiky helmets? They didn’t seem terribly amused by it though.

A lot of the other Forces were forming up and marching everywhere, very smart. Wel, the Met don’t march unless they have to. The Met formed up in three ranks and ‘Minced’ in formation. Our corporate sense of humour not best appreciated by the Counties Supervisors, they didn’t really see the funny side of it.

The afore-mentioned NAAFI was the scene of just two controversies, indoor rugby against the Air Force, and somebody attaching an I’ve Met a The Met sticker to the portrait of The Queen.  RAF brass not amused either.

But the highlight of the very first week was when one of the lads opened his kitbag and found that his son had packed a Teddy Bear him.  Inevitably, poor Teddy was kidnapped and every day his owner received a Ransom Note with a different set of instructions, ending with one final instruction to bring the ransom (I’ve long since forgotten what that was) to the graveyard next to the Feeding Marquee.  The local Chief Inspector took a very dim view of assignations in graveyards and it was all a bit of an anti-climax after that.

But this was only Week 1, if we thought they were all going to be like this we were in for a shock.