I got really close to the van, saw my new caped colleague standing in a swirl of fog in front of the van, then my personal radio burst into life – I’d forgotten to turn it down. “Almost with you.” Maybe the miscreants heard it because they dropped what they were carrying and made a move towards the van.
“Police!” I shouted. “Stand where you are.” It must have shocked them as they stood like statues, and just to lay it on I pointed to my colleague standing in front of the van who in the mist looked like a caped crusader and shouted, just to rub it in: “Move or I’ll let the dog go.” In those days we used alsatians as police dogs on general duty and particularly in public order or search situations. If they were pros they would know full well how effective the dogs were.
To my surprise and amazement the three just stood there open mouthed.
Just then a traffic car arrived, all blue lights and spotlight. I got hold of one bloke and after a bit of a struggle, handcuffed him and the traffic lads ‘fanged’, as we used to say, the other two.
By the time reinforcements arrived they were safely locked up in the back of the traffic car. Andy retired back to his gatehouse.
Muggins here got the job of waiting for a keyholder so that the premises could be searched and made secure so it was some time later when I got back to the nick only to find that the two traffic guys had taken credit for my ‘nick’. But who was I, a lowly probationary constable, to argue? As I said earlier, in those days there was a hierarchy and that was that.
The three men ‘coughed’ what they had been up to, open and shut, really caught in the act as it were. There was a couple of anomalies in their statements though. They kept on about a dog handler and another PC getting hold of them. “We just put it down to them bigging themselves up,” said the inspector. I just kept mum; all in a night’s work in Britain’s modern police force, as the jokers used to say.
Anyway, next night it was clear and cold, no sign of fog as I again called in on Andy for a warm and a cuppa. We were just talking about the events of the night before. He’d seen me disappear down the drive in the fog and made his way down to see if I needed any help, kept in the shadows heard me shout and watched as the traffic car arrived.
“’I’ll let the dog go!’ Blimey, mate, you took a chance,” he said, “taking those three on like that.” “Not really,” I said. “That other PC was there and you were behind me and the car traffic car was only a minute or so away.”
“What other PC?” he said. “I didn’t see anyone. Who was it?”
“One of the other traffic guys,” I said. “Odd though, they are usually two up on nights and after we nicked them he soon went. Probably got another call, and by the time I got back to the nick they’d completed the paper work and gone off duty.
“I’ll check with the station.” I radio’d in. “Just a query from last night,” I said. “Do you have a collar number for that traffic car that came to my assistance?” “Wait one. Yes, 2798 Jones and 1345 Macks.”
“No, not them, the single crew car.” “Wait one. Sorry, no record here, probably didn’t want to get involved when the other crew arrived.”
“Odd, that,” I said to Andy. “Look,” said Andy. “I’m telling you that I’m positive there was nobody else there except you and me but I’ll tell you this: I’ve had the same experience on patrol here at night but I just put it down to imagination or a trick of the light or something. I’ve seen a bloke in uniform wave to me too. Gave me right fright at the time and I mentioned it to my oppo when we did a duty handover.” “Oh,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about him, it’s old Joe.”
It appears that in December 1942, during the Blitz there was a bombing raid and the building that stood there received a direct hit, a patrolling police constable sheltering in the doorway was killed and the whole building collapsed. It was left as a derelict bomb site until the early 60s when it was re-developed along with these warehouses.
“So you’re telling me then that it was a ghost of a war time police officer?” “I’m not telling you anything, mate, you can draw your own conclusions, but last night was the anniversary of the raid, and I tell you what it’s not the first time he’s been seen.”
And we left it at that. I finished my tea and ‘resumed’ as we used to say, but assuming lightning never strikes the same place twice, I checked out the Telecoms building again, this time using my torch. Walking down the drive, something glistened in the gutter where the action had taken place the night before. I picked it up. It was a chrome police whistle, a bit tarnished but still clear was the engraved insignia ‘A.R.P. 1941’. The hairs on my neck stood up as I remembered that war-time police were issued capes along with a steel helmet as part of their uniform.
I high-tailed it out of there before my imagination took over, enough excitement for two nights without seeing ghosts. I pocketed the whistle, which I wore for the rest of my service and which still has pride of place in my memorabilia, but here’s the odd thing, that night for the first time, I looked at the memorial plaque to divisional officers killed on duty or who had served in the military in World War two and been killed in action.
One of the first of a dozen names commemorated read as follows: