policing in the forties and fifties

Who is the Chief Constable?

The Chief Constable has done the same job since 1926.  He gained his majority before World War One ended when he was in the Royal Artillery.  He has always regretted his failure to make M.C.

He holds himself remote from the men under his command thus being able to hide the fact that his knowledge of everyday policing is not great.

He is driven to and from his office each day wearing bowler hat and black overcoat, bearing umbrella and briefcase, rarely appearing in uniform unless it be a formal occasion when the dignitaries are present.  He is a leading member of the Roebuck Lodge of the Freemasons’ Society.


Policing on Saturday night

One Saturday night there has been a melee in the town centre, a few glasses smashed, a couple of windows in a pub put through and a few broken heads among the youths outside the pub.

We got the phone call in the police station in the Town Hall and it was said that a gang of about 15 or so had been responsible, they were armed with weapons and wre believed to be from Leeds.

Three of us took the Black Maria and drove to Wellington Station.  This was about 11.30pm.  The last train to Leeds was 11.45pm.

Crossing the footbridge we could see about 15-20 youths on the Leeds bound platform.  We three police constables descended the steps and turned onto the platform.

At the same time we heard a clatter as weapons consisting of knives, crow bars and motorcycle chains were thrown onto the railway line.

Some youths stood their ground and protested innocence.  Two or three made a dash up the stairs.

I remember one in particular was over truculent and one of the policemen who was more than handy with his fists, took the youth around the corner and hit him so hard he slumped half concious against the wall.

This took the steam out of the others who were being marshalled across the bridge to the police van.

Meanwhile help has arrived with three more policemen.

One of them was a bit naive and I found him round the wall corner patting the face of the semi-concious youth and saying “Tell me who hit you and I’ll arrest him!

I said, “Come on Ted.  Don’t be daft, pick him up and bring him along.”

We put them all in the cells and went back to the station after the last train had gone.  We collected a large assortment of weapons as a result of which all were charged with possessing offensive weapons.

Arrested on Christmas Eve

Nobody made arrests that turned out to be unlawful deliberately.  They were made either out of ignorance of the law which was inexcusable or out of ignorance of the circumstances normally where a decision to arrest was the only apparent solution to a problem at the time.

However, any unlawful arrest was likely to have serious consequences to the official making it.

One arrest that had me really worried afterwards occured one Christmas Eve.

I was duty driver around midnight on Christmas Eve when a telephone message called for assistance at the Stag and Pheasant pub on Huddersfield Road.

The officer on that beat had run in for help from the Police Box at the top of Webster Hill.  I took a constable with me in the Police van, joined the beat constable and we decided the plan of action.  The two foot constables would go into the pub whilst I parked the van up on the pavement and partly on the small forecourt of the pub.  Anyone thrown out of the pub front door was “arrested” and I would put them in the van.

Shortly, bodies began to be ejected from the pub and I was grabbing them and putting them in the van.  Some were blind drunk, some were staggering and some calmy accepted directions to get in the van.

Within five or ten minutes, order in the pub was restored.  I had eleven men locked in the van and the two foot constables emerged from the pub.  The beat man would resume his duties and the other officer and me took the prisoners back to the police station.  There, they were searched and put in the cells.  The system with drunks was to allow them to sober up before charging them and bailing them to appear at the next Magistrates’ Court.

The officer who had accompanied me in the van was on one of the town beats and he had to come in at 5.30am when he and I would take the details of each prisoner, indicate with what offence he was charged and the duty Inspector would charge each one and grant bail.

Eleven men in various stages of recovery from alcohol were individually charged with being drunk and disorderly and left the station.

The overnight beat man came into the station at 6am and we three officers who had been involved in the arrests had to make out a report of the events that tallied with what each had entered in his pocket book and the report would form the evidence to support each and every charge.

Consternation!  The two beat men had thrown out ten drunks.  I had put eleven men in the van.  Eleven men had been charged and bailed with appropriate entries in the charge book, the station log and the custody sheets which showed the men’s detention in the cells.

We three had our own inquest as to what had happened and I realised that in grabbing each man and putting him in the van, I could now recall that one man I had grabbed had not come from the pub but had simple being passing along the footpath at the crucial time.

My two colleagues could only provide evidence of arresting ten men between them.

Number 11 was mine and mine alone.  There was no way the other two could change their evidence to help me.  It would simply leave me holding the baby.

We decided we would sit tight, not even telling our superior officers and see what happened three days hence when the eleven appeared before the Magistrates.  If Number 11 objected to the charge, I would have to explain as best I could.  The 27th December, the day of court, came round.

Several officers attended court, including we three, as there were a large number of offenders appearing for a variety of offences committed over Christmas.  We checked that our eleven were present and nervously awaited our turn.

The prosecuting officer was the Chief Inspector who was second only in rank to the Chief Constable.  He of course was not aware of phantom prisoner Number 11.

All eleven stood in the dock.  To each one his name and the charge of drunk and disorderly was read out and he was asked to plead guilty or not guilty.  Then men each answered “Guilty, Your Worship” and I had the sinking feeling that Number 11 was going to say “Not Guilty, Your Worship”

This was it.  I was going to have to give evidence before the Magistrate for something I could not justify.  They were going to give me a roasting.  That would be nothing to the roasting I would get from the Chief Inspector.  I was going to be in for it.

“Guilty, Your Worship” replied Number 11 and what relief I felt.

The magistrate said, “You will all be fined 10 shillings”

Number 11 was a stranger to me.  I had no idea why he had pleaded guilty and I thought it prudent not to broach it to him after the court hearing or to anyone else after that.

Half-dressed Policeman

On another occasion, Harold was on night duty and whilst it was a warm night, it was pouring down with rain continuously.

The  normal protection against rain was a police issue cape made of thick Melton cloth.  Even after several hours the cape prevents rain getting to the uniform underneath.

We also a pair of leggings.  These consist of two seperate leggings of some strong, waterproof material that you slip on over your uniform trousers.  The come to mid-thigh; from there there is a strap with button-holes so that each legging can be held up by fixing each strap to the buttons on the trouser tops.  Uniform trousers are designed to be held up by braces.

On rainy nights and if you could put leggings over a dry pair of trousers, they were ideal but were quite heavy and caused condensation/perspiration.

On this particular night, Harold had got pretty soaked by 2am when it came to mealtime.  After his meal he decided to wear his leggings which were in his Police Box but his trousers were wet through.  He, therefore, removed his trousers, put on his leggings attaching them to his braces and continued his night duty like that.  When I relieved Harold at 6am, I found him by his Police Box dressed in underpants, leggings, tunic and cape.

Only when the cape was lifted was it apparent he was not fully dressed.  Goodness knows what would have happened had Harold been called to an incident and met a member of the public.

Church Crime

Harold is an officer who whilst not necessarily being one for the lazy life doesn’t get into many confrontational situations.  He is a bit of a comedian and has a pleasant nature so maybe he can talk people into recognising the error of their ways.

One night, Harold got involved in an unusual occurence.  He was patrolling around the Parish Church area at about midnight when he realised the main door was ajar.  Slipping inside he saw a figure with a torch in the sanctuary putting items of silver into a bag.  Harold duly arrested him and took him to the Police Station,

There was great interest amongst the station staff because of the nature of the charge brought.  House-breaking, shop-breaking, factory-breaking even burglary were common but sacrilege was a bit of a rarity.  Other policeman coming into the station were attracted like bees around a jampot and each one wanted to hear the story.

Harold has to continue his outside beat work until suppertime at 2am.  After his half hour allocated mealtime he had then to charge the arrested man and complete his report.

Harold sat down at the big table as the now almost empty mess room and began the laborious process of compiling his report.  A fussy Sergeant Walter Mudd was looking over Harold’s shoulder, quite unneccessarily overseeing what he was writing.

Harold described everything in detail ..

Entering the church grounds

Seeing the door ajar

Thinking what his next step should be

Pushing the door further open

Getting his bearings in the darkened church

The sights and sounds

And so on, right through the entire event.

The Sergeant thought he could see a better way of phrasing what Harold wrote and kept interrupting.  This went on throughout the report until Harold got to the descripion of the stolen goods.  There was a number of church items silve chalices, plates, candlesticks altogether valued at several hundred pounds, a tidy sum.

Harold was fast losing patience as the Sergeant continued to suggest changes to the report.  When Harold wrote “candles” the Sergeant butted in “Altar candles”

Harold lost it then “I might as well alter candles.  I’ve bloody well altered everything else”


Policing a funeral

Dick Hand was a copper reaching the end of 30 years service.  He worked the quiet Whitley and Briestfield beat.  Dick was as bald as a coot.

One day, the funeral of a town dignatary was taking place at the Parish Church.  That meant that half a dozen uniformed men from various beats acted as an escort and carried the coffin into church.

The church was full and we policemen stootd three on each side of the church door to receive the coffin.  We removed out helmets and raised the coffin shoulder high and slow-marched into church.

Dick Hand was the front right-hand man and, forgotten by him, was the packed of 20 Players cigarettes he hid under his helmet perched squarely on his bald head.

Only when we put the coffiin down on the bier di the cigs fall off.

Quick sleight of hand by Dick to pocket his cigs.

Lord knows what the mourners felt.

Late night break in

I was working the night shift from 10pm until 6am.  Things had quietened down by about 1am.

I walked down Foundry Street and there was not a soul about.  As I checked properties, I came to the Snack Bar.  It had double doors fronting onto Foundry Street and a window on a onto the side alley.  The front doors were secure. As I entered the side alley, I found the lower half of the sash window borken but the window was in the closed position.

I suspected a break in but there was no sight nor sound of anyone.  Had the thief left or was he still on the premises?

I could not stand at the window as the thief might emerge from the front door.  I stooed at the corner of the building with both the side and front under observation.  I waited for 15 minutes.  I heard footsteps.

Along Foundry Street came Dicky Tyler, a detective with 20 years experience in the force.  We had a brief conversation.  Dick was obviously going back to HQ to sign off.  He said he did not think anyone was still in the cafe.  He says he will ask HQ to send somebody out and leaves.

The intruder must have thought we had both gone because a few minutes later he sticks his head out of the window.

“Come on silly bugger!  Open the front door” said I.

He did so.  Turns out to be a youth about 18 years old.  I take him back inside and make sure he is the only person on the premises.  The place is ransacked.  I shut the door behind us and walk him to the Police Station.

No fatuous comments like “You’re nicked” or “You are under arrest”.  He knew that he was.  Such formalities will be entered in the police notebook and confidently given as evidence before the court later.

We went into the Police Station and into the first office on the right, the Charge Office.  The Night Clerk PC and the Inspector are standing at the charge desk.

The Inspector reaches over the charge desk and with a a right hand the size of a ham shank gives the youth an almighty sidewinder over the left ear.  This resulted in the youth sprawling 2-3 yards into the corner.

The youth pulls himself to his feet and flinchingly answers meekly every question put to him.

We found stolen cash on him and put him in the cells.  He appeared before the Magistrates 3 days later and was bailed.  He subsequently appeared before the court and was placed on probation.