Technology changes but geography doesn’t

Car thief ANL-140423-114936001
Car thief ANL-140423-114936001
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On THe Beat with Inspector Jim Tyner

It was 2pm on a Monday. I had just finished dealing with a collision on the A16 at Market Deeping and had parked up on the traffic island at the Deeping roundabout to write up my notes.

Suddenly, the police radio squawked with an observations message for a green Renault Clio that had been stolen from the swimming pool car park at Spalding in the past few minutes. I decided to pay attention to the traffic rather than my notes and looked to my right, towards the southbound stretch of the Deeping by-pass.

There was only one vehicle travelling towards me. It was small enough to be a hatchback; my stomach knotted slightly. As it approached the colour changed from the indistinct grey that all cars appear in the distance to…, yes definitely, green. My palms started to sweat. I could now make out the shape: yes, a Clio…but was it the right registration number?

Just as I was reading the number plate the car started to brake hard with much screeching of tyres and burning of rubber on the tarmac. Smoke and dust billowed from behind. I could see that the car was indeed the one reported stolen from Spalding and there were three men in it. I was fully expecting the car to make off at great speed and my mouth went dry with a mixture of excitement and anticipation.

Then the strangest thing happened. The driver had obviously decided to take a chance that the car hadn’t been reported stolen yet. He drove very sedately around the roundabout, going past me, with all three on board staring straight ahead and avoiding eye contact with me.

I drove off the traffic island and tucked in behind the Clio as it took the exit for the A15 towards Peterborough. I used the handset of the car’s police radio to alert the control room that I was behind the stolen car, travelling south out of Deeping towards the Cambridgeshire border. I then went to place the handset back in its cradle but missed and accidentally activated the two-tone sirens and blue lights.

This was not good. I had intended to follow the car until other officers could get closer. The last thing I wanted to do was provoke a pursuit, and activating the ‘blues and twos’ very often does exactly that.

However, yet again the driver didn’t react how I expected him to. He indicated left and pulled over to the side of the road. I had to fight every instinct to jump out of the police car and run up to the stolen car. I called up on my police radio to say the vehicle had stopped but I was in a radio blackspot. This was in the days before the modern police Airwaves radios, so I knew that once I stepped out of my police car I would have no communication with the control room or colleagues.

I stepped out of my car and walked slowly up to the Renault Clio. I knew it was stolen, they knew it was stolen, but did they know that I knew it was stolen? They had decided to bluff it out. The driver wound down his window slightly so that I could talk to him. “What seems to be the problem, officer?” he asked innocently, in a broad East London accent.

The man’s hand was hovering over the ignition area. I glanced surreptitiously and couldn’t see whether the car had been hot-wired or whether there was a key in the ignition. I had to think fast. “I wanted to speak to you about your driving at that last roundabout. You braked far too hard.”

As I said this the driver visibly relaxed, no doubt thinking to himself that his bluff was going to work. As he relaxed, so his hovering hand fell away from the ignition area. There was a key in the ignition. Quick as a flash I reached in, plucked out the key and threw it across the road so that they couldn’t drive off. As I did, I promptly told all three that they were under arrest.

I handcuffed the driver to the steering wheel. It was a two door car, so the rear-seat passenger couldn’t get out. My only potential problem was the front seat passenger who was frantically trying to undo his seat belt. I got out my CS spray and gave the man a warning, but the last thing I wanted to do was start fighting when the odds weren’t in my favour.

Thankfully the man in the rear passenger tapped the other passenger on the shoulder. “Don’t be an idiot, Frank,” he said. “It’s nothing but fields round here. Where are you going to run to?”

There was now a strange stalemate. I had the upper hand for now, but that could change in an instant. I needed reinforcements. In the meantime, we chatted: they were all from Stratford in East London; we talked about the weather; we talked about football; anything to keep their minds off the fact that there was only one of me and three of them.

After an interminable age, I was suddenly joined by a detective in an unmarked police car. He had been interviewing a suspect in Peterborough and was on his way back to Sleaford but thankfully stopped to ask if I needed help. He was able to alert the control room and help arrived very quickly after that.

The incident log showed it was 22 minutes from my last transmission until the detective called up. That’s a very long time when you’re waiting for help, but my experience is not unique and all officers across South Holland will have similar experiences. Our radios have improved and our safety equipment has improved, but our geography remains the same. Every day, when I review incidents involving my officers in remote corners of South Holland, I am grateful for their bravery and dedication.