The day I helped caravan thieves escape!

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On The Beat with Inspector Jim Tyner

Caravans are a common sight on our roads. However, they are less common during the night, so it raised an eyebrow when PC Craig and I saw three caravans being towed by three 4X4 vehicles through Spalding town centre one rainy June night.

It was 2:20am on a Sunday morning in June 2000 and the nightclub was emptying out. I was an Acting Sergeant. PC Craig and I had just returned to our police car when the caravanning convoy passed us.

Anyone who has seen the long-suffering cops in ‘Last of The Summer Wine’ can imagine the quizzical ‘did you see what I saw?’ expression that passed between us. By the time we turned the police car round the caravans had vanished from sight. We had a quick look and couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when another officer called up on the police radio to say he was travelling north through Pinchbeck, behind three caravans.

While we and other officers started to make our way towards Pinchbeck the officer following the caravans provided a running commentary as they turned left through the village and then onto Northgate towards West Pinchbeck. We eventually stopped the cross-country convoy outside the old Horse and Jockey pub in West Pinchbeck.

I went to speak with the driver of the lead 4X4. It was dark with very dim street lighting. The wind was building up to a fenland gale and the rain soaked through to my skin within ten seconds of stepping out of the police car. The 4X4 was being driven by a man from Doncaster, with his wife sat in the passenger seat. I could see kids’ bicycles on a bike rack on the back of his 4X4. The number plate on the back of the caravan matched the 4X4’s number plates. He explained that they had been caravanning in Norfolk but had got rained off and were trying to find their way back to Doncaster, but got lost in Spalding. This was the days before sat-navs. I asked where the kids were and he explained that they had gone on ahead with an auntie in another car.

It was time for my good deed for the day. I advised the driver to follow me to the A151 Bourne Road. Once we got there, I waved him towards Bourne and Colsterworth and the A1. The driver waved a cheery goodbye to me and I returned to the police car. As I did, I got a radio message from PC Neil, who was still speaking to the driver of one of the other caravans. Because of the atrocious weather, radio signals were very poor, but eventually, through Norman Collier-style staccato speech, PC Neil explained to me that he was a caravanner and was able to tell that the other two caravans were stolen and he had arrested the occupants of the other two 4X4s.

Oh, what had I done? Not only had I let some caravan thieves get away, but I had actually helped them to find the main road. Oh dear. Oh very dear. Oh very dear indeed. There was a knot of ice in the pit of my stomach. There was only one thing for it... I had to own up straight away. I would have to deal with the ridicule later. In those days there was no direct radio contact with officers at Bourne, so I contacted the force control room and asked them to get the nearest police car in Bourne to stop a 4X4 and caravan heading their way. I went to read out the registration number of the 4X4 but my notes were rain-sodden and unreadable. Oh, I sounded really professional, as I said: “Just get them to stop any caravans being towed in Bourne. I’m on my way, I’ll explain later!”

PC Craig and I went as quick as we could towards Bourne, but the poor weather meant we couldn’t make great progress. Was there a police car near Bourne? Would we catch up in time? Would I ever live this down? All these thoughts were going through my mind.

As we drove through Bourne and on to West Street I could see the glow of a blue flashing light. The 4X4 and caravan had been stopped just outside Bourne Police Station. I jumped out of the police car and went to speak to the driver again. This time I carried out a better check of the caravan and it was now obvious that the door lock had been forced.

Cursing myself for not noticing this earlier, the man and woman were swiftly arrested.

So now we had three men and three women, all from Doncaster, arrested.

We had three suspected stolen caravans and three seized 4X4 trucks.

In the morning a caravan showroom in South Holland reported the theft of three caravans. The men were interviewed by CID and admitted they had travelled down, brought planks with them to form a bridge across a dyke at the rear to tow the caravans across a neighbouring field. They had deliberately brought their wives with them, as well as spare number plates and put kids’ bikes on the back so that, if stopped by a gullible cop, their story about being rained off would seem plausible.

Oh, how they must have laughed! Oh, how they must have chortled as I waved them on their merry way! Well, I had the last laugh: each of the men received two years’ imprisonment at Crown Court.

After all this excitement I needed a holiday... I was right off caravans, though!