You’re never really off duty

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On The Beat with Inspector Jim Tyner

It was a crisp cold evening on December 20 last year, but as it was the last Friday before Christmas most people ignored the cold in the early evening festivities.

An off-duty police officer was enjoying an evening out with friends and they were visiting an Indian restaurant in Spalding.

Now, ‘Oh, you’re never off duty’ is a phrase most cops will hear a thousand times. It is usually said in accusation, as though while off duty you will sneak about with a speed gun to trap unwary motorists near where you live, or trick someone into making a confession in casual conversation at a party.

What it really means, though, is that from the day you are sworn in as a constable you can never again cross over to the safe side of the street. On duty or off-duty, you are the one that runs towards the sound of trouble when everyone else runs away.

It was still early evening, just before 7pm, when the off-duty officer became aware of an argument in the street outside.

He walked to the door of the restaurant and saw a man lying on the nearby pavement. The man lying on the ground was being kicked in the head by another man.

He was kicked five or six times, although the victim was able to use his arms to shield his head from the worst of the attack. The off-duty cop later described it as ‘like taking penalty kicks’.

Without any hesitation, leaving his curry to go cold, the off-duty cop ran up and pulled the attacker off the injured man. Whilst keeping hold of the attacker, he managed to call 999 to request assistance.

The first officer on the scene was a volunteer Special Constable. This was the weekend before Christmas and, when they could have been out with friends, this volunteer had chosen to come on duty to support their colleagues in what is usually one of the busiest weekends of the year.

The attacker was arrested and taken to Boston Police Station. Thankfully, despite the ferocity of the attack, the victim had only received a cut below their right eye. An ambulance crew treated this with steri-strips. Then the evidence-gathering began, with statements and photographs of injuries.

The following day uniformed investigators from Spalding CID took over the investigation. Both the offender and the victim were in their thirties. Amazingly, they were normally good friends but both suffered alcohol addiction.

This wasn’t a stranger attack but a falling-out between drunks who had pooled their coins to buy some booze and then been refused a sale in an off-licence. The un-festive fracas came about when one then went off with all the money.

Both the attacker and the victim could reasonably be described as anti-police. When he was interviewed the attacker replied ‘no comment’ to every question put to him.

The victim had very little recollection of the event. Despite the challenges in gathering evidence, the investigator persevered and the attacker was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, what we usually refer to as ABH.

Less than three weeks later, on January 9, the attacker appeared before Lincoln Crown Court where he was convicted of assault and sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment.

Were it not for the bravery and dedication of an off-duty police officer, the commitment and professionalism of a volunteer special constable and the relentless determination of a uniformed investigator this may have gone unpunished.

Now I could end this story here, but I think it prompts questions about violent crime in Spalding.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many violent crimes that take place in our lovely town. A recent weekend saw several conflicts and confrontations over a Friday and Saturday night.

As there are still current enquiries, I can’t comment on them (that’s why I’ve written about a case that has concluded). All I can say is that the investigations are on-going and will be investigated with the same thoroughness as this case. One similarity with the incident above is that alcohol appears to be a factor in so many of our violent crimes.

In many ways, this is nothing new: the adverse results of excessive alcohol have featured in many of my columns, from drink-drivers to domestic violence across 25 years of policing.

I meet regularly with members of the Licensing Authority and we are continually looking at ways to reduce the impact of alcohol on our community.

Although there is no doubt in my mind that cheap alcohol is more easily available than ever before, this is due to the current legislation and not the fault of the Licensing Authority.

Some people may think that we have too many off-licences. Unfortunately, the Licensing Act does not allow the authority to limit the number of off-licences in Spalding. So, if a new business applies for a licence in, for example, The Sheepmarket, the fact that there are several off-licences already in the area is no longer grounds to refuse the application.

However, irrespective of the actual number of off-licences in the town, it remains my commitment, and those of my partners at South Holland District Council and Lincolnshire County Council’s Trading Standards, to ensure that those premises are well-managed and the licensees are responsible retailers.

After all, we all want the same thing, which is a safer Spalding.