Light bulb moment a robber is caught

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On the Beat with Inspector Jim Tyner

It was a year ago, on a Saturday morning last January. The market was open in Spalding town centre and shoppers were mingling in The Crescent.

A young woman, home from university, was working alone in a greengrocers shop in the town centre.

At about 11:45am a man entered the shop. After a short conversation he made a comment that must have chilled her to the bone. “Just give me the notes from your till.”

The man had his hand inside his jacket pocket, held as though he was concealing a weapon. Despite this, the assistant refused to open the till. The man then said “Give me your phone, or else.” The woman handed over her mobile phone and the man left the store.

This was a robbery. Robbery is basically theft involving violence or the threat of violence. This is way more serious than the sort of shoplifting that many shops experience.

Thankfully, robbery is still very rare in Spalding and we have a fairly good track record of catching robbers.

Police were alerted and officers made their way immediately to the shop while colleagues started a search of the area. Other incidents were put on hold while the search began.

Emergency response officers, PCSOs and volunteer Special Constables were all involved in the initial search. They were quickly joined by Roads Policing officers and a dog unit.

Despite our best efforts, however, the man had managed to escape and detectives took over the investigation. House-to-house enquiries were made at neighbouring shops and a forensic examination took place. Initially, we didn’t have a suspect. Our old CCTV system wasn’t monitored 24/7. Instead, our wonderful CCTV volunteers trawled back through the morning’s CCTV footage and found some images of the man involved.

It showed that he had been walking up and down in the area for quite a while before the robbery took place. Images were printed off and shown to officers, but they weren’t the greatest quality and no one recognised who the man was.

On the following Monday morning I came on duty and released the CCTV image to the media. There were no calls from members of the public and it looked as though the trail was going to go cold.

Or so I thought.

On the Tuesday morning two of my officers were travelling from Spalding to a meeting at Holbeach Police Station. Like everyone else in the station, they had seen the CCTV images but hadn’t recognised the man.

However as they travelled along Holbeach Road they noticed a man walking along the roadside. One of the officers, Steve, was coming up for retirement in the following months. However on that cold January morning the officer had one of those career-defining moments.

It was a light bulb moment. He turned to his colleague and said simply “Isn’t that our robber?” Although he had never met the man before, Steve recognised him from the CCTV images.

The man was arrested. Anyone who has seen the TV series ‘24 Hours in Police Custody’ will know that the custody clock started ticking as soon as the man arrived in Boston custody suite.

He arrived at 2:50pm: the 24-hour countdown was on. After 24 hours, the man would have to be charged or released.

A police surgeon was called to assess that the man was suitable to be kept in custody and he was prescribed medication. The man’s clothing was seized and statements were obtained from witnesses and a solicitor was called to represent the man.

Eventually everyone was ready and the man was interviewed at 9pm. He replied ‘no comment’ to all the questions put to him.

Clearly identity was going to be an issue so, while the man was sleeping in his cell, frantic arrangements were made for a VIPER procedure to take place. VIPER is the modern video identification replacement of the old fashioned ID Parades.

The victim had returned to university so an officer was despatched to collect her. Witnesses were called in for the identification procedure and the VIPER procedure took place at 11am the following morning. The clock was still ticking.

Now it was time to go to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a charging decision. This involved detectives putting together an evidence file, sending it electronically to the CPS and then speaking with a solicitor on the phone.

With seven minutes to go the decision came back and, at 2:43pm, the man was charged with robbery. He was kept in custody and in May he appeared at Crown Court and pleaded guilty to robbery and was subsequently sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

I recount this investigation because it gives an insight into how the various departments work together.

From the 999 call-taker, through to the emergency response officers. From the PCSOs and Special Constables. From the investigating detectives to the Crime Scene Investigators. Everyone worked tirelessly to bring this investigation to a conclusion.

There were many unsung heroes involved in this enquiry, not least the CCTV Volunteer who found the image of our suspect. There is also another whole side to this investigation: the bravery of the victim and the support she received from neighbouring shops.

But for me, the pivotal moment was when Steve turned to his colleague and said “Isn’t that our robber?”

Yes it was Steve. Enjoy your retirement.