I know you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting for this blog, so here it is – Tales From The Cop Shop – Part 2.
In Tales of the Cop Shop – Part 1 I re-counted the details of the first arrest I attended during my time trailing a Bradford City Detective Sergeant in the late 1980s. This arrest was a fantastic and fascinating experience that, at the time, I thought would be hard to top. How wrong was I? What followed was a series of investigations/arrests that just continued to blow my mind.
Originally, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, I was somewhat apprehensive about this research project. I thought the officers I was involved with would find having me tag along a bit of an imposition, but that just wasn’t the case. They didn’t just enjoy showing me the ins and outs of their day-to-day battles, I also proved useful to them, something that became apparent on my second day accompanying the DS.
We were after some drug dealer, which in itself wasn’t unusual. However, this particular case was slightly different as this inventive pusher, had been dealing to school children. The police had reliable information, I don’t know where from, about his location. So off we went to ‘Paradise Lost’ in one of those classic Yorkshire stone Victorian houses, stacked with bedsits, in the Manningham district of Bradford. We entered the house and went up to the requisite floor and knocked on the suspect’s door. There was movement behind the door, but no sign of the door actually opening. So the officers knocked again – more movement, but still no door opening. The knocking got louder, the movement became less and the door remained the same – firmly closed. Then one of the police officers turned to me and quite matter-of-factly asked, “Do you smell gas?” I said I couldn’t, because I couldn’t. Equally as matter-of-factly he said, “I think you can.” I was slightly perplexed as I hadn’t a clue why he was asking me this. I could smell various unpleasant odours, but not one of them was gas. Then I twigged – doh! For some spurious reason he wanted me to say I smelt gas. So, not knowing why, I simply said, “Yeah – I can smell gas.” Without further ado, calling out – “Gas!!! Gas!!!”, they smashed down the door and entered the bedsit. Cowering in a corner was a small man wearing a dirty vest and jeans. Carefully positioned around the place was his drug paraphernalia. He was sat on the bed and officers started to ask the routine questions – name, age, was he carrying any weapons? As this soft interrogation was going on, I realised why I’d been asked about the gas. If someone said they could smell gas, especially someone who was independent of the police, then they had the right to enter the premises believed to be the source of the odour, no search warrant was necessary. My gas smelling prowess became a regular feature at investigations, with just one variation, the question flipped between whether I smelt gas or smoke.
There were the times when the investigation didn’t involve making an arrest – the arrest had already been executed, invariably because the perpetrator had been caught red handed. One morning we set off from the substation down to the main police station in the centre of Bradford. This was a relatively new building which housed the ‘bridewell,’ comprising of a custody section along with a number of cells. Here suspects were checked in, placed in a cell and subsequently questioned. The cells were basic to say the least and they were more than enough for me to make a note to self – ‘Avoid at all cost.’ There has always been the perennial jokes about theatrical digs, well all the digs I stayed in were sheer luxury compared to those cells.
The reason we were there that morning was because of an incident that had happened the previous night. The University of Bradford has various buildings which are not part of the main campus. These buildings house everything from lecture rooms, to living accommodation, to practical research facilities. Many of these buildings were in the Manningham district of the city, where they were flanked by various workplaces and domestic dwellings. This particular Uni building was situated in one of the more ‘respectable areas’ of the district and faced a row of Yorkshire stone terrace houses. It was after 11 at night that from one of the houses an elderly gentleman emerged. He was well in his seventies and was holding a dog on a lead, a regular habit of his, walking the dog before turning in, a practice that normally was totally uneventful. That night was different. In the glow of the streetlight, he saw a figure climbing onto the top of a wall from within the grounds of the Uni building. Suspicious – yes, but he wasn’t going to call the police because someone was scaling a wall. It could have been a drunken student fooling around. Then over the top of the wall there appeared a computer, being manoeuvred up into the arms of the person on the wall, by someone on the ground below. This was way before the innovation of flat screened computers, or laptops that fit into briefcases; this was a chunky piece of kit. With some difficulty the person on the wall managed to take hold of the computer and hang onto it. Then a second figure appeared, climbing up onto the wall. The new arrival didn’t hesitate, he continued straight over and dropped onto the pavement below. As the man on the wall gingerly lowered the computer down into the arms of his comrade-in-theft, the dog walker decided that what he was witnessing was most definitely a robbery. Instinctively he shouted out – “Alright – you can stop right there!”
His master’s yelling started the dog barking, giving the impression that if the animal were to be let off its leash, it would savage anything and everyone, and especially those carrying a computer. The computer holding robber decided to immediately abandon the aphorism that there’s ‘honour amongst thieves,’ dropped the computer, that smashed into pieces on the pavement, and set off running as fast as he could, leaving his fellow larcenist stranded on the wall. The dog walking interventionalist knew not to bother giving chase, maybe fifty years previously there would have been a chance of catching him, but not anymore. So instead, with his dog still barking, he headed off, maybe foolishly, towards the burglar who was now lowering himself down off the wall. Whether his intention was to perfect a citizen’s arrest, or just demand the thief turn himself in, was never established, because the robber was taking no chances. All he saw was a snarling dog and an angry OAP, so he swiftly produced a couple of small ball peen hammers and for a moment stood his ground. As the dog-walker got nearer, the thief, whilst taking steps forward, started swing out with his hammers. The dog sensing his master was in danger was now snapping at the assailant. A hammer gave a body blow to the dog, and another one caught the OAP on the shoulder, but neither dog nor master seemed deterred. They kept trying to push forward, the dog’s determination to bite the attacker clearly evident. The shocked thief found himself backed up against the wall and for a moment the action froze. The dog stood there snarling, and the two men just stood staring at each other. The thief looked at the dog and raised the hammer in his right hand, now willing the dog to come for him. He was going deal with the animal first, then the man. A blue flashing light brought an abrupt halt to the confrontation, as a police car, responding to the notification that an alarm had been activated in the Uni building, came to a screeching halt directly adjacent to the encounter. The thief thought about running, but when the dog’s teeth sunk into his left calf, he decided he couldn’t possibly execute a getaway with a German Shepherd hanging onto his leg.
Our job, well the DS’s job, was to question the man arrested by the patrol car officers and hopefully get him to admit to his offence and give up his accomplice. He was a small, wiry, aggressive individual, who was wearing regulation prison garb. According to the paperwork, the ‘suspect’s’ name was Ziggy Stardust, he claimed to have changed his name by deed poll to one of David Bowie’s androgynous alter egos, whether that was true or not, I never found out. However, what was certainly true was his fascination with the Bowie album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, as he sported a spider tattoo, which depicted an arachnid in the centre of a web. In a day before tattoos were de rigueur this was no half-hearted effort. It emanated from his chest and covered his entire face and boney bald head. Not my personal taste, but each to their own.
Police interview rooms are functional – a table, chairs and a dado panic strip. We entered the room where Ziggy Stardust was already sitting with the duty solicitor. The DS informed him that he had already been read his rights and that they would be recording the interview. He pressed the record buttons, gave a date and time check and started the interview.
“So Mr Stardust can you tell us what you were doing last night when you were arrested?”
Ziggy Stardust stared at the DS and without saying a word just stuck out the middle finger on his right hand and gestured towards the DS. This gesturing continued for the entire interview, during which the OAP attacker never said a word and neither did his solicitor. At one point the DS said,
“For the tape, the suspect is gesturing at me with the middle finger of his right hand.”
We left the interview room with no confession and no name of any accomplice. I was amazed at the DS’s composed attitude to the whole affair. I asked him,
“Doesn’t that get to you, him behaving like that?”
“It gets to me if I think they’ll get away with it, but he was just digging his own grave.”
“You think he’ll be found guilty?” I asked.
“Chances are when he stops playing the smart arse and listens to his brief, he’ll plead guilty. Then I’ll just quietly give him the finger as he’s loaded into the prison van and sent off to Armley. But the difference between me and him is – I’ll be smiling when I’m doing it.”
I never did find out the outcome of the case, but I’d like to believe the DS was correct. It’s hard to find any good in a man who attacks a pensioner with a pair of hammers.
This incident and many others like it, is what led to the title of my forth coming thriller – Edge of Civilisation. Virtually every night I would ring home and speak to my wife and I would say,
“It feels like we’re on the edge of civilisation.” Because it did.
But the title was an afterthought – the story came first. And the story came from the simple mistake of going into the wrong room in the police substation. I turned left instead of right and found myself in a compact space in need of a painter and decorator’s attention. There was a table and a dozen chairs, but the main feature was a large cork board at the front of the room, on which were a number of photographs. The top line comprised of unposed shots of six males, each either getting into a car, visiting a shop, or chatting over a coffee in some café. The photos had been taken on a long lens, but the features of each of the men were clear and if you knew them, you’d have no trouble recognising them. They were all British Asians, all between mid-twenties and mid-forties. Lines were drawn, in that family tree fashion, from each of the men to various headshots of approximately twelve to fifteen girls below. All of these girls appeared to be in their early teens and all registered no joy on their faces.
Later that same day, I asked the DS about the room and the photos. He was quite candid, telling me that the men at the top of the board were ‘running’ the girls below. He went on to explain that all the girls were indeed in their early teens, none older than sixteen and all were living in care homes. The sheer nature of their short lives made them emotionally vulnerable. They were easy prey for these older men. He described how they would pick them up either at the school gates, or outside the care homes where they lived, and for a packet of cigarettes or some fish ‘n’ chips, they would become the men’s property to do what they liked with. They were instructed to sleep with other men as well as their ‘handlers’, sometimes being physically abused as well as sexually abused. The reality was this was all about emotional deprivation. The girls craved for someone to care for them and they interpreted this abuse as caring.
This was the late 1980s, long before Rochdale, Rotherham or Oxford, and the term ‘grooming’ hadn’t become part of everyday parlance.
At the time I was naturally bewildered. This was totally new territory to me, and I had to ask the question, if the police knew this was going on, what were they doing to stop it? The answer was simple – nothing. They had been instructed to observe and do – nothing. My shockometer went off the scale, whilst I desperately tried to understand the rationale for this line of action. The DS simply said that the powers-that-be were scared of having accusations of racism levelled at them.
On finishing my time with the DS, in one of the smarter curry houses in Bradford, I promised him, that I would get the story out there – somehow. It turned out to be a promise I was unable to keep.
Over the next twenty years I tried to sell the idea to numerous commissioners and various companies, I was also working on various ‘cop’ shows from The Bill to Silent Witness, from Waking the Dead to Trial and Retribution, but I was unable to convince anybody to run with the story. Nobody would touch it. I came to the conclusion the material was too sensitive, nobody was prepared to put their head over the parapet. For me the story had two components, one was the seducing and abuse of minors, the other was the vulnerability of kids in care. But it seems all anyone else saw was that it was racist. Quite frankly I didn’t give a flying fuck about the ethnicity of the perpetrators, I just wanted to get what was occurring into the public domain so someone could stop it. But I had no joy.
(Strangely enough I was telling this story to a group of film students a couple of weeks ago and one of their tutors thought he’d seen the story on TV. I assumed it was the dramatization called Three Girls which was the story of the Rochdale sex ring, but that didn’t appear until 2017, again sorry to point out, a long time after 1989. How many more girls were abused in that time? But it wasn’t this programme he was referring to, it was an episode of Silent Witness from 2014, which obviously covered the same ground. I hope you understand why writers get frustrated. I tried to sell Silent Witness the same story years before, but there was no interest. Then suddenly, really when it’s too late, it’s okay to do it. Figure that.)
Not surprisingly I wasn’t the only person trying to do something about the situation. Sara Rowbottom of the Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team had informed both the police and the authorities, on numerous occasions, about “patterns of sexual abuse”, but she was told the witnesses were not reliable. The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) were eventually involved but dropped the case. It wasn’t until 2011, over twenty years after I first tried to dramatise what was happening, that any action was taken. This came about because Nazir Afzal, a first generation British-Pakistani Muslim was appointed as Chief Prosecutor of North West England, and he decided to overturn the CPS’s original decision. And as we all know this opened up the flood gates and prosecutions were brought not only in Rochdale, Bradford and Rotherham, but throughout the country.
This was a classic case of the authorities being hypnotised by their own bullshit. We’ve seen on numerous occasions over the years, the fear of saying the wrong thing has paralysed any action. Well, I think it’s time we admit to the real effect of all this pseudo intellectual liberalism. The truth is it’s leaving abusers free to continue abusing, whilst curbing one of the cornerstones of democracy which is free speech.
My sister-in-law knew all about Jimmy Saville as early as the mid-sixties. Everyone and anybody who worked at the BBC in light entertainment during Saville’s ‘reign’, now say they knew all about his misdemeanours. But nobody said anything? Why not? Then after Saville’s death and his malfeasances came to light, the BBC, clearly without any real evidence, go after Cliff Richard, which then costs them £2 million in fines. I’m guessing they probably never forgave him for continuing to be successful after they had made the prejudicial decision to ban his version of the Lord’ Prayer sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. I wonder if they’d have made the same decision about a non-Christian religious prayer. I fucking doubt it. (By the way Cliff’s Lord’s Prayer/Auld Lang Syne is far from being my favourite song, but I’ll back Cliff to the end for his right to sing it.)
There was another worrying development which appeared at the start of 2021, when a Home Office report claimed ‘grooming gangs are not a ‘Muslim problem.’ I would agree that it’s not a Muslim problem exclusively, but unless I’ve missed some major court cases over the last ten years, then it’s Muslim men that certainly occupy the majority of the playing field. If the politicians aim, and I mean all parties, is to create greater divisions within society, then they’re going about it the right. And this has nothing to do with racism and to say it is, is a cop out. I’m going to say here and now football hooliganism is primarily a white problem. There are other people, from various ethnic groups that do get involved, but mainly this is a white male domain. Think of the news footage. Just because I’m white, doesn’t mean I condone it. I hate it. It’s a game for god’s sake. I can understand if Harry Kane kicked off because he lost a game which in turn meant he lost his bonus, which in turn meant he was unable to buy another twenty-room mansion in Walthamstow. At least that’s something to get upset about. But football rioting I don’t understand. Can you imagine if happened in theatres? If there’d been a riot at every ropey show I’ve seen over the years, they’d be cleaning up the mess from now until next century. All we have to do is be honest about a situation, then there’s more chance of society being able to deal with it.
If you disagree with everything I’ve said, which is your right, don’t let that put you off Edge of Civilisation, although the story I’ve just relayed to you was the foundation for the novel, this book is not about the behaviour of a small minority of Asian men. Race and living with racism is not a driving aspect of the story, but I have used the grooming of vulnerable kids as a springboard into another disturbing and shocking criminal offence. This is a crime I originally wrote about way before my time with the Bradford police. If you do get a copy, I hope this blog helps you understand the origins of the novel and why I just had to write it.
Edge of Civilisation is available from April 26th 2022, it’s published by Cranthorpe and Millner and can be pre-ordered.