An Unpleasant Memory

Sometimes, I watch real-life documentaries about police work in England. As I worked for the police in London before I retired, the procedures interest me, and I like the ‘behind the scenes’ look at how cases are investigated and solved. (Or never solved) I was watching one last night, and it brought back a memory that I hadn’t thought about for some years.

In 1977, I was working as a depot supervisor for a large food company that sold sausages, pies, bacon, and cooked meats from fleets of vans around London. I was based at the Battersea Depot, and we had twelve vans covering west London, out as far as Heathrow Airport.

Because of the nature of the work, it was a very early start. I had to be at work by 4 am, and the vans would be loaded and on the road by 5:30. For the rest of the day, I had to phone in the orders to the factory, deal with routine paperwork, and occasionally drive out to take care of customer complaints about short loads or missed deliveries.

To compensate for the early start, everyone finished early, and the last van was usually back well before 3 pm. Because the drivers/salesmen were sometimes paid in cash by establishments like roadside cafes and restaurants, I had to sort out the banking before I could lock up and leave. The nearby branch of the bank we used was always closed before I could get to it, so we used the Night Safe facility. This was a large opening in the wall of the bank with a pull-down drawer sealing it. I just had to place the sealed leather bag containing the money into it and it dropped into a container out of reach.

Most days, there wasn’t much money involved, but on Fridays some customers paid for a full week’s deliveries, so there could be as much as five hundred pounds in cash in the bag. A fair sum back then. Friday was also a late finish for us as many vans came back to the depot during the day for extra products, with shops and supermarkets asking for more if they anticipated a busy weekend. It was our habit to meet in the local pub when it opened at 5:30 pm, and have a drink before going home.

One Friday, I told the others I would meet them at the pub after dropping off the cash bag. I drove the short distance to the bank, not wanting to walk around that part of south London carrying over four hundred pounds in an obvious night safe bag. I parked (illegally) on a yellow line on the corner of Battersea Park Road and Meath Street, right outside the bank. (I don’t think that bank is still there) There was solid rush hour traffic in both directions, and lots of people waiting at bus stops on both sides of the busy main road.

Walking to the Night Safe which was on the same main road, I could hear someone running fast behind me, and presumed they were running to catch a bus.

The impact of a big man barging into me knocked me straight over onto my side. Another man appeared, trying to grab the bag from my right hand. As I hung onto it, a third man appeared, and kicked me repeatedly in the head. Luckily, he was wearing trainers, or he might well have fractured my skull. The second man stamped on my arm repeatedly as I lay there, until I could no longer hold the bag. Then the first man grabbed it, and all three ran off, turning into Meath Street and heading north.

For some reason still unknown to me, I ran to my car and gave chase at speed. What I was going to do if I caught them I had no idea. But I was angry, and still only twenty-five years old. I soon drew level with them, despite their head start, but being in the car, I couldn’t follow them into the housing estate at the next junction. Only then did I realise that I was still holding a hat I had dragged off the head of one of them. It was wrapped around the gearstick.

They had all been of West Indian appearance, dressed in the ‘Rasta’ style; with casual clothing, and large floppy hats covering their hair. I had this oversized velvet cap, and was determined to keep it as evidence. I turned the car around and drove back to the bank. There were no mobile phones in those days, but many members of the public had seen this happening, and had phoned the police from call boxes or by asking shopkeepers along the road to ring 999.

There were four uniformed police officers there in two cars. I spoke to one of them about what had happened, and he took down the details. I handed him the hat and told him where I had last seen them, minutes earlier. He shook his head wearily. “They will be long gone, I’m afraid”.

Moments later, an unmarked car drove up at speed, and two plain clothes officers jumped out. One flashed a badge at me and said “Flying Squad”, we heard the call go out”. Under his jacket, he was wearing a shoulder holster containing a revolver. Seeing armed police was rare back then, but the Flying Squad from Scotland Yard was world-famous.

I was expecting the police to set off to try to find the suspects. I had given a pretty good description, hung onto the hat for evidence, and declined medical aid. Instead, the Flying Squad officer with the gun took me into the side street, and started to suggest that I was involved. “Where did you dump the bag? What’s the names of those blokes you used to set it up? Come on, you might as well own up. It has to be an inside job, how else would they know what time to be here?”

To say I was outraged is an understatement. I told the police officer just what I thought of him, using language that cannot be typed here.

Eventually, they let me go on my way, and a uniformed officer said “I will be in touch”. But he never did get in touch, and neither did anyone else. There were no arrests, no suspect questioned, (except me) and we never again heard anything about the incident. It was robbery with violence, and as far as I know was never even followed up.

My bruises soon faded, leaving me with an unpleasant memory of not only being a robbery victim, but then being accused of staging it myself.

That memory never faded.

76 thoughts on “An Unpleasant Memory

  1. What a horrible experience, Pete. It could have ended badly for you giving chase like that. I am glad you were not injured any more severely. I cannot imagine being accused of such a horrible act in which I had been assaulted in that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think its disgraceful that the police treated you so badly. I am shocked, Pete. An unfortunate incident, as someone who has been robbed with a gun at my head, I understand how horrible something like this is. A terrible invasion of your personal space and ideas on safety. I still have flashbacks of that gun being pulled on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I rang the area manager from the pub that evening. He asked how much was in the bag, then asked if I was going to be in for the half-shift the next day, Saturday morning. (I alternated Saturdays with another supervisor) As an afterthought, he added, “You can probably claim injury compensation for that you know”.
      He never mentioned it again, and the company made no alternative arrangements for banking the money. I still had to go to the same bank Night Safe every day, until I stopped working there. The company was Bowyer’s, you might remember them. It no longer exists, but at the time was second only to Wall’s.
      (I stuck it out, as it was a very (!) well-paid job. I was earning more money in 1977 doing that, than I was in 2007, working for the Metropolitan Police. )
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. I was so sorry to read about this terrible episode in your early adulthood Pete. It is so incredibly demoralizing to accept how some members of society hold such low morality and lack anything resembling decency. Glad you got yourself beyond it, and glad you lived through it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Chris. When I became an EMT, I understood the pressures on the police completely, and once I worked for the police from 2001, I saw it all from the other side.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  4. Well… you remember all of it and pay it a bit of homage in learning from it in order to pigeon hole it properly in the mind. Easier said that done as we are all built differently.. but I hope it didn’t engulf you too badly over the years, Pete. Getting assaulted like that can have it’s own latent memories. Maybe it helped provide your impetus for public service throughout your life. Nonetheless, sorry you had to experience life that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After I became an EMT two years later, I started to see everything from ‘the other side’, Doug. But that memory is easily jogged by watching documentaries or news reports about similar crimes.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. Oh, my goodness! What a story! I’m so sorry that happened to you, Pete. It does give you even more insight into what so many people of color go through, dealing with the police and, likewise, what so many victims of sexual assault go through, or, at the very least, what they use to go through. I mean if a young white guy can be treated so shabbily it doesn’t bode well for anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very true, Pam. Also the sad truth is that in London, most street criminals at the time were black, and almost all of their victims were white. The statistics showed that clear as day. However, it never made me racist, and I became well aware of how my black friends and colleagues were constantly harrassed by police in the 1970s and 1980s. I worked on an ambulance for six years with a guy who was from Barbados. He had been in the British Army for 7 years, and then became an EMT. He told me that when he was driving around in his car, he was stopped 3-4 times a week for no good reason. He used to show his EMT I.D., and they regularly apologised.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. OMG Pete, I can well understand your justifiable anger at being beaten and robbed but you must have been scared stiff when you tried to follow them. I can see how cross you’d be having a policemen accuse you of complicity straight after your ordeal but I suspect they’d do that with everyone in the hopes of bluffing a confession out of someone.
    Not a pleasant memory to be reminded of.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not nice Pete, pleased you made a physical recovery but sad the memory still lingers
    I was set on by 6 guys nearly 3 years ago. Angers me more than anything

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Even more so when the guy who said he did it then retracted and 18 months layer police said he would probably only get diversion and that to continue I would have to go back and forth to court, with all the health issues going on we felt it just as well to drop it, time is a healer 👍

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sarada. The assumption that it was an inside job might have been reasonable, but there were around 50 witnesses who saw the whole thing. I would have had to be a criminal mastermind to have set that up.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  8. In a partial defence of the detective, a lot of cash robberies are inside jobs.
    Armed with only a bobble hat for evidence he probably waited to hear from informants before he bothered with any paperwork.
    I doubt there was cctv or contact dna in those days to go on. You were probably set up by another employee. My first flat mate was robbed in similar circumstances.
    The detective probably felt your injuries were a bit much for an inside job.

    I helped with a case once where a railway station ticket office clerk robbed every other railway station on his end of the line.
    The numpty had told me one rainy day when I’d popped in for a cup of tea, that he was ‘returning to his roots’ and abandoning his ‘slave name’ for something more in keeping with his African heritage.
    Unfortunately for him, his new name was the only lead we had on a possible suspect.
    I finished my tea, sauntered off around a corner, called the control room and the whole world turned up and dragged him off for an eight year stretch.

    Your gun totin’ detective should have given you an injury compensation form, but I guess he was too busy pointing his gun at himself in front of a full length mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I realised all of that later on, after I joined the LAS and had a lot more dealings with the police. Then I went to work for the Met in 2001, and saw it all from the ‘other side’. But it is hard to shake that memory of how I felt at the time, and I am still surprised how watching something like ’24 Hours In Poilce Custody’ can take me back to 1977 in a heartbeat.
      Cheers, Keith.
      Pete. x

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    1. I wasn’t happy about continuing to do the night safe banking, but the job was incredibly well paid, so I stuck it for a while. Got enough for the deposit on our first flat out of it, and was able to change my car too. 🙂
      Cheers, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They kept the procedure in the belief that it was unlikely to happen twice. The area manager rang me to ask why I didn’t go to hopsital. From his tone, I suspected he thought I had exaggerated the attack, and that I might have been careless. But there was no sacking, I left the following year by my own choice, and they were sorry to see me go. I was pretty good at the job! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Somehow I knew what you were going to say. Why is it so often the victim that gets the blame? And it’s one of those things that sticks. I’m sorry you had to go through that. The experience was bad enough but then to be so badly treated, that’s unforgivable.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t blame them to be honest, Darlene. If they had intervened, they might have been injured, perhaps badly. For all they knew, the robbers could have had concealed weapons. If they had confronted me and asked me, I would have handed over the bag. But they never gave me that option.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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