Bob’s Story - part two
Now for something completely different …….
I joined The Metropolitan Police on 28th December 1966 and after training at Peel House, Regency Street I was sent to Tooting Police Station where for the first two weeks I was under the wing of an experienced officer who just happened to be a heavy weight wrestler.
These were the days of police boxes. We got there before Doctor Who. There were very few police cars and no radios. I, like all new recruits, had to spend the first two years walking the beat.
The most terrifying experience of my life:- as far as I remember it was 1968. The IRA were active and very verbal. There was to be a demonstration in Central London. I was one of a serial (a group of about 25 officers) taken by police bus to the vicinity of Downing Street where we were spaced about 15 feet apart in front of a Government building. In those days police did not have any sort of protective clothing or equipment - just a wooden truncheon - the crowd was thousands strong and building, they were noisy and baying for blood. We drew our truncheons; our backs were to the wall, literally. Over the heads of the crowd were empty coffins, coming our way… When the mob got to within about 15 to 20 feet several members of the mounted branch arrived on the scene. We had been saved by the cavalry.
In June 1971 I got information about drugs in a flat off of Upper Tooting Road. I spoke to the Detective Inspector and a raid was organised. The premises were put under observation for several days. Early one evening we all got into position near the flat; adrenalin was flowing, the word was given; ‘crash’ the front door went in, speed was of the essence, in we all rushed - oops - sitting in front of the TV was an elderly couple eating dinner, apologies and we all went next door where we should have been in the first place. We did succeed in retrieving several pounds of cannabis resin and made several arrests. This led to my first appearance at the Old Bailey to give evidence.
In November 1972 I was at the front counter of the Police Station when a member of the public ran into the station shouting “there is a fire over the road, people are trapped”. The fire was in a three story house in Stella Road, where on the top floor a small baby was trapped. Smoke and flames were billowing out of the building. I made sure that everyone else was out of the house. There was no ladder to be found near-by so up the stairs I went. At the top of the stairs the floor was alight. The door was closed to the room where the baby was and it was starting to burn. Someone had followed me up the stairs with a bucket of water which I threw across the floor, it made precious little difference. I then decided to take a chance and rush the door. I stood up to move when several firemen came up the stairs, but I passed out due to smoke inhalation and was taken to hospital. Not known to me at the time, a member of the public had found a ladder and put it up the front of the building but it was too short and only reached to just above the top of the second floor window so he went to the top of the ladder and jumped so he was then hanging onto the top window sill, he then scrambled up the wall and into the room where the baby was, grabbed the baby which he passed down to a police officer now at the top of the ladder. The man had no means of escape and was rescued by the fire brigade, a truly brave move which could have cost him his life. The only injury the baby suffered was a very small cut on his finger. The tragedy was that about six months later, the same baby died in another fire.
Night duty could be a lonely affair especially in the small dark hours. I was walking along The Grove; a road that ran past the gates of St George’s Hospital. This road has long gone but it originally ran between The Grove Fever Hospital and The Fountain Hospital which together merged into St. George’s. I went into the gatehouse where the gatekeeper told me that four drunken young men were smashing up equipment in casualty. I had just started towards casualty when two of the men came towards me. I managed to get them on the street side of the large iron gates that were across the hospital entrance but they were not going away and were pushing the gates to get back in. I told the gatekeeper to dial 999 and ask for urgent police assistance; now I knew the cavalry were on the way. I jerked the gate open, grabbed the first yob and threw him backwards as hard as I could; he went sprawling, I then took on the second one, he went to punch me but I got to him first. I didn’t see the second couple coming for me. I was wearing a long heavy greatcoat which slowed me down. It wasn’t long before all four were on me. Where were the troops? I went down in a hail of punches and kicks and the next thing I remember was nurses lifting me on to a trolley. The gatekeeper had not telephoned 999 but had telephoned casualty. It was to cost him his job. I was off work for six months. It was some weeks before I could see properly.
Early in 1973 I became a temporary detective constable and joined a crime squad which was the first step towards becoming a full blown member of the CID.
It was late morning. We were in two plain cars and cruising along Roehampton Lane, the car in front of us looked dodgy, we decided to pull it over. As we started to move it speeded up; so did we, down a side street, the chase was on, into the Bank of England sports ground and onto the set of ‘The Sweeny’.
One of the team got information that two men; wanted for several armed robberies, were lodging in a terraced house in Earlsfield where a woman lived with her young son, she also had a male lodger. The baddies had gone out but their possessions were in their room, a sign that they were coming back. Together with five other members of the team we climbed over the back fence and into the house just before the woman left to take her son to school. We were armed. The road outside was clear of cars. Mid-afternoon a car parked a short distance from the house; the driver got out and was constantly looking up and down the street. He tapped on the front door; this is it, a member of the team went to answer the door but before he did he flicked off the safety catch of his gun and held it down by his thigh so that it could not be seen easily and opened the door. As the man stepped over the threshold our man grabbed him by the throat, rammed his back to the wall and pushed the gun up his nose so he was on tip toe and at the same time shouted “Move and I’ll blow your head off”. It was the lodger he had sneaked off work early. We sat him down, made him a cup of tea but it took him a full 10 minutes before he could speak. The baddies never did return.
In 1974 I attended the CID course at Hendon Police training School. Failure would mean straight back to uniform - I passed, I was now a full blown member of the CID.
I joined the CID office at Earlsfield Police Station. The office was on the first floor of the building at the front, where the window sill is an ideal place to grow cannabis. It is also an ideal place for a member of the press to photograph, and that’s how the pictures got into the Sunday papers with a caption about the police growing their own. Of course it was a court exhibit, I think!
The next move was to Tower Bridge on a murder team. Heidi Manilk was a young German girl who was stabbed on a train and thrown onto the track. One evening I received a telephone call from a man who said he had some information regarding the murder. Two days later I went to his home address in Deptford. The whole street looked like it had been left over after the saturation bombing of Dresden. The particular house was on four floors. I banged twice on the front door - a head appeared on the second floor - I asked for my informant, “Three knocks mate”. The head disappeared. I knocked three times. Another head in a third floor window; this time a female, she came down to the front door. Yes her husband was expecting me but he was not home from work yet. I was invited to wait. The woman had gone back upstairs. It was so dark I could not see the stairs but when I did find them I discovered that the banister rail slopped from side to side by about six inches; every one of the bare stair treads was broken. I hugged the wall and groped my way to the third floor. She called me into a very narrow kitchen where all of the floor boards were uneven so all the cupboard doors came open as I walked passed; crawling around on the floor was a small baby. I sat on a stool with my back to the wall. The woman “Tea” “Yes please”. She put a saucepan of water on the gas. She said “He should be home soon”. Opposite me was a shallow stone sink with a single brass tap sticking out of the wall above it. By way of conversation I said “You don’t see many of those”. She said “When we moved in here a short time ago my husband said he had a new tap to replace that one. He spread his tools out on the floor and put a wrench on the tap. I said to him shouldn’t you turn the water off? He told me to mind my own . . . business. Anyway he unscrewed the tap from the wall and the water went whoosh - and hit the far wall” I said “I bet you were wet!” She said “No! it went through the boards” “Didn’t downstairs complain?” “No, it went through their boards as well” She said her husband then went off to turn off the stop cock. He returned about 10 minutes later with the stop-cock in his hand saying “ It broke off in my hand” She said he then started to screw the old tap back into the wall. She then told me that she left the room because the language was so bad… When her husband returned home he had no useful information.
The next stop for me was Clapham Police Station where I ran one of the teams on a burglary squad. We were very successful, although I, together with a magistrate, did end up in court defending a charge of exceeding our authority. It was an attempt by others to circumvent the law – it failed.
My next move was to The Serious Crime Squad at Scotland Yard and then after a period on to New Addington Police Station where the CID office was in the first floor bedroom of a pair of semi-detached houses. Life here was very different to The Yard or Clapham.
It was winter; it had been snowing. There had been a break-in at the Danish bacon factory. I did not need to call in the forensic team, all I had to do was follow the tracks left in the snow by pram wheels to a house where the baddies were with a pram loaded with bacon. The culprit didn’t quite say ‘It’s a fair cop’, but he did say “How did you know where to find me?”...
Another notable incident whilst I was in Addington… The Police Station had moved to new purpose built premises away from the dense housing. A woman telephoned police to say that a parcel had been delivered to her house, she thought it was bomb. A police car attended and bought the bomb back to the police station, called the bomb squad and went for cup of tea. The bomb squad attended. The police station was evacuated. The bomb was armed with a light sensitive cell packed in a biscuit tin with enough explosive to bring the police station down. The 18 year old bomber was caught and sent to Broadmoor. It transpired that he had previously made a bomb which he threw off of a pier in Wales, when it exploded it was thought to be a world war 2 mine.
My next stop was a posting to Kenley, on the edge of the Metropolitan Police area. The office typist; Rosie, was somewhat cynical. She was of the opinion that CID officers left the station and did their own thing – that idea was about to change in dramatic fashion. I got information that a local burglar, ‘A’; who lived on the same estate as Rosie, had been at ‘it’ again. This called for an early morning visit so backed up by the boys in blue I knocked on ‘A’s front door. Whilst the front door of his flat was on ground level, the other end; because it was on a hill, was at a height of about 1½ stories. ‘A’ dived out of a bedroom window and survived intact the 1½ story fall, he was up and running and looking for a bolt hole. No matter, he had a mate on the estate so he made his way to his flat and dived through an open bathroom window, except it wasn’t his mate’s, it was Rosie’s and she was in the bathroom putting on her makeup getting ready for work. ‘A’ had a quick tussle with Rosie’s husband and made good his escape. He was captured later and Rosie adjusted her view about what we did when we left the station.
In May 1989 I joined the Child Protection Team which worked out of Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton, where we worked closely with paediatricians, psychiatrists, social services and many other professionals. The team moved; over the course of time, to an office in Carshalton and on to Putney.
In 1993 I was seconded to a murder enquiry at Brixton Police Station. It was a Sicilian mafia killing…
A man ‘R’ owned two restaurants in the Brixton area. His family believed he was dealing in drugs, had made a lot of money from it and was keeping it for himself, so his wife lured him home where her brother shot him dead. The murder team started monitoring the phone calls the wife was making from a public call box to her dad; a Sicilian godfather, she was worried that two old Sicilian men might know more than they should. It was arranged that another of her brother’s; a known killer, would come to the UK to kill these two perceived witnesses. A flat was found for this second brother in Chelsea away from the rest of the family. The suspects did not know we supplied the flat and it was wired for sound and video. When the wife went to Sicily to collect this second brother, members of our team went with her although the Italian police did the tail in Sicily. The man who was the driver for the wife and her second brother in the UK was our informant which made life somewhat easier for us. The two people who he had come to kill were removed by us to safe houses with minders. Various people were arrested. The trial was held at The Old Bailey. Some of the witnesses were taken to and from the court under blankets in the back of unmarked police cars. In court they gave evidence from behind screens. After court they were taken to the underground car park in Scotland Yard where they changed cars and were driven to a different safe house every night with armed minders. At the end of the trial some of the witnesses were given new identities. I went back to child protection.
I retired from the Met in January 1997 and went to work for the London Borough of Merton as an Education Welfare Officer – getting kids back into school.
In January 2007 I went to work for Surrey police as a detective although not as a police officer. I finally retired in April 2012.
Now as promised, back to my thoughts and observations about the Boy’s Brigade…
When I was a teenager I did not fully appreciate at the time, the energy, dedication and skills of the officers running the company. I was there to enjoy myself and I did. Looking back there was so much on offer. I did not realise how my time in the brigade would help mould my life and enhance my values. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who ran the company.
Bob Verills (2014)