A newly-published book about the Metropolitan Police has hit fourth position in the Sunday Times book rankings!
Police officers from around the country attended the London launch of Blue: A Memoir this week – a new book outlining the highs and lows of being a British Bobby.
The book by Ch Supt John Sutherland – Twitter’s @policecommander – focusses on the positive work of his Met Police colleagues during a 25-year career but also on how policing can take its toll, including its difficult to read pages on John suffering from depression.
The strapline for the book is “Keeping the Peace and Falling to Pieces.”
Speaking at the event, John said the idea for the book came from the imbalance of predominantly negative reporting about policing in the media.
He said: “For the past 25 years, I have had the privilege of doing a job I love – alongside people I truly admire.
“In its way, this book is a love letter to each one of them: my family, my city and the women and men of the police force.
“Blue tells some of their stories – some of our stories – and in doing so, tries to provide some balance to the wider story being told about policing in this country.
“But it is also a very personal story of the toll that life and policing can take. Four years ago, whilst serving as the Borough Commander for Southwark in South London, I broke. I’m still mending.”
The book features large chunks on John’s rise through the ranks, his time as a hostage negotiator, as a borough commander and has a real focus on the scourge of knife crime in the capital.
Both the speech and book resonated well with the audience in attendance at the launch in London – which also included a number of John’s friends and family.
Also there were the Kinsella family. Ben Kinsella was killed in a stabbing incident in Islington in 2008 – and John has remained in touch with them.
Some of the nicest compliments I have received for my first book in the Cumbria Police Novels series have been for the description of a circular, mid-winter fell walk, starting and finishing at the south end of Haweswater.
Richard Wallace, retired senior lecturer in classics at Keele University, in a review of My Cup Runneth Over, kindly wrote: “…One of the most attractive features of the novel is the lively and evocative scenes of Cumbria, its people, and its landscape.I particularly enjoyed a marvellous description of a winter walk over High Street. You could feel the crunch of the snow under your boots, the cold wind on your face, and the exhilaration of getting to the top and just looking at the views. I wanted to be there!…” (See more readers’ opinions)
The route, that day, went from Haweswater up past Small Water (photo 2) to the top of Nan Bield Pass. After a look over ‘the other side’, down into Kentmere (photo 3) and shortly afterwards getting an exciting shock-of-our lives from the jet, we continued up towards the top (photo 4) of the beautifully-named Mardale Ill Bell.
The photograph (number 4) of the snow, beautifully sculpted into drifts against a dry stone wall, of which only the top ‘cam’ stones are visible, was taken on Racecourse Hill (read Chapter 22 for an accurate description of how a mountain got such a name!), and I believe I was standing on the top of the trig’ point (i.e. a mapmakers’ triangulation pillar) to get the necessary high viewpoint.
Coming back down via Long Stile and Caspel Gate was interesting due to the fact that in places the snow had frozen extremely hard and in places there were large areas of sheet ice. Attempting it without crampons could potentially have proved lethal (photo 5).
In reality, this is the Horse & Farrier (1677), in my home village of Threlkeld in the Lake District National Park, but in ‘My Cup Runneth Over’ and the other Cumbria Police Novels to follow, the Drovers’ Inn at Linthwaite is based upon it.
The Salutation Inn — now sadly just known as ‘The Sally’ — which in the books is the Birch Hill Arms, is in the background on the right (with a red sign on the wall).
I took this photograph during the mid-1990s, despite the copyright date shown on the image. This was after the Farrier had been modernized as a pub but before the interior had been radically altered to create an admittedly great ‘restaurant with a bar’.
The ‘mesne manor’ of Carleton Hall, one mile south-east of Penrith, was “formerly the residence of the ancient family of the Carletons, who appear to have been settled here from soon after the time of the conquest, until the failure of male issue by the death of Robert Carleton, Esq., in 1707.” This occurred after seven successive generations of Thomas Carletons as the ‘man of the house’, and the Hall was then purchased by John Pattinson of Penrith, attorney-at-law.
In 1828, Thomas Lord Wallace sold the hall and manor to John Cowper, Esq. “The grounds and walks owe many of their attractions to the correct taste of Mrs Wallace, widow of James Wallace, Esq., His Majesty’s Attorney-General, and mother of the above-named Lord Wallace. That lady succeeded in rendering Carleton one of the most beautiful spots in this part of England…”
During the first half of the twentieth century it was the home of the Carleton-Cowper family.
The Grade II* Listed Building is described as early 18th Century, with alterations made later that century. It was restored in 1859 and partly rebuilt in 1937.
The name ‘Carleton’ originates from the Old English words ‘ceorl, ‘carle’ or ‘charle’, which mean ‘farmer’ or ‘free peasant’, plus ‘tūn’ a ‘vill’ or ‘settlement’. The meaning is therefore: ‘settlement of farmers’, as a result of which prolific originations the place names and surnames of Carlton, Carleton and Charlton are quite common in England.
During the war years of 1940-43 the hall was occupied by the Furze Close School and from 1943-46 it was a military hospital.
In May, 1950, the hall was occupied by the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary, forerunner of the Cumbria Constabulary which in turn came into existence when the modern, non-metropolitan county of Cumbria was created in May 1974, at which time both entities absorbed small areas from North Yorkshire (the Sedbergh area) and Lancashire (the South Lakes and Furness). Cumbria is the second-largest county in England, at 2613 sq.ml. (6,767 sq.km.).
Related old buildings nearby which used to be the stables, carriage houses, etc., frame three sides of a courtyard which during police years has been known as the ‘traffic yard’, where the vehicle repair garages are located. The rest of the police headquarters consists of modern buildings of various ages.
Steve Shearwater: When I was stationed at H.Q. Traffic (nowadays known as the Roads Policing Unit), back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the main entrance foyer of the old building at Carleton Hall was still lined with large, grand oil paintings, with eyes that — according to several of my former ‘control room’ colleagues who like myself used to do security checks through the hall at all hours of night — would “follow you around,” always seeming to be looking at you wherever you walked. Given that the only illumination, by necessity for security checks, was a small flashlight, the autonomous, random creaking of ancient floorboards and the legend of the ‘grey lady’ ghost added to the experience! I presume that the oil paintings and the grey lady are all still there.
Specifically on the subject of the ghost, Gordon Mackenzie fascinatingly writes: “I would be about 7 or 8, so maybe 1965/6, my dad [the headquarters caretaker] had a workshop in the cellar of Carleton Hall next to the Armoury and which was eventually used to store weapons in about the 1970’s. We used to live in one of the cottages which became the printing Dept in 1977 and I used to go and see the old man at night in his workshop, no security in those days. I asked him one day about the ghost. My Dad was very private and we had a struggle to get anything out of him about his childhood and war service, but this night he opened up to me about the ‘grey lady’. He said that he saw her on several occasions and not to be scared of her, and that she had a friendly face and was a guardian of Carleton Hall. She was searching for her baby daughter that her husband had killed in a fit of anger because he wanted a son and heir! The old man never spoke about the ‘grey lady’ again and would not repeat what he said to me, he denied it. A long time ago but one of those moments in my life that I will never forget. Carleton Hall can be a bit spooky to some but we never felt anything like that, I suppose we were used to it having grown up there.”
In this context, Heather Thompson has mentioned that some of the staff in the Admin. Dept., located in the actual Hall, hated working overtime because when it was time to leave they found the deserted building creepy.
More recollections from serving/retired police officers and staff about any suitable H.Q. topics would be very welcome for inclusion on this page (side-issue pages can easily be added). Please post any pertinent, non-controversial comments in the ‘Replies’ box, below, and if possible perhaps also send digitised images for inclusion (all info & images will be credited to the sender).
The history and antiquities of Cumberland: with biographical notices and memoirs, 1840, by Samuel Jefferson, Vol. 1; pages 93-4.
The history and antiquities of the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, Vol. 2; pages 403-4.
Now part of a restaurant, this is the interior of the former Magistrates Court at Keswick — the place known as Hawthwaite in Steve Shearwater’s Cumbria Police Novels — and it is still largely intact and recognisable.
The former witness box is beneath the small canopy, between the first and second windows on the left. Journalists sat behind the barrier that is nearer the camera, behind the lady in blue and red.
The magistrates — sometimes just two but usually three — sat directly behind the far barrier, up where the two distant people are, in this photo, and of course, facing this way. The Magistrates’ Clerk — the only legally trained person on the team (generally a qualified solicitor) — sat this side of that same barrier, where part of a wood and red leather seat can now be seen.
If the defendant was still under arrest and therefore coming from the cells, they would be with a police officer in the dock, seen here correctly with its brass rails still around it (behind the stacked, children’s high-seats, on the right).
Lastly, non-participating spectators would be seated where this shot was taken from, behind the nearest set of rails visible in the photograph.
I would be very curious to know how many police officers, over almost the entire 20th Century, went into this witness box and gave the oath:
“I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I will give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
[Note that there is no “so help me God” in Britain so over-enthusiastic witnesses who had seen too much American television and tried to include the phrase were reprimanded for not reading the words from the card!]
This was followed by the announcement of rank, number and name, e.g.
“Your Worships, I am Constable 8-6-8 Shearwater, currently stationed here at Hawthwaite” (or whichever other police station).
One then waited until the prosecution gave the instruction to proceed with what is correctly known as the ‘evidence in chief’.
Historical: It is thought local courts have been held in Keswick for hundreds of years. There was a Copyhold and Baronial Court in the town from medieval times. By 1847, a magistrates’ court operated on the second floor of Keswick Moot Hall on most Saturdays.
Building work commenced on Bank Street on the Keswick magistrates court and police station in 1901 and they were opened by Cumberland’s Chief Constable in 1902. They are on the site of a former workhouse that had been founded in the will of the eminent lawyer and judge Sir John Bankes, of Keswick. Born in 1589, he was eventually called to the bar, elected as an MP, and was knighted in 1631. He was appointed Attorney General and from 1640 until his death in 1644 he was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, one of the highest judicial officials in England and now the name of the restaurant that occupies these buildings. The court and police station remained in use until the year 2000. As well as being a magistrates’ court for almost 100 years, the building was also used for many thousands of inquests, including those concerning many major accidents on the A66 and mountain and lakes tragedies.
Sadly, asset-stripping by closing police stations and courts has been happening throughout Britain for many years now, and whilst it might be argued that we can get by with fewer, centralized courtrooms, there can be no denying that crime is on the increase because of fewer police officers (down by over 20,000, nationally) and similarly that road deaths are also rising because of the reduction in staffing or even the complete disbanding of each county’s Roads Policing Unit.
The RSPB* is investigating the death of a wild peregrine falcon in Cumbria…
The bird was given a post-mortem but the cause of death could not be confirmed. However, an X-ray carried out by a local vet uncovered three lead shot fragments in its neck, knee and hip, revealing the bird had been shot at an earlier date, but survived despite its injuries…
PC Sarah Rolland for Cumbria Police said: “It is quite apparent that the peregrine [found at] Newbiggin had been shot at some stage in its life. However, the post mortem indicates the fragments of shot may be historic and were not the direct cause of its death…”
Peregrines, like all birds of prey, are protected by UK law. Anyone found guilty of killing or harming a peregrine could face a fine of £5,000 and jail. Despite this, since 2010 there have been 57 confirmed cases of birds of prey being shot in northern England alone.
If you have any information relating to this case [or any other wildlife crimes] call Cumbria police on 101…
Terrorists are known to select targets which give them maximum publicity and this week’s attack at Westminster in London, at a globally-known landmark, with four victims killed from a total of three countries and injured people from 11 different countries, certainly created global news.
Many members of the public now believe that arming the police would be a good thing, although it needs to be said that many were against the presence of armed officers at a 2016 Christmas Fair in Newcastle (see the above photograph) because it was so out-of-keeping with the nature of the event. Yet it also needs to be said that such events clearly do present themselves as potential targets from a terrorist point of view. So there is a distinct clash of public opinions on this issue.
I joined the police back in the early 1970s and from the outset was of the stated opinion that if the British police, as a whole, were permanently armed during the period of my service, I would resign on principle.
Are the British police perfect? No, not by some distance, but they still rightly are the envy of many developed nations and iconic in their typical absence of firearms, other than on targeted protection duties.
As tragic as the death of PC 4157U Keith Palmer was, two days ago, it has to be said that almost certainly he was the only person injured or killed as a result of not every police officer at the Westminster location being armed, and it is possible he might not have been able to save himself even if he’d had a gun, if he was caught unawares. It is unlikely in the extreme that the police would have fired shots at the car when it was among pedestrians and other vehicles on Westminster Bridge where all of the other injuries and deaths occurred, and in any event that did not happen.
Would the permanent arming of all police officers throughout Britain prevent terrorist attacks or the lone-wolf attacks of mentally unstable people? Quite clearly not, otherwise there would have been no attacks in France or Germany or any other countries where all the police are armed.
Aside from terrorism, Britain’s serious crime squads naturally do carry firearms whenever deemed necessary, but that is not what this is about.
One key question is: Would arming all police officers reduce the number of officers who are murdered on duty? This is a very appealing conclusion to draw. However, based on the information given in the source shown in paragraph (b) in the below footnotes, ‘only’ about 134 British police officers have been the victims of deliberately intended deaths in the 117 years since the start of the year 1900 — an average of 1.145 officers per year. (Note that this does not include over 300 police victims of the euphemistically-named ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland or of IRA bombs in England.) This question therefore is whether arming all British police officers would be likely to reduce the remarkably low number of officers who are deliberately killed on what can be classed as normal duties.
Would there be any disadvantages to arming all British police officers? Three that stand out are:
It is argued, with some justification, that criminals committing serious crimes are more likely to carry firearms to aid their escape if they know the police will be armed. This clearly increases the danger for anyone in the vicinity;
As soon as a police officer with a handgun gets into a physical confrontation, there is a danger that the person or people he/she is fighting with will try to take away the firearm and could potentially use it against the officer, a particular risk if drunk, drugged or mentally unstable people are involved. This, in turn, is more likely to cause officers to use their weapon themselves. Again, the dangers increase dramatically. Please view the 15 October 2016 article in the footnotes below, and you will see that in just one year there were an estimated 23,000 assaults against British police officers. I cannot believe for one minute that if guns had been carried at all of these events there would have been no lethal outcomes;
It is, in my opinion, inevitable that at least some crime suspects would end up being shot when a gun-free policing approach would otherwise have brought them in alive. This, of course, isn’t a criticism of the guns, per se, but of the fact that with any very large body of armed officers some will inevitably interpret and apply the relevant rules and laws, shall we say, “a little too freely.” Other countries’ police forces already provide repeated examples of this undesirable situation.
At the opposite extreme to the current state of affairs in Britain, it is a fact that in just 20 days during January 2016, police officers in the USA shot and killed more people than had been shot and killed by the police in Britain in the previous 25 years! I’m not pretending that either country is like the other but with a population ratio of just 5:1 the disparity is so cataclysmic that in Britain we really must ask ourselves whether we wish to risk heading in that direction.
This is an important topic. Please feel free to add your comments at the foot of this page (polite and sensible only, please). Or just a ‘Yes’ for arming all police officers or a ‘No’ for not doing so will suffice!
a) How many British police officers are harmed in the line of duty? “The Home Office estimates there were 23,000 assaults against officers in 2014/15, and (in the then 70 years) since 1945 more than 250 officers [see below] have been fatally shot… [Between 2010 and October 2015], 11 officers of the Metropolitan police lost their lives in the line of duty.” The Guardian. 15 October 2015
b) It looks possible that the above claim that “since 1945 more than 250 officers have been fatally shot” may be misleading because a separate, seemingly well-sourced list shows that a total of ‘just’ 260 officers have been killed as a result of criminals’ actions between 1900 and 2016 (of whom 68 officers were shot and 23 stabbed). Of these 260 deaths, however, ‘only’ about half of them (i.e. 129) appear to have died as a result of deliberate assaults by an offender, as opposed to say deaths that occurred during pursuits. This latter list, however, excludes those officers killed in the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland which may explain the aforementioned apparent disparity in overall numbers.
A good friend and former Cumbria Police colleague Peter Reece has given me a hard time and a laugh (with a bit of dialect, too), this morning, on Facebook.
“…How dare you kill off an old dog [in your novel]? You had me in tears theer, marra. I would have preferred the drunk driver to have ‘bit the dust’. I know , I know, I know why you didn’t: bloody coroner’s file, four copies of everything, and a folder thicker than yan o’ them girt big family bibles!”
Well, you have a good point, Peter, but while I have deliberately avoided writing about the true facts of any crimes and real criminals in my novel, I have leaned on some true experiences I had during my police career which cannot possibly be seen as defamatory to anybody. So — albeit sad — this incident of a Border Collie being killed by a drunk driver on a pedestrian crossing the first time the dog ever failed to wait on the kerb for its owner before starting to cross the road, really did happen. The only things I changed were the name of the owner, the breed of dog, the town where it happened and all circumstances pertaining to the car and driver involved.
The sad bits, the trip to the vets and all that: All true. The old man having previously lost all the members of his family: True, but not quite as described. My subsequent efforts to ‘con’ him into taking a young boxer that we then had in the police kennels at that time: Yes, successfully true, and even though the dog was a bit too boisterous for a man of his age and did tend to pull him along when they were out for a walk, the old chap always did have a smile on his face. In the nicest sense, I have always hoped that the dog outlived him; the man whom I renamed ‘Max’ in the book had been through far more than his life’s share of sadness.
Anybody wanting translations of the dialect words used by Peter Reece, above, please use the dialect glossary.
When my first novel — My Cup Runneth Over — was published, in November 2016, my biggest fear was what the opinions of my former police colleagues might be. I certainly knew they had the capacity to be my fiercest critics if my writing was not to their liking. To my delight and relief, that has not proved to be the case. You may read their thoughts here.
Here’s a very serious question for you. Given that in Britain a police officer’s oath includes “the protection of life and property” and in America the police role is “to protect and serve” (my italics), and given that throughout the developed world far, far more human lives are lost in road crashes than in murders, why, oh why, are massive police contributions to countless saved lives on the roads not even known about, let alone discussed and praised?
It is, of course, a grim reality that the tragic death of a loved one is exactly that — a heartbreaking tragedy. It would perhaps be simplistic to say the cause of any such loss is not relevant, of course it is, but the over-riding grief comes from the unbearable fact that a family member or dear friend is gone. (Every police officer who has delivered a ‘death message’ to an unsuspecting family has had to do one of the worst tasks on the planet.)
At this point, it becomes important to know a little about how the key aspects of effective crash and casualty prevention operate. For many years, road safety has been based upon a set of ‘E’ words, of which the key ones are:
Education (teaching safety to young people in particular, accurately)
Engineering (both better-designed roads and better-made vehicles)
Enforcement (to discourage the use or repetition of dangerous factors)
Emergency (preventing secondary collisions at the crash site, freeing trapped victims and swift removal of the seriously-injured to hospital)
Evaluation (by empirical research; what really works and what is myth?)
The first three items in the above list were the original “Three E’s” and each of these, if done appropriately and comprehensively, is capable of saving many lives, and in most of the developed nations this has happened on a very large scale.
(The current ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety’, 2011-2020, which sadly most people are still unaware of, is based upon the slightly different ‘Pillars’ of the task but that does not affect this article.)
Over the last 30-40 years, the most regular ‘leaders’ in this race to cut the number of road deaths have repeatedly been Sweden and Great Britain. Indeed, since I first joined the police in the early 1970s the number of people killed each year on Britain’s roads alone has fallen by about three-quarters, from around 7,500 to below 2,000, despite the fact that there are now many times more vehicles on the road. What proportion of this huge lifesaving success has been due specifically to police enforcement (or to education, or engineering)? That is impossible to say, primarily because most crashes have multiple causative factors, but research shows that all three disciplines have been crucial in this stunning improvement.
One truly excellent example of the success of two of these factors (education and enforcement) working together can easily be seen in the way that drink driving is now dramatically less-common in Britain and therefore kills far fewer people than it did in the 1960s and 70s when the “Don’t Drink and Drive” message first appeared in television and radio advertisements. Since then, of course, the police have arrested hundreds of thousands of unthinking drivers for risking other people’s lives. The most telling evidence of the overall success comes in the form of public perception and the fact that while decades ago it was seen as fairly harmless to have a few drinks and then drive home, people’s attitude is generally now the opposite… anyone who drinks and drives is a pariah. The education aspect about drink-driving is almost complete but of course this is only one of many causes of fatal road crashes.
That brings me to the three final points of this post:
Firstly, I would suggest that while many people have venomously criticised traffic patrol police officers over the years, those officers are lifesavers — it’s as simple as that. There is no such thing as “pointless speeding tickets,” blah, blah, blah.
Secondly, throughout the last 100 years or so, the number of road deaths in Britain each year has vastly exceeded the number of murders — though less-so nowadays since the huge successes in cutting those road deaths — so if reducing unnecessary deaths is important to society, it is obvious where the greatest efforts need to be focused.
Finally and distressingly, however, we all know that what are now called Roads Policing Units around the UK have been decimated by financial cutbacks. What most people still do not know is that not only has the rate of continued improvement in reducing road deaths now evaporated, specifically due to the financial cutbacks in question, but the trend in the annual numbers of road deaths is actually on the increase once more. And research has now proved the dare-I-say very obvious link to reduced enforcement!
The inspiration for me to write this piece came from the advert for this episode of the BBC ‘Crimewatch’ television programme, about crime on the roads and “the devastating impact of dangerous driving,” a danger that can only be reduced by having an adequate number of highly-trained officers out there patrolling the roads and saving yet more lives by doing so!
Copyright, 16 March 2017, Eddie Wren (alias author ‘Steve Shearwater’)