“…and what do we have ‘ere then…?”

“Is your mother in?”


You know why”

The voice emanated from deep within the silhouetted shape standing in the doorway, the sunlight behind him momentarily blinding me to both the owner of the voice as well the realisation that I might be what is colloquially known as ‘being in the shit’. I had answered the knocking on the front door on a summer’s afternoon in the early 1970s as normal, only to realise that it would have been better if I had instead locked myself in the toilet with an old dog eared copy of the previous month’s Mayfair. 

This was my first contact with the police, at age 12 or 13. The Constable had come to inform my mum and dad that I had been seen running up a country lane with a bottle of milk taken from the front step of a terraced house in the village of Penponds. I had been out on another sunny afternoon with a miscreant called Brian and we had become thirsty. Brian spotted the milk still out on the doorstep and thinking it was fair game, we grabbed two bottles and began to amble up the road, full of misplaced bravado and confidence. We reasoned that if the milk had not been taken in by now, then it was not wanted. 

“Oi..that’s my mum’s milk!”. At this, we decided to run. Brian was recognised and it did not take a Poirot to figure out where he lived. He was collared first and squealed like a baby pig. Hence the visitation to my doorstep. 

My ‘sentence’ was having to apologise in person to the desk sergeant at Camborne police station promising never to flout the law of the land in such a cavalier fashion ever again. Thus was a nascent criminal career nipped in the bud. 

Several years later, I found myself sitting in the interview room at RNAS Culdrose being interrogated by two Royal Navy ‘policemen’ who wished to know the extent to which I had knowledge of a drug supply cartel in Helston. Who was Mister Big? Had I ever been to Amsterdam? Did I I know what a ‘joint’ was? Had I ever smoked marijuana? I was about 17 at the time, having just joined the Navy the year before. I could see my career ending before you could say “aye aye skipper”.  This interrogation was the result of a friend of mine being picked up by the police in the main street. His crime was to be in possession of a ‘Camberwell Carrot’, a spliff, a reefer. The amount of cannabis he had on his person could stun a pygmy for a few seconds but that was it. Yet this was enough to put into action an operation stretching from Helston to Plymouth to Portsmouth and even to the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. In the absence of any evidence, the strategy employed by the Royal Navy’s police was to pick up everyone who was an acquaintance of my unfortunate shipmate. They also then picked up the friends of the acquaintances to ask the same questions. The competence of the ‘drugs squad’ was in proportion to their knowledge of the 1970s drug ‘scene’, i.e. not much. They had learned everything about drugs from the ‘Ladybird book of Weed’ and from watching films like ‘Easy Rider’. What they lacked in violence, they made up with enthusiasm and not a little reliance on luck. 

I am prompted to think of these experiences with the law upon seeing the fortress that is the police ‘station’ in Bahrain. 

My daily stroll in the unrelenting heat of the day took me through the narrow and winding streets of the old souk in central Manama. These ancient streets are of course only a car wide in most places, even less in others, and flanked on either side by two or three story ramshackle constructions. There are no pavements as such, as the pedestrian is given a narrow strip of tiles and cracked raised tarmac upon which to walk on either side of the street. It doesn’t really matter because the traffic is so light that everyone walks in the middle of the narrow road in any case. Telegraph wires and electric cables are very loosely bound to bits of the walls they supply. They wave above my head in the breeze in a tangled weave of cables and the odd knot for which, in my Naval days, the given name was a BoB knot (a Bunch of Bastards). Overhead, the narrow strip of sky blue nonetheless allows the hot stream of sunlight to penetrate every dark nook below. There is a noticeable lack of litter unlike the streets of Jeddah, the paradox being that I see more street cleaners in Jeddah than in Bahrain. It was from this maze of encroachment overhead and on both sides that I emerged from the old souk district to discover the fortress. 

A castellated wall of about 10 metres in height, with a sand coloured render, imposed itself across the street from which I had emerged.  Every few metres the wall was punctuated with a strip of a ‘window’ about a metre tall by about six inches, the sort our castles would have to allow archers within to kill the approaching enemy. The wall stretched for about 500 metres into the distance. Guard towers completed the fortress look. At the main entrance several big shiny new police cars were parked, next to a big sign which clearly indicated that photography would not be tolerated. In both Arabic and English the signs shouted “Go away from here, do not look, don’t linger…yes you there…render yourself distant or we will cut your balls off”.  The exterior was intimating, so who knows what the interior looked like. The message was very clear: “We are in charge here, don’t even think about human rights”. 

In the UK we have a concept of policing by consent, of service, which in the leafy villages of the Cotswolds is possibly true. The crime sprees experienced by your local bobbies in sleepy villages like ‘Much Sodding’ are no more than a couple of spotty youths having it way with someone’s mum’s milk. Therefore, the police have no need for body armour, tazers or nipple clamps. Even in the cities, the police are embarrassed if they have to draw blood. Kneeling on people’s airways or shooting at random is rare. 

This police station however is not about consent. It is about compliance. Justice will be meted out quietly, in the dark, at length, and will involve the judicious use of forceps, scrotal stretching and a subjective interpretation of the law. Accountability to civil society can be found in a bin around the back, and disappearance from official records that one was arrested is always an option. Justice might be blind, but here she is on holiday and not taking calls. 

I walk on the street opposite the wall, as I do not want to risk being picked up and charged with ‘walking too close to a wall’ or ‘looking suspiciously foreign’. The fact that I am white with a British passport is not comforting as the police look like equal opportunity racists. As walk on the far side, I can hear finger nails being pulled, confessions being screamed out and tears of bitterness and regret. One way to eradicate crime is to kill criminals. If that is a bit extreme, then perhaps ask them to assist with your enquiries at length, in dark cockroach infested cells decorated with the blood stained cries for help written by previous occupiers. 

There are several types of copper. 

There is the Dixon of Dock Green type who was happy to slowly meander around cobbled streets, clipping the ears of schoolboys while gathering gossip about local villains. He would be armed with a bicycle and wit. He would have been a career copper whose only ambition was to rid the community of human detritus in time for Songs of Praise. In return, he’d only ask for a bit of respect, to hear “its a fair cop guv’nor…you got me bang to rights and no mistake”.  His mum would be proud of him and his wife aspired to be a housewife. His main excitement would be on match day when he would have to ask the visiting supporters to “keep it down a bit lads, there’s ladies present”. He could see his own face in the polished toe caps of his boots, a skill learned in national service while keeping the fuzzy wuzzies in their place. Police Ethics was discussed only by the Chief Constable who might have discussed it with an Archbishop at their University reunion.

There is the ‘fire up the Quattro’ type who’s long since ditched the uniform so that he could better blend in with the criminals. His appetite for sexism was matched by his appetite for alcohol, and both appetites could be indulged in while on duty.  There would always be a mattress back at the station to assist in the enquires he was making by allowing his suspect (who he already knows was guilty) to accidentally slip on the stairs down to the cells in the basement. Thinly veiled violence was an interview technique accompanied by chain smoking and bad breath. Confessions could be encouraged and justice assisted by the fortuitous discovery of evidence even the suspect had no idea he had. Police ethics was of the ‘Ends Justify the Means’ type, as long as you got the result, it matters not how. 

Then there is the middle class type from a nice middle class family, who went to a nice middle class school, ate nice middle class food (he knows what falafel is) and then perhaps to a nice university to study criminology which he thinks gives him an insight into the criminal mind. He wants to ‘help’, to make a difference. The thing is he has no experience whatsoever of the lifestyles, values and networks of those who commit crime…the working class and the upper class. His experience of acquisitive crime is third hand deriving from stories about his classmates who nicked a sixpence from their mum’s purse to spend at the tuck shop at break. Police ethics is rooted in ‘deontological assumptions about Kantian moral imperatives’ which to him are inexplicably ignored by both the smack head high on a cocktail of drugs following a lifetime of abuse and by the covert financial shenanigans in board rooms and on golf courses across the globe. 

Then there are the psychopaths, sociopaths, sexually inadequate, involuntary celibates and machismo types drawn to wearing uniforms, guns and wielding big sticks indiscriminately among crowds gathered in cramped streets out for a good time. They are often drawn from the deprived neighbourhoods they police as one of the few options open to them. Its either the blue uniform or military khaki, the priesthood or prison. They are open to inducements and will produce results according to the highest bidder. They love big flashy cars, big fortress types of prison and police station. You will make their day if you fail to speak their language, fail to have the necessary identification upon you, or are simply deaf, disabled or distracted. This gives them carte blanch to administer swift justice using a stick. It is said about the police in certain countries not too far away that if a stick is being withdrawn from the belt, then you have already lost the argument and further rational debate or cooperation will prove counterproductive. Police ethics is based on the maxim ‘Might is Right’. 

The afternoon is getting hot, I am very thirsty but thankfully they do not leave milk bottles on shop doorways out here. 

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

3 thoughts on ““…and what do we have ‘ere then…?”

  1. That bought a few memories flooding back, getting dragged back on board on a Saturday afternoon to answer endless stupid questions. More great stories Ben.


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