Wednesday, 31 March 2010

20 Years Ago - Honour And Fidelity

The Somewhat Sparse Line

20 years ago I was at a riot only it wasn't, as I don't recall anybody being convicted of that particular offence. Those of us present knew it was going to kick off. We knew because we'd been working at numerous smaller disturbances when tax rates were set at Town Halls. Mainly we were held in reserve at Territorial Army bases only to get a run out out at the end after the front line had been given a hard time. I recall sitting there on a PSU when urgent assistance calls were made on one demo where protesters were trying to turn a police car over, and still we sat.

The grubby demonstrators took great delight in telling us this was just a warm up for the big one on 31st March. They knew it and I for one believed them. I don't know about the big master plan for policing the demonstration that day but somebody somewhere got it horribly wrong. I think they believed it might go bent but not so early in the day. This might explain the lack of PSU's on the event. There were several football match's that day and the reserve PSU's were to police those and be called up as and when disorder took place.

My Inspector played a blinder and got a promotion on the strength of it. He got us kitted up without being told so we were jogging up Whitehall just as the uniform line was pushed out of Trafalgar Square. You've probably seen that footage and it's clear there was no Plan B at that point and no public order reserves in position to take their place.

My PSU entered the square to relative silence. It was a weird atmosphere as if everybody was waiting to see what happened next. The bulk of the crowd on the actual square were there for the rally and the black bloc had placed themselves by Northumberland Avenue, where a building site provided a ready supply of missiles. A couple of these were thrown and we ran forwards to keep a sterile area in that corner. As we stepped back we caught a volley from the crowd to our immediate right.

It's hard to explain what it's like when you get hit. I felt like a cartoon character who has an anvil dropped on their head. I actually saw stars, had a ringing in my ears and my face exploded with blood pouring from my nose and also filling my mouth. I coughed this out thus covering the inside of my visor morphing from cartoon character to a scene out of Alien. That was me out of it. It must had looked bad as a young WPC screamed "Oh my God!" as I trudged through the police line like a bloodied boxer leaving the ring, having suffered a first round knock out.

A quick ambulance ride to our delegated hospital luckily had me at the front of the queue. A very nice army doctor had been drafted in to gain experience of dealing with mass casualties. Some running repairs by her without anaesthetic had me back on the road in no time. My mate was also in the queue and was missing several teeth and his lip was hanging off. Oh how we laughed - really we did, me more than him obviously. Things didn't feel as bad on seeing the state of him. By now the police injured were arriving in police vans so I was able to get a lift to Whitehall. I rejoined my PSU back in the square and the remaining protesters were pushed out of the area into the West End. Unfortunately this led to theatre goers being abused and shops being looted.

You don't need to know what happened next but let's just say order was restored and not all looters were arrested. This was the nearest I'll ever get to anarchy and I don't want to see it again. My memories consist of the quickest ever pub clearance and a protester attempting to roll a rubbish bin into the path of our carrier before realising we were actually heading his way. We missed him just ! driver obviously never saw him.

The management afterwards tried to put a positive spin on things, but operationally it was a disaster and we got hammered. All of my PSU sustained injuries of varying degrees. Any dreams I had of being a male model ended that day with another scar added to my body. In the years that followed I've added many more alongside the mental ones. Poor intelligence, Poor preparation and poor tactics in sweeping protesters into the West End. Remember that when complaining about kettling cordons.

The black bloc was about 10 thousand strong that day and most of them couldn't be described as taxpayers. I've read that their leaders see it as their greatest day in mobilising the people to bring down the poll tax, so much so that they're celebrating the anniversary today.

My PSU that day were brilliant and didn't shirk anything. Nobody bottled it and despite being in the thick of it, could look each other in the eye and know we were one and would never let each other down ever. Honour and Fidelity, words best describing the discipline of the team that day.

I won't go into details but the missile thrower got nicked on the post operation investigation. If it wasn't for my Nato helmet I could have been killed or ended up with a concave face, and that's not an exaggeration. I wonder if he cared that I was newly married and living in a police flat within a socialist enclave who'd hiked up their poll tax rate. I doubt it very much but hey crusty .. I forgive you .. it's what we do right?

Three police forces present that day should you think I'm showing out.

17 comments:

Dandelion said...

It's very sad that this is what it takes to make a government listen.

Can I just say, plurals don't need apostrophes. You may find this informative:

Officer Dibble said...

SOC
This post brings it all back. Though I managed to get through it unmarked.

I was in a line in the Strand when it really kicked off.Level 3's in todays jargon. The atmosphere was bubbling for a good while before the main event and it didnt surprise anyone at my level when it went ugly.In terms of our tactics it was a shambles. We would do a running line with a tunic, helmet and waving the old wood police trucheon.We would clear side roads and junctions to the be told to withdraw and let the crowds fill the gaps again ..and then have to do the same again having letting them regroup and find more things to throw.

I recall our serial parting to let the PSU's run towards the square.

I particularly wanted to be in the PSU that dealt robustly with the protesters in the scaffolding who were throwing stuff down at the line of mounted police.
They wouldnt be allowed to get up there and deal with them now with all the Risk assessments and Health and Safety

Stressed Out Cop said...

Thanks Dandelion - State Education I'm afraid and never taught that in my school - will do the rest later!

Dibs

I'm told somebody did walk the route - but never mind a building site on the plot full of potential weapons.

MTG said...

Naughty Dandelion. Reformists score maximum points on police blogs when they precipitate abuse, scorn and obscenities from the worst in uniform. Points are lost by the public in respect of unfair and haughty comments which are subsequently treated to a velvet response.

SoC - our State Education is one of the best if one manages to remain in the saddle and you most certainly did.

Blue Eyes said...

SOC, can't even begin to imagine what was rushing through your mind on that day and the following.

I was only ten, but I remember that era. My mum was on the local council opposing a socialist enclave of an administration. There were practically riots *inside* the council chamber at the meeting where the poll tax rate was to be set. I remember, because I was sitting in a covered "alcove" seat watching. People were throwing things at the councillors and the councillors struggled to be heard over the hecklers.

I remember the talk was all about whether it was morally defensible to refuse to pay the tax. Even sensible law-abiding types were so angry about the way the tax had been introduced that they considered taking themselves off the electoral role to avoid paying.

I think that's the closest we've come to civil breakdown in the last probably hundred years.

But there we no riots!!

Dandelion said...

@MTG - Irrelevant, or OT, maybe, but "unfair and haughty"? Hardly!

SoC knows where I'm coming from.

Blue Eyes said...

PS nice to see the tunic and helmet working so nicely together! Much prettier than the current robocop public order outfit.

Metcountymounty said...

Sgt Smellie, charges dismissed, not guilty. Get in!! More coherent comment when I'm out of the early house and sober!!

Stressed Out Cop said...

MCM - Good News indeed but never in doubt (well maybe 5%)you never know! - Mr S breathing a huge sigh as a lot of blue cards would have been coming his way.

MTG said...

Good news for whom, SoC?

British Justice? Public confidence in Police? The tabloids?

Leaving aside the certainty that millions feel badly let down, this could only be good news for Sgt Smellie, all other violent policemen and the backroom schemers who ensured the main accuser in this case was 'taken care of'.

Stressed Out Cop said...

Melv - Dry your eyes .. NOT GUILTY as anticipated here.

I'll explain it over the weekend when I've got time. It's very technical.

Millions don't know what they're talking about. British Justice should have never had him in the dock.

Area Trace No Search said...

One of your best posts SOC - if not THE best.

The feeling of being in a PSU is different to any other policing; whether it's trying to keep warm in the rain or dealing with thrown objects and a large baying crowd, you do it as one. All in, all out.

MTG - I've also blogged about Sgt Smellie, and attempted to explain it; although I'm sure SOC will be much more eloquent when he has the time to post.

dickiebo said...

It's one thing to sit back now and smile but then ......................not very nice. Not very nice at all.
Good post!

Hogday said...

Top post SoC. My old Manor too, where I, on many occasion's' wished I had a NATO and some BA. I watched you, on TV, as a county insp, wishing I was there, but glad I wasn't and realising just how close you/we all came to having a very bad one. In my mind you earned a medal. Hope you liked my apostrophes in my plural's :)

Ex-RUC said...

I sympathise, SOC, I know how it feels.

Stressed Out Cop said...

EX RUC - Not a patch on what you boys and girls had to deal with.

We all salute you - SOC

Tom said...

A concave sweed courtesy of the s...s would have cost the tax-payer a couple of grand for a front line officer.

Fisher stiffed everyone for £26.000 for a mere bruise.

I believe that the police federation ought to retain Max Clifford as a consultant.

Have to go now, blood pressure close to exploding.

Grrrrr