Little Big Stories

You might have heard it said that policing is a job like no other.
Let me tell you a handful of stories…
I’m a PC in Westminster, sent to my first Sudden Death. It’s a basement flat in a big old Pimlico townhouse. No suspicious circumstances – just some standard procedures to follow.
The old man died sitting in his living room chair. Now it’s just him and me and silence – waiting for the undertaker to arrive.
It’s ever so slightly unsettling for a 23 year old who hasn’t seen much of the world. I’m half expecting the old boy to cough at any moment – or to scare me witless in some other way.
But the one thought I can’t shake is that he died on his own. There was no one there to hold his hand; to say they cared; to ask if he needed anything to make himself more comfortable.
It’s just too sad for words – and I can only hope it wasn’t long and drawn out; that he didn’t feel too much pain.
No one should have to die alone.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will sit quietly and respectfully with the deceased. Waiting.
I’m a Brixton PC, standing in A&E at Kings College Hospital.
I’ve got my arm round a colleague who has broken down in tears. We have just watched the brave and brilliant – and ultimately hopeless – efforts of the medics to save the life of the victim of a domestic stabbing.
I was there in her bedroom as my colleagues did absolutely everything they could for her. I saw her wounds. I was on the other end of the stretcher as we stumbled down the stairwell in a mad run to the ambulance. And I was there in the hospital as they performed the open heart surgery.
Now the PC next to me is in bits and I am numb. I work my way through half a packet of cigarettes when I get home that night.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will take a deep breath and go again.
Still at Brixton.
Her name was Suzanne. You could tell that she was once a beautiful young woman – genuinely so. And still only in her early 20s.
But she discovered crack. And became a desperate addict – turning tricks in alleyways for desperate men.
I can still see her now: knee length boots that are falling apart; filthy, dishevelled clothes; red, dead eyes; dirt and snot smeared across her face; staggering through the custody suite.
Then there’s the smell. Oh the smell…

And somewhere out there today, a police officer will try to pick up the pieces of another shattered life.
Early morning in Peckham. I’m the Section Sergeant and I’ve volunteered to deliver the death message.
He was only a teenager. Went round to a friend’s house for the night. Had too much to drink, lit a cigarette and fell asleep on the sofa with it still burning in his hand. Set the whole place alight and put his own flame out.
Brutal and final and awful.
As I walk up the front path with two other officers, I can feel the weight of the news I’m carrying. Rehearsing my lines in my head.
When is a Copper on the front step ever good news?
A man opens the door.
‘I’m so sorry…’
I am the teller of the tale and he is the hearer of the agony of it all. The realisation comes later that this is the only conversation I will ever have with this man.
I invite myself in and see at least half a dozen other family members – staring at me and fearful of what must be to come. Last night brought the end of one young life. This morning brings, in some respects at least, the end of theirs. And my colleagues and I are unavoidable intruders on their grief.
We do absolutely all we can – but eventually, just as we arrived, we have to step back out of their lives.
And take the next call.
Somewhere out there today, a police officer will be the bearer of unbearable news.
Nights at Peckham. I’m the Custody Sergeant.
Standing in front of me is a PC whose face is badly beaten and swollen. He looks a mess.
There’s been a murder this evening – and this lone officer has chased the suspect through a series of back gardens, caught up with him and fought with him, hand to hand. Somehow, he managed to hang on until the help got to him.
Now there’s a killer in the cells.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will display astonishing courage.
I’m a Chief Inspector and a trained Hostage Negotiator.
I’m somewhere in the middle of Hampstead Heath, sometime in the middle of the night. Called out from home.
Local officers have been here for some time. I make my way silently up to the shoulder of one of them and listen. About 30 yards ahead of us, I can just about make out the figure of a middle aged man.
He is standing at the edge of one of the big ponds and he’s threatening to jump into the icy water.
We talk to him.
We listen to his story.
And, after goodness knows how long, he accepts our offers of help. The locals get him to somewhere safe. I head home and back to bed. But not to sleep.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will talk someone back from the edge.
Arsenal vs Barcelona in the Champions League.
I’m a Superintendent and, tonight, I’m the Police Match Commander for the game.
I’ve got a highly experienced team around me – and they give me an armchair ride.
When I’m not watching the crowd or the CCTV screens, I am – just like everyone else – mesmerised by Messi.
The game itself passes without incident – at least from a policing point of view – and the ground empties.
Just as we are thinking about closing down for the evening, there’s a flurry of activity on the opposite side of the stadium – on one of the TV gantries.
A call comes through on the club’s radio system. Paramedics required. One of the cameramen was packing away his gear and collapsed. He just dropped to the ground.
Everyone responds immediately and the medics are with him quickly.
I’m working alongside club officials in the Control Room and we can see the whole eerie scene being played out about 400 yards away from us. I can make out people, but not faces. I see the paramedic kneeling over the poor man. I see his green-sleeved arms moving up and down as he administers the chest compressions.
Images without sound.
And I see a man die. Not for the first time; not for the last time.
Somewhere out there today, a police officer will say a silent prayer.
I’m the Chief Superintendent at Camden.
I’m sitting in my office, talking to a PC who has been called to give evidence to the 7/7 Public Inquiry. I’ve read his statement and now he’s telling me his story.
He was the first officer onto the bus in Tavistock Square. He ran towards the very thing that almost every other person was fleeing in blind panic.
And he saw things in that place that are beyond description or comprehension.
And somewhere out there today, a police officer will answer the call.
I could tell you endless stories.
And they would all be true.


41 thoughts on “Little Big Stories

  1. Janet Davies

    This made me cry; my husband is a retired officer and I know he has experienced most of the things mentioned here. He seldom speaks of them, but I know they have remained with him for life; sometimes when incidents such as the recent murders in Didcot, are reported in the media, I see him close his eyes – re-living memories such as you describe. This is the side of policing unseen, unheard of and unimagined by the public; the more people who read your blogs, the more the public will become aware of and realise that the police service they have is not perfect, but it’s not that bad either. Thank you for making more people aware of what officers go through every day.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ian

    We do this job, not for thanks, not for money, not even for acceptance. We do this job to help. To help those who can’t help themselves. But we forget that the things we see we carry with us forever. Only those who’ve been there can really know. I close my eyes sometimes and all I see is the eyes of a child who’d been raped, begging for help but not able to form words. And I silently cry, not because I didn’t help, but because I did and I’m never sure if I’ve done enough.
    Thank you boss. You’re words come as a blessing on the horrible days. The days when I watch as domestic violence victims go back with the perpetrators and I think “please don’t die.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. retiredandangry

    In an average 30 year career (more now I suppose) the average officer will deal with any number of situations such as you describe, some absolutely awful, others slightly less so. In public we cope, because we have to. In private we suffer. I would liken it to a snowball effect, at first you cope, but with every human tragedy such as these our wounds go deeper. I’m absolutely amazed that we last the distance without falling apart. Every one of us ends up damaged in some way, and still we go back for me. It’s what we do.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. revlarrybain

    What would Jesus say if he met you in the canteen
    “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” #policechaplains

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Andy Wright

    As I have said many times you have a wonderful writing style and a gift for ‘telling it as it really is’. What is especially powerful about this piece that every Police Officer,regardless of rank or Force will identify totally with what you have described. Not one of your tales will have made the papers , much less the headlines, not one. It IS what we do (still saying ‘We’ 10 yrs after retiring, it’s in the blood you know!)

    Liked by 4 people

  6. andy steel

    On holiday with the wife and she knows what I’ve read because I’ve gone quiet. I will take to my grave the horrors I’ve seen. I’ve carried bodies burned beyond recognition off a crashed aircraft. I’ve done the long walk..and watched helpless as the parents’ world fell apart in front of me, and let the mother punch my chest calling me a lying…well, you get it. I’ve sat with the corpse of the old man, medals in his drawer, left to die in a concrete expression of modernism which became a hell hole, never fit for heroes because no one cared after the swastika flag had been consigned to history. I’ve cried bitter tears in the early hours as those ghosts check on my frayed sanity, and I’ve learned to subdue their stares via the bottom of too many pint pots. I’ve also cried tears of joy as I have reunited lost kids with frantic parents and helped in the odd new life being brought into this world. And I do all this for people who spit at me, kick me, tell me they know where I live…well, you get the idea.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Anonymous

    I am older in years and fairly young in service, 2.5 years. Recently, right at the death of a Saturday night shift I was first on scene with my colleague at what is now an attempt murder enquiry .
    Now I have observed many awful sights but this one, I can’t explain why, it was just awful.
    In front of me was a young lad with multiple stab wounds lying on the hall floor within his own home and his mother standing over him just screaming. He is no known to police and angel, however that doesn’t make this right.
    I am a mother and at that moment I had so many things racing through my mind. Preserv life, I went straight to the boy who was conscious and breathing however had multiple stab wounds to his back and was struggling to breath due to choking on his own blood. We held him in recovery position and reassured him all the while I’m thinking as I could feel his pulse weakening “how do you do CPR on someone who’s chest cavity is just filling with blood”.
    Eventually the ambulance arrived and I accompanied the boy in the ambulance.
    I have not slept full night since this, I was asked if I required any debrief by my Sgt and of course my reply was no.
    I have no idea why I am finding his incident so harrowing as I have been to worse, this one has simply just got me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. policecommander Post author

      Someone once told me that the normal, natural thing is to feel these things. And feel them deeply. The danger, as a police officer, is that you somehow become immune to it all. And that should never be… Just find someone you know and trust to talk it through with…


    2. Dixie Hughes

      I retired from the Job 16 years ago, and I’ve been where you are. More importantly I’ve seen the damage caused by not “talking about it.” My advice to you is, go back to your sergeant and say “Yes”. We all, at some point in out lives, to a greater or lesser extent, experience Trauma. With that will come Stress; Post Traumatic Stress, (PTS) That is natural and common to us all. It has been well proven that by far the most effective way of avoiding adding the “D” for Disorder, to that. is to talk about the trauma with those who understand…

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Diana Adams

    I have been on the other end of the Officer who had to tell me my Husband had died, He was wonderful (how do they do this day in and day out).
    The stress they go through must be HUGH . The Police Force became my Family as well .

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Moira Dunlop

    I had the privilege …and it was a genuine one….to be a civilian working with the police. I was in an office with radio contact with the young men and women who step out each day to uphold the law for the benefit of the many. Sadly as the blue line has thinned and the ‘few’ have risen in numbers and behaviour has become more violent and indiscriminate it was all too often painful to hear the voice of a lone officer dealing with a threatening situation. To hear the sad tone delivering the update that the welfare check has changed category.Hearing the genuine pain in a voice from one who was first on scene at traffic incident. Yes….first and foremost human beings.These young people have sworn to serve and protect and they do and the only people that they ever put in danger are themselves. They do this with pride and dedication,they are all remarkable people. The sights they have seen…the duties they have performed…the protection and compassion they have offered….and at the end of a long and often harrowing shift…they go home just to come back and do it all again… If there is a God….may He bless and protect each and every one of them.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Doc M

    Having read this wonderfully written piece I, like most I hope, feel very moved and immensely grateful for the job that officers do. The responses also reflect the humanity of those officers who are required to do some of the most difficult jobs imaginable and the pain they often silently endure. What strikes me most and saddens me greatly is that they seem to believe that their duty is to bear their trauma and grief silently and alone. I for one do not believe that a serving (or retired) officer would be any less competent,efficient or dedicated if they expressed distress or requested some support – and I don’t think I am alone in this. Police officers face unique challenges in dealing with violence & human tragedy, but there are other professionals and volunteers who also face similar trauma, if not to the same degree, regularity or variation on a routine basis. The culture of being “stronger” than all others and “not infecting” family & friends needs to be amended to allow staff to be offered and accept the help & support they are entitled to and may need. Many people are very grateful for the job they do – who would not be devastated if we lost 999Police? – and wonder/doubt if we could do their job. I do believe that most would never wish for those who put themselves forward for this career to be damaged by it with no offer of help.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Bryan

    I am retired now but something that still pains me is from early in my service when I dealt with a fatal RTC, very unexpected, wasn’t much damage to the vehicle but the young female driver had broken her neck and, as was the procedure back then, I ended up going with her body to the hospital where I sat with her for a number of hours pending the arrival of family. While there I was tasked with going through her pockets and bag in which I found her diary which I looked through for next of kin details. Seeing the plans she had in her diary for the following days and weeks I couldn’t then, and I can’t now, quite come to terms with how she was alive one minute, full of hopes and plans, her whole life ahead of her, and then ….. nothing, dead. It didn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, ….. she had swerved to avoid a rabbit in the road, lost control, and went backwards into a car coming the other way, breaking her neck as her head snapped back over the (incorrectly) placed headrest… how pointless is that in the grand scheme of life and death… 18 years old, Isabel was her name, I can still see her now, 25 years later and I still don’t understand it…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. policecommander Post author

      Some of the stories in the blog are 20 or more years old… I still remember so many of the little details… In some way or another, you always carry them with you.


  12. Alphonse Rollin

    And then they say police officers are heartless. They say they have a weird sense of humour. They say there is a very high percentage of divorce among the Force. Yes because I was one, in a different country and we have there the same problems, the same situations, the same emotions and we have to cope, day after day, for a long number of years. Bloody coppers!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Pete Meakin

    And yet those that lead our Country accuse of scare mongering .I bet a certain lady will never read what Officers go through again and again without fear or prejudice. A job like no other ? More like a life like no other.
    Thank you John for highlighting the highs and lows of a British bobby.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. mattjohnsonauthor

    A short break from editing my second novel brought me the good fortune to find this site. I have re-blogged and shared it. Wonderfully descriptive, it tells it how it is and from the same kind of professionals that the Home Secretary accuses of crying wolf.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Simon

    I am a coppers son. Dad was at deptford p district. He also had some hard nights one was trying to get to burning people in a house round the corner from the nick in the 70s. He tryed in vain. He still has nightmares from this he’s now 67 retired in 99. He was always had pride in his appearance and job. My brother is 19 ha been in the job since 93. He also has tackled armed dangerous people. It’s like a job like no other but may thinks there trying to scare monger no there not the moral is horible the jobs f@@ked. Well it’s defenatly is after the way how the system is wrecking this once great job. Nice story above though gov. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  16. jenglefield

    What a well written piece. I m sat here fighting back the tears whilst doing the less traumatic side of the ‘job’- paperwork. This piece especially resonates for me because my husband (also in the job) retires next month and I know recently some of the incidents he has been to have been playing on his mind. If only those in power who could reform the police service for the good of all of us, officers and members of the public alike would really listen to the experts, those of all ranks who do this job day in day out.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Dave Walters

    Sir, thank you for telling our story so well. As one of those who were there at one of your stories above (Arsenal v Barcelona) I can vouch that every word is true. I wish that this could be conveyed to those who govern our country and run our establishment, so they can see that we just don’t attend work, but work consumes every minute of our lives both on and off duty in one way or another. Keep up the good work in expressing the trials and tribulations of us all.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. MetPC

    I have struggled to hold back tears & stay professional while dealing with a stranger rape. I welled up again when I learned the DNA samples I took got the suspect nicked 2 days later (subsequently convicted)…hard to articulate why, very raw emotion / pride at having made a difference. I’ve looked into the eyes of a man with a bloody knife in each hand having just stabbed his partner 50+ times & watched while doctors & paramedics perform a futile attempt to resuscitate her. I have been bitten. I have been punched so hard I got concussion. I have been threatened with a knife. I have been spat on. I have been called a racist many times (I am not). I am frequently asked “haven’t you got anything better to do?”, well with no murderers or terrorists in the immediate vicinity, right now the answer the answer is no, I do not. I have worked 18 hour shifts. I have had to write notes at 10am after a night shift when every molecule in my body just wants sleep. I have fought with criminals. I have fought with people suffering a mental breakdown. I have received letters of thanks. I have received complaints. I have adjudicated petty disputes. I have run down the street chasing missing persons. I have been inside addresses so filthy words can barely describe them. I’ve seen inside the pitiful flats of those who’ve died alone. I have been deeply frustrated by bureaucracy & politics. I’ve seen budget cuts make our lives very hard. I’ve made & heard some very very dark remarks…it’s how we cope. I’ve grumbled to colleagues about my frustrations. It’s all very different to the desk job I did before I became a cop. Indeed a job like no other.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. policecommander Post author

      Just an extraordinary response… I’m very grateful. I guess, in some ways, these are the stories of us all… My very best wishes – and my appreciation for all of it…


  19. David Zinzan

    John, very emotive and it brings back memories. If only the public / politicians really understood that this incredible job is about. Negative headlines are everywhere these days, corruption, old investigations under scrutiny, leadership. Your column helps to address the imbalance. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Andy

    I’ve just found this blog. I retired in 2013 aged 47 and totally burnt out. This blog brought me to tears as I now remember the RTA I went to in 1999. A man driving on a 60mph road bent down to pick up something up and swerved into the opposite lane causing carnage. I can still smell the oil and burning rubber and see the blood and other bodily matter on the road. I see the men who were in a truck laid dead by the side of the road who appear to have no injuries but we’re basically torn in half internally by the lap belts they had been wearing. What I couldn’t get out of my mind was the total randomness of the incident. One minute they are just going about their lives, planning the night etc and then someone does something stupid..3 people dead but not the stupid driver. Obviously I was running around like a headless chicken but wanted to kill my Inspector when he arrived on scene some 25minutes later and the first thing he says is “Where’s your hat?”

    Keep it going and thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Garo

    This was very humbling and touching to read. I fought back tears, for those who you wrote about and for you too John. You shared your humanity with us and it is very admirable, thank you. I wish you would write more, I would love to read your stories and experiences as painful as they may be. We the public are very ignorant when it comes to the difficulties that you and your colleagues face every day. You will be in my prayers today, hoping that our Lord protects you and those you love from all harm.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Mark

    Sir, this is a very moving post and is a great expression of who you are.
    . I was very fortunate to be inspired by you as a special constable in one of those boroughs you mentioned. You as a senior officer on your police pedal cycle just cycling along to jobs we were at to support us by simply being present has taught me a lot about leadership and service years later.
    Thank you for all you continue to do Sir.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Roland White

    My son was a Special Constable, now he has become. PCSO,
    Policing is not just a job it is a vocation, with dedicated hard workin men and women doing the best they can, all day and every day, keeping us all safe. Thank goodness for Robert Peel and his foresight, and thank God for all Police Officers everywhere

    Liked by 2 people


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