A snapshot of working the Castle Hedingham beat – By Peter Caulfield
“Caulfield, get your backside in here now!”
When the Chief Inspector at Braintree police station yells, you respond – fast. As it happened it wasn’t bad news or a griefy job, instead he offered me one of the district’s most coveted postings – to join the small team of Bobbies at Castle Hedingham.
So it was that in 1984 (I can’t remember the exact date) I started my first shift at the police station in Queen Street. Within minutes of meeting the formidable, but wonderful, Sergeant Dave Hambling, he gave me my first job.
“We had a burglary last night. George (name changed) almost certainly did it. Nick him and interview him.” As I reached for the keys to the patrol car he added, “Don’t bother with the car, just phone him up.”
In disbelief I dialled the number. Making an arrest by telephone? Surely not.
“Is that George?”
He replied with a familiar rural Essex drawl, “Yerse”
I introduced myself and said, “There was a burglary last night.”
“We think you did it.”
“Yes. You’re under arrest; will you come up the nick please?”
“Awright boi, sees yer in a minute.”
True to his word, George turned up for his interview, was charged and appeared in the court a few weeks later. And that set the tone for the next ten years - Getting to know the people, learning who was likely to be a problem, who the troublemakers were, which families needed support, which youngsters needed bringing into line and which ones required a gentler touch, which residents had standing in the village and which ones didn’t but thought they did! It was, and probably still is, a diverse and fascinating community.
One evening I accompanied Sergeant Hambling to a suspect’s house to search his garage for stolen property. Having found nothing we left and after twenty minutes, Dave said, “Right, let’s go back and search again.” When I asked why, he said, “He knew we were coming so he hid it all. He’ll have put it all back by now.” The look on the suspect’s face was a picture when we returned, especially when we found all the stolen goods in the garage, just as Dave had predicted.
Of course later that year the Police and Criminal Evidence Act came into force which would have prevented us from conducting that little ploy. It was a piece of legislation that saw the end of common-sense policing.
I always tried to do an hour’s foot patrol every day; although in reality it was usually about three times a week. One Christmas Eve I set out about 7pm and strolled towards Church Ponds. Snow was falling and was lying thick on the rooftops and across the ground. The tree branches bowed under its weight and all the gravestones in the churchyard had thick drifts leaning into them. It was so quiet; the only sound was the snow crunching softly under my size 10 boots.
A resident appeared in his doorway and invited me in for a “Winter Warmer.” I accepted and found myself in a tiny living room with a log fire roaring in a massive inglenook fireplace. I removed my helmet, gloves, scarf, and greatcoat and accepted a sherry. A long time later I continued my patrol. I had only gone a few feet when another resident invited me in. This happened several more times that evening and by the time I got to the other end of Church Ponds it was one in the morning!
I spent a fantastic ten years there and wouldn’t have left had I not been posted to Halstead where they were short of response drivers. The strange thing is, you’re never really sure what, if any impact, you’ve made until after you’ve left. A few years ago I was contacted via Facebook by a woman who remembered me. She was a young teen back then and she credited me with keeping her on the straight and narrow. She had found an engagement ring was going to keep it. I sat her down and we talked. I don’t remember what I said, but apparently it made an impression on her and she changed her behaviour from then on.
People will often complain that they never see police officers on the beat anymore, but the fact is, you have to be in the right place at the right time to see them. Remember at the start of this piece I said I tried to do an hour’s foot patrol every day? Well, on my very last foot patrol, on my very last day in the village, an elderly lady stepped out of her house and said, “Well bugger me! I’ve lived in this village for fifty years and you’re the first policeman I’ve ever seen walking the beat!”
Well you can’t win them all.