Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A Former Officer and a Gentleman

New epilogue to the Kindle edition of STAB PROOF SCARECROWS.

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It’s a freezing cold day in the first week of January and I sit in the foyer of Force HQ and wait.

James Wilne, the Federation Guy sits across from me looking, for the first time since I’ve known him, a little bit nervous. This is a man I’ve seen talk frankly to Inspectors and Superintendents and use their first names, even though he’s a detective constable. He’s never shown anything but eagerness or calm when dealing with those who prevent or hinder the fair treatment of his flock…but today he’s uneasy.

It’s because we are waiting to be ushered into the presence of an Assistant Chief Constable, a privilege which I’m told has never before been granted to a former probationary constable.

This one is the boss of Professional Standards and, after 21 months of letters and meetings with his underlings, he has finally and very reluctantly agreed to meet me for a much belated Exit Interview that I have flown over from Italy to attend.

I resigned in May 2008 and this is my 4th attempt to get justice against my Professional Development Unit sergeant for the way he treated me during probation. My old area’s Senior Management refused to see me when I left, stating in an email that they “don’t feel the need nor have the appetite to discuss this matter any further”.

Complaint 1 was dealt with by the PDU Inspector while I was still in The Job. He tried to smooth out the creases by doing virtually nothing and assumed the fact that I’d had the guts to officially stand up for myself would result in his sergeant backing off. It didn’t and in fact made him a lot worse.

Number 2 was five months after I quit where, after having suicide thoughts and drinking excessively, I snapped out of the depression and wrote to the Chief Constable using words like “immeasurably distressed” and “lack of dignity, integrity or fairness”. That was replied to by Human Resources who stated curtly that after interviewing the people I’d complained about and looking at the files those same people had on me, they had found no evidence to support my allegations and now considered the matter closed.

Number 3 was with Professional Standards and the investigating Chief Inspector made it quite clear that it is against Force policy to allow former officers to raise complaints about how they were treated and he was doing me a favour even speaking to me. At the meeting, with James Wilne as my wingman, he said there was nothing they could do except keep my evidence on file in case that sergeant ever bullied anyone else.

I wrote to the Chief Constable again and for some reason an Assistant Chief answered saying he was not willing to see me. I replied that his desires were irrelevant as my letter was addressed to a boss two levels above him and I would now simply go to the local police authority and the media.

A week later the Deputy Chief wrote back saying casually that he had “asked” the ACC to speak to me in person.

Now the big day has finally arrived.

The elderly receptionist picks up the desk phone as it rings and after a brief chat looks over to us and says “can you go and wait in the canteen. He’ll meet you there shortly”.

James stands up and smiles, raising his eyebrows at me. We move downstairs to the canteen used by the Big Boys. I’d never seen it before today and it’s much nicer than the one in the training college down the street with better furniture and even some flowers in vases dotted about.

We sit at a table after getting a cup of coffee. The canteen is nearly empty and as we sip our drinks James nudges me and points to a bloke sitting near the door reading a newspaper. “Look” he whispers “that’s the Deputy Chief Constable”, as if we are bird watching and he’s just spotted a rare migratory species.

I look over at the bloke’s shoulders. One pip and a crown. I turn back.

“Nope, that’s a Chief Super’. Wrong bling”.

James frowns “you sure?” then shrugs and continues sipping his coffee.

Suddenly he puts down his cup and struggles to his feet, smiling broadly and extending his hand to a small man in his early 50s holding a large file under one arm.  Neatly groomed and trimmed. Crisp white shirt. Laurel wreath epaulettes. Tidy moustache. This is the ACC.

 He shakes James’s hand.

“Morning sir. Can I get you a coffee?”

“No thank you, let me get you fellows one”. He turns to me and doesn’t look me in the face but extends his hand which I shake.

Great, I think. Another waste of time. Oh well, can’t say I didn’t try.

He moves over to the serving area and takes a tray. James sits down again seeming more relaxed now. Shortly, the ACC returns with three cups of Lavazza and takes the seat opposite me.

“Now” he says clearing his throat. “We can start this here and if necessary move upstairs to my office”.

I am becoming slightly pissed off, mainly due to the fact that he appears to wish to conduct the Exit Interview I fought so long for…in the staff eating area.

“Before we begin, can I just ask you. What exactly do you want?”

“To be listened to. That’s all. I’m not after money”.

He smiles and for the first time looks me in the face. “That’s good to know. We have been sued before you know”.

James then interjects with “are you aware of the issues that brought us here sir?”

The ACC points to the fat folder in front of him, then glances at my even fatter one next to me. “I have been given some files by the various departments involved, yes”.

“It’s like he says sir, it’s just about being treated fairly. I believe he doesn’t want to make anyone’s life difficult, he just wants justice”.

The ACC nods and then says “well, the simplest thing to do is that you tell me what you want to say and we take it from there”.

I begin.

It takes about half an hour and the whole time the ACC simply sits there in silence and nods occasionally while I talk. I tell him about how I was suffering from a slipped disc and despite being off sick for three months and in a wheelchair and being put on a Non Confrontational risk assessment by Occupational Health when I finally got back to work, I was given an action plan by my sergeant for avoiding confrontation.

I tell him about a meeting where I was reduced to tears and cross examined on my motivation for joining the force by a civilian brought in to back up the sergeant’s opinions.

I talk about the fact that I was picked up on everything I did, including using complicated language and walking with a “cocky strut”. I tell him how the sergeant tried to entrap me into lying to him so he could have me fired.

I finish with telling him how angry I was to be accused in writing of lying about my involvement as a Special constable with the City of London police in the aftermath of July 7th 2005’s terrorist attacks, prior to joining this force.

The ACC waits until he is certain I have finished and then says slowly. “There are many things you’ve just said that I can’t prove or disprove. It’s your word against theirs. However…if you tell me that they picked you up on how you walked then I have to believe you because you couldn’t have made that up”.

Before I can retort he continues. “Sometimes in this job people are attracted to the office of PDU sergeant for the wrong reasons. The position attracts those who aren’t suitable for the role. That sergeant may have resented the fact that you knew you were more intelligent than he is”.

I am genuinely surprised by this. He’s not only listened to me, he’s actually responding fairly and is clearly speaking his mind.

He says “I promise you now that that sergeant will not hurt anyone else again. While that won’t help you I give you my word that he won’t be able to do this any more. He will be supervised more closely in future”.

Jesus! This is far and beyond what I’d expected. I glance around and realise that the canteen is now full, but no one has asked to join our table. One or two people are standing up to eat rather than daring to disturb the ACC’s lunch room meeting.

“Thank you for that” I reply “and above all thank you for seeing me today”.

He smiles wryly and says “it hasn’t been via the most pleasant of methods though”.

“Regardless of that, you’re here now and I thank you for that”.

He thinks for a moment then adds “I have to close two PDUs down this year. In light of what you’re telling me I will definitely be closing that one”.

I decide to try and break the ice a little further. “We’ve met before” I remind him “you inspected me once”.

He looks touched by the fact I remember that and asks “did I speak to you?”

“Yes, you asked me if I was going to maintain the same high standards of appearance once I became substantive”.

He nods approvingly and smiles again then asks “is there anything else you want to tell me?”

“No…well, yes. Did you know that they told me that I was unable to communicate with teenagers because I didn’t collude with a kid I caught fare dodging while on a Diversity placement”.

He winces at this and puts his head in his hands, shakes his head then looks up. “Ok, I will feed all this back to Professional Standards and your former area”. He turns to James and shakes his hand “and thank you for coming today. It takes a lot to support a colleague in a crisis”.

James smiles and replies “thank you sir. I don’t think either of us ever thought we’d be able to have a sit-down with you”.

We stand up and James walks out to the reception area. I struggle to put the large A4 folder back in my bag. The ACC looks at me and says “maybe you need a bigger bag?”

I extend my hand for the final time and he shakes it. “Thank you again for seeing me. This is over for me now”.

“You are very welcome. I’m just sorry it took so long for you get the closure you need to enable you to move on”.

He nods and moves off. I go out to join James in the foyer. He looks happy but still a little nervous.

“What did you think?”

“Couldn’t have been better” he replies “seriously, well done”.

I reach into my bag. I had a book published three days prior to this meeting. I brought a signed copy for the ACC, expecting the meeting to be yet another fob off. The book is all about my treatment at the hands of this constabulary and while I’ve used my real name I have left the force anonymous and changed all the names of the guilty, the innocent and the indifferent.

I take a pen out and sit down. James looks at me puzzled.

“I brought this copy for him” I explain. “If he’d tried to fob me off I would have just put it down in front of him and walked out. However…he was a gentleman and that would have felt like farting in his face”.

I sign the book with a longer dedication above my autograph and hand it to James. It says “without you none of this would have been possible”.

He reads it and looks up at me. “Thanks. Probably best you didn’t give it to him”.

“Still, he’ll no doubt find out about it soon anyway”.

James laughs. “I think half of this force will be buying a copy so don’t worry about that”.

He walks me out to the front lawn and we shake hands. “Thanks for everything” I say. “You’ve supported me long after you didn’t have to”.

“Don’t be silly” he replies “you look after yourself”.

We go our separate ways and I walk slowly to the train station to get the 1.15 to the airport to fly home.

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