“Chaos, I know it’s early and you said you were committed first thing, but we’ve got an job coming in on your patch, can you turn out please ….” came the call over the radio from the Control Room at 07.12 precisely.
Twelve minutes into a shift when I’m supposed to have been written off to complete three file upgrades, all of which rolled in whilst I was on leave last week and were due back to our intrepid bunch of Case File Prep Clerks just as quick – sorry, typing error in previous few words – I inadvertently used the word ‘clerks’ as in the plural. This would have been the case some two years ago however due to the current ‘fiscal climate’, there is one poor sod trying to do the work of three !!
In addition, this ‘streamlined file prep’ malarkey works well …. if you’re a fifth floor office dweller who no longer has to worry themselves with the menial task of producing half a rain-forests worth of paper with the same information written on half a dozen or more forms, just because someone else further along the judicial system than the police hasn’t grasped the concept of turning pages but hey ho that’s where we’re at …..
“Yeah, no problem, what’s the details ?” I replied in my always keen, first day back from leave, I’ve 200+ emails to ignore (sorry I mean go through) and it’s still almost dark outside kind of voice.
“Well it’s a bit of a strange one” said the controller, actually in quite a strange sort of voice. “Dog walker along the lane at the back of the old quarry (which, oddly enough, and as would be known by anyone with the slightest bit of local knowledge is called ….. Quarry Lane) says they’ve found a baby in a bush, we assume it’s some sort of toy but could you go and have a look and see what you can find please”
Thinking to myself ‘bang goes the peaceful start to the day then’ I might as well go and sort this out then get back and carrying on my deforestation plans before the day does get busy I grabbed a set of panda keys off the board (the only set as it happens – our ‘other’ patrol vehicle aka ‘The Shed’ was in workshops again having had one part of another, or more likely several, fall off again) and headed off in the general direction of hopefully, another ‘call with good intent’.
The only niggle I had in the back of my mind was extensive knowledge of the uncanny ability of early morning joggers and dog walkers to find dead bodies lurking in the undergrowth in the most obscure and ‘off the beaten track’ places.
It was a good twenty minute drive from our new ‘operating base’ to the location of the incident, so there was always the chance by the time I got there, said dog walker, or more likely dog, would have sniffed the ‘suspicious package’, declared it safe and moved along. I wasn’t to be that lucky though as I found out when I turned off the road and onto the glorified dirt track which is all that Quarry Lane really is.
Immediately on turning the corner, two ladies in rather brightly coloured / garish / luminous (delete as appropriate) woolly jumpers came running towards we, hands waving frantically in the air and shouting ….. shouting something, I have no idea what. Have you ever tried the concept of listening to people from a good distance away, whilst bouncing around on a pot-holed track in a clattering, banging diesel-engined car that sounds and feels as if it’s about to fall apart at any minute ?
“Quickly, come quickly officer” I could make out the shouts of one woman as I got closer. The others was the far more predictable “I thought you’d have been here ages ago, you haven’t even bothered putting your blue lights on”, we saw you coming down the bypass”.
“Good morning Ladies” was my always courteous response to both “what have we actually discovered along here then ?”
“Don’t tell me they didn’t tell you” retorted lady number two, “God do your lot know what they’re doing about anything these days?”. This was going to be fun.
Anyway, I alighted my patrol vehicle to calls of “come on, come on” as my two new friends began to run back along the track with far more enthusiasm than could have been healthy for them. As we rounded the first bend in the track I saw four more people, along with several of their pet pooches, all stood there, in the middle of the lane, and now staring in my direction. I could see the look of absolute relief on their faces with every single size 11 footstep I took nearer to them, each of them beckoning me on quicker with their waving hands.
When I reached the group, and saw the focus of all their attention, I honestly didn’t know whether to be astounded, amazed or ashamed.
There, on the ground, tucked slightly off the lane itself, under the (not very good cover from the elements) edge of the hedgeline was a small baby.
A very real, alive, kicking and not screaming, but smiling and gurgling baby. Wrapped in a very clean, white wrap-around blanket. At this point I had no idea just how young or old the baby was, suffice to say it didn’t appear to be newborn.
Now let’s just dwell on this point for a moment. After getting the call from the Control Room, it’s taken me about 20 minutes to reach the location of the incident. Add to that the time taken for one or more of these people now stood in front of me to have discovered this abandoned bundle of joy, probably discuss between themselves what they have found and what on earth they are going to do about it, and whether it’s ‘their problem or not’ in the first place. Hopefully they’ve already had a good look around to make sure whoever left the baby there in the first place wasn’t close by watching, heck even having a wee the other side of the bush !!
On top of that, you then have the physical time taken for someone to call the police, the call taker to record the incident onto the police computer system, and then pass the job to the despatch desk who then has to read the details, grade and then find a resource to send. We can probably safely add a good ten minutes on for all those processes. So there’s around thirty minutes elapsed between the baby being found under a bush and the first police officer arriving at the scene.
Now these were not young people stood around looking at a very young child on the floor in front of them. We are talking half a dozen people aged between mid 40’s to late 60’s. Some of whom I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest have had children of their own. Some may even have grandchildren. Yes between all that age, life experience and maturity, NOT ONE OF THEM HAD THE BASIC NOUSE OR COMMON SENSE TO PICK THE POOR BLOOMIN’ CHILD UP OFF THE FLOOR, OFFER IT SOME COMFORT OR AT A VERY BASIC LEVEL, KEEP THE POOR LITTLE MITE WARM !!!
So what’s the first thing I do …. scoop the little baby up whilst at the same time distributing Darth Vader-esque death stares at the combined forces of insensibility and incompetence stood before me.
“Be careful with it” one of the onlookers called. “Do you know what you’re doing” was the comment from another. IT ????? Luckily, by a fluke of nature and the necessities of the furtherance of mankind, I have had the benefits of parenthood on more than one occasion, but the temptation to respond with more than one comment that certainly wouldn’t be repeatable on here sat very firmly on the edge of my lips.
Having got my new best friend and placed him/her safely onto the front seat of my panda and got the heater going on low just to make sure the infant was comfortable, I was straight on the radio calling for assistance; more units, supervisory attendance, make the Force Duty Commander aware and get me a dog and helicopter like yesterday. Chances were high that whoever had left the babe in a bush would have wanted to make sure they were found and safe. Hopefully that same person would still not be far away.
Just about this point two cars raced up the track behind me. Surely this would be someone connected to the family of the child; mom having got home in a distressed state and blurted out what she had done in desperation, with other members of her family trying to regain control of a very sad and difficult family breakdown. But no, it was more friends of the ‘finding party’ who they had called to spread their gossip, and like rubberneckers at a road crash, wanted to come along and see the spectacle for themselves.
Having told them, perhaps a little impolitely, to shift their cars off the lane or be prepared to be blocked in by just about every emergency vehicle for miles around, I then turned my attention to rallying the people in front of me into some sort of impromptu search party in order that at the very least, we could check the immediate area before the cavalry arrived. Given their keenness to hang around until I got there, I was somewhat disappointed to all bar one of the people present suddenly became very busying with ‘prior arranged appointments’ or needed to take their budgerigar to the hairdressers and so couldn’t help.
Even obtaining all their details so we could get someone round to speak with them later in the day began to be an uphill task with a sudden ‘not getting involved’ and ‘nothing to do with me’ group attitude forming.
Still, within a very short space of time, Pete arrived, having decided this was a far more urgent task, and a more worthy use of his time and efforts than the Facebook slanging match he had been deployed to by the Control Room. oddly though they didn’t seem to see it that way !
Once Pete was with me, I quickly briefed him on the little info I had been able to obtain from my cluster of well-meaning but no longer very helpful bystanders and set him the task of organising a search party for a potential mother or father nearby; tried to keep a straight face as Pete promptly told me exactly what he thought of their communal lack of action, but in normal Pete style, just loud enough so everyone around could hear quite clearly, and then told him I was off to get my new bestest little friend down to the Childrens Ward at the local hospital where they could give the child a proper check over, some food and more importantly, some warmth and attention.
Pete, even more luckily for me, had a Special Constable with him. A strange breed of Special Constable at that. One that is more than happy to come in at 7am on a weekday morning instead of the usual Friday / Saturday night crowd looking for a bit of fun and action. The extra pair of hands meant I had someone to hold onto the baby whilst I drove (sorry, dear reader, one piece of kit not standard issue in your average panda is a birth to whenever car seat. It’s make-do time !
Now the thing about quarries, just like the one that we were are the rear of, is that they don’t tend to be in the middle of towns; or rather they don’t tend to build towns right on the doorstep of quarries. After all the quarry is going to be where the raw material is and the town is going to be just far enough away so as not to have to put up with the noise, dust and disruption of heavy vehicles and plant machinery going past your window every two minutes.
Being away from a town also commonly mean quarries and the like can be close to local authority borders and boundaries; in the case of our quarry, right on the border, with our location being in one local authority area, and the front entrance, offices and access road in another.
From a policing point of view that causes another issue. Even within the same force, police ‘divisions’ or ‘command units’ do tend to follow local authority borders. As a result of this, it’s common that the two neighbouring divisions will be allocated different radio channels. It makes perfect sense of course – each area is very busy in it’s own right and no one wants to have the airwaves cluttered up with detail and info on something happening miles away in another divisions area.
The problem arises when you actually police on the ‘borderlands’. Something that can be happening just a few metres the other side of the divisional boundary will not be drawn to your attention, even if you were just a few metres your side of the same piece of boundary – simply because it is being controlled by another Controller and essentially, it’s none of your business. Typically specialist resources like Firearms Units and Dog handlers will have extra police radios in their vehicles so they can monitor more than one channel at a time. And it was pretty lucky for us on this morning that one switched on dog handler was doing exactly that ….
Whilst on route to us Ralph, the Dog Handler, along with his faithful pooch Rox, had been re-routed by the neighbouring division to a concern for welfare at Rowsons Aggregates, Valley Rise, where staff had reported a distressed woman wandering around in their machinery yard. Now Ralph doesn’t normally function properly until his fifth cup of disgustingly sweetened coffee but even he was awake enough on this occasion to be able to point out to the Control Room that they were sending him to the front entrance of the same place where we were all at the rear ! It appeared as simple as because neither the company name nor the address included the word ‘quarry’ in it, combined with a different postcode and differing ‘policing divisions’, no one in the call taking or despatch areas had yet made the connection.
Very swiftly, the majority of attending police officers were directed to the main entrance to the quarry and began a systematical search of the premises. Thankfully, at that time of the morning, quarrying operations hadn’t started and so as staff arrived for work, they too were co-opted into the search which was a handy thing really, as it was a vast site to cover as quickly as possible and the workers undoubtedly had a far better knowledge of the layout that we ever could.
Listening in via the radio was very frustrating, and I have to admit to feeling somewhat ‘left out of the action’ despite having the responsibility for the safe delivery of the focus of this entire incident. The Control Room had rung ahead so Staff from the Children’s Ward were waiting at the Hospital entrance for my arrival ready to charge charge of my passenger – and to be fair I was equally as glad to hand the little one over.
I hung around long enough to establish the baby was a he, was guestimated at being about 8-12 weeks old and was extremely clean and well looked after – the nurses reckoned he couldn’t have been on the ground for more than a few minutes at most – something which my skilled detective nose had already considered on the basis that the white robe in which he was wrapped was sparklingly clean. Chances were, we decided, that whoever had left him under the bush had waited until they saw someone heading in their direction and then placed him there to be found very quickly.
Despite all this good news, I was desperately keen to get out of the hospital and find out what was going on with the search for the lady in the quarry. I don’t know about all areas, but our local hospital is a complete deadspot for police radios and so every minute in there was another where I was completely out of the loop.
And so it was. I stepped (or rather ran) out of the front doors of the hospital just as my police radio chirped back into life with the news that Ralph and Rox had located a highly distressed female wandering aimlessly around one of the active and quite inaccessible vertigo inducing areas of the quarry and was calling for other officers to assist him in bringing her to safety. In a strange twist of fate, or maybe just demonstrating the far higher intelligence of dogs, far for adopting the normal aggressive ‘stay still or I’ll eat your face off’ approach Rox normally applies to people, be they the public or fellow police officers when he’s on his working lead, on this occasion Rox clearly sensed the fear, angst and distress in the female and appropriately turned himself back into a three month old, dribbling slobbering, rolling on the floor puppy dog, in an apparent self-induced attempt to put her at her ease.
Once quickly established that lady and child were indeed mother and baby, what followed next was a far too familiar tale of a person driven to the end of their wits/tether/abilities, following the loss of a parent, the breakdown of a relationship, impending redundancy, and goodness knows what else, all in a very short space of time. The signs and cries for help had, as ever, gone un-noticed, or unresolved, and the poor lady had reached that lowest of low points where she clearly felt she could not carry on.
She told Ralph her plan was to make sure little one was taken care of and then fully intended to solve her rapidly deteriorating state of mind by throwing herself several hundred feet into one of the quarry pools.
Never having found myself anywhere near the state of flux that this poor lady found her, I cannot even begin to imagine the thought process that brings a person to this position. I’m equally not sure what it says about the professions who are there to support people in times of crisis, but then again, did they know ? If she were not a ‘regular’ customer of doctors, police, social services, mental health services etc, and this was a singular implosion, how would the statutory services be made aware ?
And what about surrounding family ? Had they not spotted the signs of stress and depression which had led us all to where we were today. Had the lady hidden them all so well that there was nothing to be seen? Had this ‘turn for the worse’ happened on the spur of the moment, that morning? Had, until only a few hours ago, everything seemed happy in the rose garden?
Either way, there was clear evidence that this was a lady who needed help, not hindrance. Protection not punishment.
After being led back to the relative safety of the quarry’s main car park by Rox the Slobber, and checked out by an ambulance crew who had been called to the scene, the young lady was transported to the hospital to be seen by the local Crisis Intervention Team, and hopefully begin some process of support and recovery.
I decided the best thing I could do now was about turn, head back into the Children’s Ward and update the Sister there that mom had been found, safe and well, explained the circumstances as we knew them, and that she was now on route to the very same hospital where we all were, along with her child. The Sister agreed that it was vital that mum and baby be reunited as soon as possible after she arrived, and she gave me her personal assurance that all the necessary buttons would be pressed to get this family the help it so badly needed. Somehow I knew she was determined to make this happen.
In our job, people come and go; we attend soooo many incidents every day that it is impossible to keep track of ‘what happened next’ or even remember many of the jobs a single officer has attended. In fact, due to a multitude of obstacles, normally shoe-boxed under the catchall heading of Data Protection, it’s actually a nigh impossibility to find out how a case you may have been involved with from the start has progressed. This case, of course, was going to stay with many of us for a considerable amount of time.
It was probably a fortnight later when I was called down to the front counter at ChaosTown nick. There, waiting for me, was a lady whom I’d never personally met, along with her father, the remaining parent and a small happy, smiling baby sat in a pushchair. “I just wanted to come and say thank you to everyone” the young lady said. “If it wasn’t for you guys I’d probably be dead by now”.
Well, just what can you say to that ? …. her and dad both started to cry as I tried to usher them both into a side room for a bit of privacy and find out that the Ward Sister had been true to her word, and bent over backwards to set up a whole support system around mother and child, keeping them together as a family unit, rather than tearing them apart.
It made me realise that sometimes, just sometimes, we actually do get to do a great job