The Desert Rat Showdown (Scunthorpe style…)

Earlier this week Jeremy Vine sent a tweet out about flat-roofed pubs which brought back a wave of nostalgic memories from my old policing patch…

There’s an old saying “never drink in a flat-roofed pub” – they’re normally linked to depravation, brutalist architecture and violence. Throw in a jumbo dabber pen and that’s a good night out at Mecca Bingo.

I spent many years policing in Scunthorpe – in one of the economically deprived wards (which obviously narrows it down a bit)…called Westcliff.

I’m not into class-based stereotyping but let’s just say…it was an area which an estate agent would describe as ‘vibrant’ –  picture the French Quarter of New Orleans without the… culture, cuisine, or the French…so not all bad.

In Westcliff we had a flat-roofed pub called the Desert Rat, which was way ahead of its time. Sort of a precursor to the dark web where you could pre-order stolen and prohibited items with the minimum of fuss.

Once, as I was on uniform foot patrol, I walked past the Desert Rat and saw four local Wezzy Crew lads approaching – all about 18/19 years old. I knew them it was Bugsy, Stevo, Dicko and Joe Lamps.

Now I’ve noticed in working class places people’s nicknames can be quite direct. Bugsy had larger than average teeth, with an unfortunate overbite, and Joe Lamps had a lazy eye – technically known as amblyopia but Joe Amblyopia would’ve been a rubbish nickname and so everyone called him Joe Lamps.

Nicknames can be cruel but often accurate. In Westcliff everyone teased the Lollipop Lady. That wasn’t her job…. she was just really thin with a round face and so everyone called her that..

The police are no better. My mate was dashing back to the nick cos he was dying for a pee and got diverted to a pub fight. He was punched in the stomach resulting in him peeing himself a little bit. And was known for the rest of his 30 year career as Officer Dribble.

Anyhow, I’d remembered from the shift briefing that Bugsy was wanted for shed burglary. Quite a common offence – until recently the UK was the most burgled country in the EU but we’re not anymore.

I had to make a quick decision and decided to put my hand on him and very politely say: “Bugsy you’re wanted and so you’re now under arrest…hope it’s not inconvenient timing…” cos I’d done my customer service training.

I reached for my ridged handcuffs and a couple of clicks later it was ‘snaps on’. Got on the old talking chest and said: “one male IC – van to Westcliff Precinct please?”

Now I could see his three mates were thinking about their options…and when prisoner Bugsy started to struggle they decided the rescue was on.

It was a bit pushing and pulling, just handbags to start with and so initially I wasn’t too concerned. Turns out this was just them loosening up and stretching out – the warm up phase before the serious exercise begins. I wondered why they were in tracksuits…

I was shuffling backwards but there was some paving work going on and I was backed up to a pile of builders sand (bit concerned that Bugsy might burrow his way to freedom…)

So, I was stuck and that’s when the blows started to rain in…with the karaoke belting out from the Desert Rat it looked like the beach scene from Saving Private Ryan…the musical.

I’d kept one hand on the detained person – because I’m old school and it’s drilled into you never lose your prisoner. I once had a prisoner escape from the back of the police car and I didn’t even notice he’d gone until I’d got back to the nick. He’d wound the window down, reached through, pulled up the handle and scarpered at the traffic lights. I remember people pipping me but I didn’t want to give any eye contact as I didn’t want to pick any work up. After all I’d already got a prisoner (except I hadn’t).

Bit embarrassing but there was no way around it and I had to do the honourable thing and deny I’d ever arrested anybody. Call it a draw. He was only a shoplifter and it was Lidl so he’d only had some sound-alike brands – couple of bars of Inferial Leather soap, box of Jammie Rodgers…and a packet of Prongles. Which didn’t taste too bad actually…

Anyway back to the story – I’m determinedly hanging on to my prisoner Bugsy whilst trying to block the blows coming in with my other arm…and I’m losing. I know unless the cavalry appears over the hill, or at least a couple of PCSOs from Dryden Road, I’m dead in the water.

We’re pulling and tugging and Ryan is going one way then the other and I’m thinking “this is the worst game of pass the parcel ever and to be honest it’s a pretty crap prize”

Then I’m out of ideas…but you must never give up on people. Human nature is a wonderful thing and people can surprise you. There were two blokes in the Desert Rat who happened to look out of the window. They’d no idea who I was but they knew there was a fellow human in trouble…and without hesitation they put down their pints and dashed outside…to join in by giving me a kicking as well.

No doubt encouraged by resident alcoholic Dave on the karaoke delivering his near flawless rendition of the Eye of the Tiger…albeit annunciation can be a slight issue when you’ve only got one tooth in your head.

Now these two more experienced campaigners, veterans of alcohol-based violence if you will, were able to show the younger lads how it should be done and attacked from behind with nice sharp kidney punches under the body armour. There was plenty of room ‘cos I’m a bit of a chubby lad and my stab vest used to ride up and look a bit like a crop-top.

Soon I’m wobbling…and I start to consider the PPE options available to me – no good for someone indecisive like me – I’ll stand there in Tesco staring at the reduced options in the chiller cabinet for 10 minutes in a trance and I just can’t make a decision. Then when I’m dithering at the checkout they’re like “yeah this guy definitely needs help with his packing”.

What I’m saying is I preferred the old days when there was less PPE choice – sometimes I just want to put the spit-hood on myself just for a bit of peace and quiet.

Loads of weaponry to worry about now – and I’m the non-violent type – I’ve got “Be Kind” carved into my police truncheon.

That’s all you were issued with when I joined the police in 1987. A 14 inch wooden truncheon and a big rubber torch – that’s it. And if you struck anybody you’re your truncheon the protocol was that you had to fill in a five-page report and so consequently a lot of people just got twatted with the rubber torch – just to cut down on the paperwork.

So, back to the story and as I reach for my protective equipment I can feel other hands on my utility belt trying to get to my gear – my PPE that is …don’t write your own jokes.

So it’s not good – very embarrassing getting a dose of your own CS gas.

Although I once drew it when it had the nozzle facing the wrong way and blasted myself in the face – it stopped the fight as everyone was laughing hysterically at me taking myself out.

We had to stop calling it gas as it sounds too aggressive – we call it spray like you’re working at the Debenhams counter in Scunthorpe. “Would you like to try the new spray sir? It’s by Police….called Incapacitation..

So I’m still trying to hold on to Bugsy. I’ve got Joe Lamps wind-milling directly in front of me – of course he never landing a single punch – although Dicko and Stevo took a bit of friendly fire. And the two blokes behind me were punching my right hand which was protecting my equipment.

I decided it was time for what we know in the trade as a ‘tactical withdrawal’… because ‘running away’ sounds a tad unprofessional.

It was the only time I ever gave my prisoner up – still in handcuffs. He went straight into the Desert Rat for a pint, and to be feted as a legend – they probably had a pair of bolt croppers behind the bar for the handcuffs. We couldn’t touch him in there – different laws like Vatican City.

The only thing they took was my helmet which got knocked off in the struggle. Later that night CCTV picked up a few lads setting fire to it and dancing around it like some sort of satanic ritual.

So I lived to fight another day – bit bruised and with a fractured finger (trying to hang to my equipment). Which completely ruins the story – “there were six of them giving me a beating and they broke my….little pinky”. That has to be the shittest war story ever…

When the council decided to pull the Desert Rat down there was a petition by the locals – I’d have kept it up as a war memorial.

When it got demolished myself and a couple of colleagues went down in the police van and piled up a bit of rubble up, stuck a flag mounted half-mast on a broom handle and saluted.

I think what I’m saying is…I don’t usually drink in flat-roofed pubs