Barling & Wakering Heritage - Memoirs of a Detached Beat Officer

Life as a Detached Beat Officer for 26 Years

The Career of PC 865 Paul John Wilgress


Paul joined Hornchurch as a Police Cadet in 1963 and was soon transferred to Romford. In 1965 Romford was taken over by the Metropolitan Police and Paul had the choice of transferring to the Metropolitan Police or staying with Essex which involved transferring to an Essex Police Station. He opted to stay with Essex and moved to Grays, still as a Cadet. He volunteered many times without pay to act as ‘observer’ in the Area Car tours of duty. There was a distinct hierarchy within the lower ranks then, dictated by several things including the model of car and its purpose. A beat constable looked up to the local Area Car driver who drove a black Austin A60 Cambridge. Above him was the Traffic Car driver who drove an Austin Westminster or even a ‘Mini Cooper’ and it was always a privilege to act as an observer on their tours of duty.

Life as a cadet included many various character building courses, the longest of these being a month’s Outward Bound course at the Mountain Rescue Centre on Lake Ullswater in the Lake District. Other courses such as deep sea sailing were shorter in duration at only a week at a time.

Eynsham

Paul attended the Police Training College at Eynsham, Oxfordshire in January 1966 and graduated after 13 intense weeks of training in March. He had to learn about 90 definitions which had to be word perfect and it was a common sight to see all of the recruits walking around the grounds reciting these definitions.

He had to parade in front of the main building every morning and was inspected for cleanliness and a good turnout. Uniform had to be pressed before the parade and this was normally done in the evenings. Boots had to be ‘bulled’ and this was an arduous process using spit and polish to achieve a perfect shine. Some of the ex-forces personnel came in very handy in teaching this process. Marching and drill practice had to be perfect and having never done it before required a lot of practice to get it right, although Paul found it easier than most because he had been in the Scout Movement for most of his youth.

He was initially posted to Grays but was granted his wish to go to South Ockendon which at the time had been developed under the GLC Slum Clearance initiative.

Ockendon

Paul spent 3 years at Ockendon working a shift pattern with four other men. Upon taking up duty he was very conscious of how young he looked, so he grew a beard to give himself a more mature look and confidence in himself when dealing with people. Paul perceived ‘Them and Us’ mentality between certain members of the public and the Police and this induced a great‘ camaraderie’ in each shift.

Whilst there, he was awarded the ‘Wilson Trophy’ for restraining a young, epileptic man threatening his mother whilst wielding an axe. The man was taken to a Mental Institution. The Wilson Trophy is awarded in recognition of performing the most commendable or meritorious act during the year.

One thing that concerned Paul early on in his career was the fact that the standard issue handcuffs were the traditional fixed size and he soon found that prisoners with thin wrists could slip out of them, thus, he bought his own ratchet style cuffs.

He regards his days at Ockendon to be very happy and it was a good place to gain police experience.

At that time, it was a Police practice (now ceased) to check front and back doors of shops and factories twice during the Night shift and each Officer soon learnt to place cotton across the alleyways and gates and pieces of card in the door jam. A return trip to the premises would disclose if there had been an entry. Woe betide any Officer who failed to find a burglary before the owner..!!

Paul would set up road blocks at various places for an hour at a time and this initiative proved very successful in uncovering several instances of crime leading to prisoners being taken into custody.

About 1968, Policing changed to the ‘panda car’ system with personal radios for each Officer. The ‘panda cars’ for Grays Division were all white/blue, Ford 105e models (with the reverse angled rear windows) and the twelve cars for the whole division were driven from HQ, Chelmsford in convoy to Ockendon before distribution.

Hullbridge

Paul wanted a ‘Detached Beat’ position (an Officer who lived and worked his country beat from his own Office attached to the Police House) and asked for a list of vacant positions. He visited several different village Detached Beats including Silver End near Braintree, Fyfield, Moreton, etc. Hullbridge was on the River Crouch and this was the selling point for Paul.

He was posted to Hullbridge 1st March 1969 on the day he married Stella. He did not move in that day but spent a nights honeymoon in London and next day went to live in the Hullbridge Police Station. The house had been empty for 3 months and he moved furniture in gradually. It was a Velocette motorcycle Station but Paul had no motorcycle licence. A course was soon arranged but in the meantime he had to cover his beat by bicycle or on foot. As soon as Paul received his motorcycle licence he was qualified to ride the police issue Velocette LE 200cc Water Cooled Four Stroke motorcycle. The mode of police transport changed through the years to include the following:

Hullbridge beat extended up to the south bank of the River Crouch along to Battlesbridge then south to Rawreth Lane along to Hullbridge Road and follows the railway line to Plumberow Avenue and Beckney Farm Chase in the east.

A two-shift system was introduced about 1972 and the other Officer lived in another police-house in Hullbridge and although a four shift system was experimented with, this was soon discarded. Rayleigh eventually took over the detached beat responsibility from Rochford.

Between 1990 and 1995 Paul still worked at Hullbridge but travelled in from the house that he bought in Beeches Road, Rawreth. The last police officer to work and live in the police station was Andy Thacker.

Main responsibilities at Hullbridge

The definition of a Constable includes his responsibilities of: the prevention and detection of crime and ‘keeping the peace’. The more mundane duties of a ‘Detached Beat’ Officer included running a small Office with daily ‘surgery’ hours and dealing with:

Paul had the opportunity to use his discretion with the way that he dealt with petty crime. Although lots of offences were committed by the younger generation they were often dealt with unofficially. Paul was a firm believer in verbal warnings and other mild forms of punishment, always followed by a talk with the offender’s parents. He was conscious of how a youth’s chances of future employment aspirations could be compromised had a court sentence been inflicted. Paul was often thanked personally by some of these individuals at a later date.

One of the more dramatic incidents he dealt with was a situation where a man committed suicide at home, by a gun to his head with the inevitable gory result. This just demonstrates one of the most bizarre and extreme situations that a police officer has to contend with as part of his job.

The usual police officer’s wife does not get involved in day to day incidents but being the wife of a Detached Beat Officer exposed her to many situations and Paul and Stella several times were involved in dealing with domestic and other disputes where each party would be comforted/advised separately, in rooms of the police house and the Office by both of them. Stella remembers many times assisting members of the public with all kinds of request for advice or assistance.

It was at Christmas time that Paul realised how much his presence in the village was appreciated and this was demonstrated by various gifts that were anonymously left on his doorstep.

Paul retired in March 1995 after 30 years’ service, 26 of them as a detached beat officer at Hullbridge.

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