We were always playing practical jokes on each other, and it was all pretty harmless fun. We had a new PC join us, and he had come almost directly from a well known college, and was quite a reserved lad obviously not being used to our part of London, or these policemen, all young ex-servicemen who could well look after themselves. He seemed a nice enough chap and we all tried to make him feel welcome.
Shortly after him joining us, we were on night duty and he and I were on adjoining beats, when I saw him in the distance trying the back doors of shops along this alleyway. I was walking in for my break, and to help him, I tried a few doors at my end of this long alleyway. Knowing that he hadn't spotted me, I decided to play a trick on him.
Going through this yard door which was always being left unlocked, I checked the shop door and windows then stood quietly behind the door in the yard. Eventually he arrived outside and tried the door, which opened slightly, until I pushed it closed again, which must have startled him. I awaited him rushing in with truncheon raised but he just walked on. Thinking he had gone to phone for help, and a car would arrive pronto, I got out quickly and hid myself in a shop doorway on the main road, to see what would happen. Nothing happened he had gone walking into the station for his break doing nothing about obvious suspects on premises. I knew he hadn't seen me, so it could not have been a double bluff. I thought that young man has got serious trouble.
A few nights later, I was driving the van, which was called the "Black Maria" in those days, when I saw him again walking in for his break, and stopped to give him a lift. When I asked him if everything was alright, what he told me shook me rigid. He had seen a man standing on the corner of Westmoreland Road, and had asked him politely if he had nowhere to sleep. The man had become abusive, telling him to mind his own business, and by clenching his fists had indicated he would be quite ready to assault the officer. I asked the PC if the man had been drinking, and he said he had, so he walked away.
I stopped the van, and told the PC that as soon as he put that uniform on, it was like a suit of armour, and he must never, ever back away from things, otherwise we would have anarchy on the streets. I was furious with him, so turned the van round and drove to Westmoreland Road, where the hulking brute was still there.
I recognised him as a 'heavy' for one of the protection gangs. I said to him, "Get in, your nicked, for assault on police." He said, "I never touched him." I replied "The threat of an assault is an assault in itself, get in." I searched him before he got into the van, and found a tool for opening car windows, and lengths of wire. I said, "Which car were you after." He pointed to one in Westmoreland Road and said, "Me and some of the blokes were having a drink and we decided to go up west, and it was my bloody turn to nick a motor."
On the way in to the station, he said, "I don't mind the attempting to steal a car, but can you forget the assault on police bit." At the station that's all he was charged with, so my young friend's reputation remained intact. The poor villain apologised to the new officer, who I hope learnt a lesson through it.