Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Finally, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary has admitted what PC David Copperfield, Inspector Gadget and WPC E E Bloggs said all along: that the system of recording crime is as bent as a dodgy Flying Squad copper circa 1973:

The police are failing to record as much as 20% of crime – equal to three-quarters of a million offences – including 14 cases of rape and some serious sexual offences, according to the first official inquiry into the integrity of the police crime figures.

At the same time, confusingly, the police are rushing out to apprehend people for telling children that Santa doesn’t exist (true story from Gadget’s book). It makes no sense at all, unless you consider whether senior officers want their juniors to record crimes that are not easy to solve, but would quite like them to record crimes that are easy to solve.

For saying this sort of thing, Copperfield and Gadget were both lied about by government ministers. (Bloggs didn’t get lied about – she just sold the TV rights to her book.)

You can read free extracts from the three books here, here and here (and obviously we’d love you to buy copies if you haven’t already).

Meanwhile, here’s that Santa Claus story from Perverting the Course of Justice:

DETECTIONS

LET’S go back to basics for a moment.

Lots of people probably don’t quite understand the words ‘crime’ and ‘detection’, and the role they play in modern policing.

That’s not surprising, because what they mean in reality and what they mean in surreality – ie modern policing – are often two completely different things.

In real life, a crime means something which we would all agree is against the law – theft, assault, burglary – and has an actual victim who has really suffered some harm.

In policing, a ‘crime’ – because of the ‘victim-focused’ National Crime Recording Standard I mentioned earlier – can mean, in practice, almost anything which half sounds like it might possibly be a bit like a crime and which is reported to us. (Because who are we to tell Mr Hughes his ex’s nasty texts isn’t a crime?)

Here is one example of a non-crime taken seriously by us.

It’s late one afternoon in the middle of last December. The Christmas lights are ablaze on every house in Bigtown, and the concrete walkway outside the local Spar is covered in fresh white litter. Inside, there’s a queue of people waiting to pay for their groceries. Halfway down the line, a little girl and her mum are chatting about Santa Claus, and the presents he will be delivering in a fortnight.

In front of them is a typical Bigtown youth – Burberry scarf, Nike trainers, NY Yankees cap and a ton of bling.

Overhearing their conversation, he turns round, looks at the girl and says, ‘You don’t believe in Father Christmas, do ya? Your mum’s telling you lies… he ain’t real.’

The little girl bursts into tears and the angry mum storms out of the shop and rings us on her mobile.

I like to think that, if that happened to me, I’d tell my daughter that the nasty man was talking rubbish, and chalk it up to experience.

But modern life being what it is, mum doesn’t do this; instead, she phones us, like it’s a police matter.

OK, so we get a call from a lady wanting to report a Santa denier.

We just tell her we’re awfully sorry but it’s not really one for us, right?

Wrong. The call-taker logs it on the system as a harassment offence. We all know that if the woman had been calling to report a criminal damage that had happened the night before she’d have got someone out a week next Tuesday. But because certain triggers are hit – there’s a child involved, this area happens to be a crime hotspot and the man is still at the scene – a patrol is despatched immediately, to speak to the mum and little girl and, if possible, grab the ‘offender’ and even seize the CCTV to see if they can ID him.

To me, that’s just about as mad as it gets. Is it, even at the edges of abstract technicality, a crime? Harassment is about causing alarm or distress to another. As a senior officer asked in the SMT morning meeting, ‘How can it be harassment to tell someone Santa doesn’t exist? I mean, he doesn’t. Does he?’

He’s got a point. Short of producing Santa himself at an ID parade and proving he’s real, the case is going nowhere. But time and resources have been wasted in a fairly ludicrous way.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us. The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it. This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections.Where do we go from here? Forensics? ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps? Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

- A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

- A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

- A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

- Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

- A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

- A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares?

And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident. There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months.

What are these £1 thefts?

Well, this might explain some of them. If your card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice?

Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

*The reason we’re judged on ‘detections’ and not the outcome of a case at court is that the police have no real influence over what some crazy buffoon of a magistrate decides to do, and no control over a jury in Crown Court. All we can really do is influence the investigation. Though in many cases we can’t really do that either – witnesses decide not to give evidence because they are a friend of the accused, or victims (often women in DV cases) are frightened to assist in prosecutions.

Rising numbers of family doctors are quitting because they can’t face ‘five days a week of full-on clinical work’, says The Daily Mail, quoting Dr Fiona Cornis, president of the Medical Women’s Society.

Family doctors are ‘burning out’ because they are seeing patients and working in their surgery for up to 12 hours a day, as well as dealing with mounds of paperwork at the end of the day.

Sounds familiar.

Our own Dr Tony Copperfield, in Sick Notes, puts it like this:

SAMI AND I HAD a meeting with the PCT Suits later.

It all started about a year previously, with a squeal and an expletive from my medical secretary Martha Bardell, both of which were audible from the common room. Such displays of exasperation are unusual from the highly professional and controlled super-sec, so I immediately went to investigate.

I found her hunched over in her chair, slowly banging her head against the desk and moaning.

‘Everything alright?’ I said, casually.

She looked up and almost growled. ‘I don’t believe it!’ she said. ‘It’s another bloody form!’

More swearing. Blimey! This was serious.

She handed it over. It was, indeed, another bloody form. This time, for microscopic haematuria – invisible amounts of blood in your urine. The form – which needed completion by the GP to get the patient referred to a urologist – required around 25 separate pieces of information. Name of patient, obviously. Any abnormal findings on examination, also obviously. But, rather less obviously, questions like, ‘Any recent travel?’ – perhaps because (and I confess I’m guessing here) obscure tropical diseases can sometimes cause microscopic haematuria.

Anyway. Big deal, you might think. It’s just a form. Bite the bullet, fill it in, move on. Fair enough.

But then, there’s a form for chest pain.

And one for indigestion.

And another for rectal bleeding.

And yet another for headache.

And for heavy periods, and infertility, and breathlessness, and memory loss…

In fact, no matter what your symptom is, there’s a form for it (admittedly, I haven’t yet tested this out for the most obscure symptom I can think of, pilimiction – the passage of hairs in your urinary stream – but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be disappointed).

There are lots of symptoms, so that’s lots of forms. And they need keeping track of, filing and updating, and, of course, the hospital keeps producing new ones and updates on old ones every five minutes. This upsets Martha.

Each form is completely different, each needs tracking down and each needs laborious completion with information that either seems irrelevant or which the hospital doctor is going to get from the patient anyway. And this upsets all of us, because it’s a pointless waste of time, effort and, in these recessionary times, money.

Over the following few days, phrases like ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ and ‘unbelievable levels of bullshit’ were bandied about, increasingly loudly and vehemently, until, at the next practice meeting, we decided that enough was enough. We would make a stand and stop using those sodding forms. Instead, we reverted to what we’d always done: writing a sensible, courteous referral letter, providing all the information relevant to the particular case but none of the nonsensical frippery.

Except that, on day three of our brave, form-free world, the first referral bounced back. The next day, a couple were returned. The next, a handful. And then it became apparent that all of our referrals were boomeranging back to us.

Why? To quote the message sent to a molar-grinding Martha, ‘These referrals have been refused because your doctors have not used the correct forms.’

This was sorted out by a few choice words directed to some jobsworth on the end of the phone.

‘We have a contractual obligation to refer patients to hospital as appropriate,’ our Senior Partner told the jobsworth, ‘but we are under no obligation whatsoever to use any particular form, any more than we are to fill it in in illuminated script. Which means that, should any patient suffer harm because of your refusal of our referral, medicolegal liability will be held by you.’

This solved the problem. But we’d created such a stir with our policy of non co-operation that the PCT Suits weren’t happy, which is why Sami and I found ourselves sitting opposite a couple of them this morning.

The meeting went well. Sami explained our position from the outset. He’s good at this type of thing: he hates management jargon, but he has a weird talent for it, too.

‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘we don’t want our stance to get in the way of a seamless patient journey.’

The Suits looked impressed.

‘Nor do we want it to reflect badly on our aspiration to Total Quality Management. We’d hate to see a dip in the dials on our Clinical Dashboard.’

The Suits glanced approvingly at each other.

‘So we’ve had an idea shower. And, going forward – bear with me – we’ve come up with a paradigm shift. We’d like to give you the heads up, run it up the flagpole et cetera.’

He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. The Suits were obviously intrigued, leaning forward slightly, waiting expectantly for Sami to unveil our masterpiece.

‘Clearly,’ he continued, ‘the status quo isn’t a strategic fit for World Class Referring. So we’ve imagineered a solution.’

Bugger me, he’s good. He unfolded the paper.

‘We’re calling it a “Universal Referral Form”, or URF. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution. We’ve cascaded it to local practices and they’ve all confirmed they think the idea is…’

For the first time, he faltered, searching for the right buzzword. I took this as my cue to chip in.

‘They think it’s empowering,’ I said.

‘Exactly!’ said Sami. ‘They think it’s empowering.’

The Suits could barely contain their excitement.

‘We think we can work synergistically with you to facilitate this across all practices,’ said Sami, recovering his poise and handing over our meisterwork. ‘It’s kind of a win-win-win. You, us and the patients.’

The Suits looked blank. As did the piece of paper they were holding.

‘This is a piece of headed notepaper?’ said Suit One, slowly.

‘With nothing on it?’ said Suit Two.

‘That’s right,’ beamed Sami. ‘On which we write a referral letter. A Universal Referral Form, like I said. We’d like to enter it for the Strategic Health Authority’s annual awards. The “Innovation” section. If you could just sign our entry here?’

‘Are you sure you’ve used the right entry form, Sami?’ I said.

The Intrigant praises Chris Grayling for his bold plan to increase illiteracy among prisoners by banning them from reading books:

Tough on literacy, tough on the causes of literacy: congratulations on your ban on sending books into prison under the newly written rules. You and I don’t need to read books so why should people who have committed a crime be allowed to receive them?

I know that books can be sent to the inmates of Guantanamo Bay and that books were sent to British POWs imprisoned in Nazi Germany and Dostoevsky received books in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress during his incarceration in 1850. Remember: the George W. Bush-era USA, the German High Command of the 1940s and an autocratic Tsar have no lessons to teach you. They are all a bunch of pinko-lefties.

It does seem a remarkably stupid and vindictive decision. Grayling is obviously not a student of Dostoevsky.

(It’s a little-known fact that Wasting Police Time was the most popular book in English prisons from 2007 to 2011.)

The New York Times says rent increases are forcing bookshops out of Manhattan.

When Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson bookstore in Lower Manhattan, set out to open a second location, she went to a neighborhood with a sterling literary reputation, the home turf of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nora Ephron: the Upper West Side.

She was stopped by the skyscraper-high rents.

“They were unsustainable,” Ms. McNally said. “Small spaces for $40,000 or more each month. It was so disheartening.”

Passive Aggression in libraries.

And an interesting book about a subject close to our hearts, northern soul.

As ever, the Amazon reviews are very interesting. I particularly enjoyed this three-star review from ‘Rian Arren':

This review is from: Northern Soul: An Illustrated History (Hardcover)

The book was purchased as a gift and has not been read by me. However, I am sure the recipient will be extremely pleased with it.
In case you’re wondering what this ‘northern soul’ is, allow Mr Lou Pride to explain:

…has ended, after a year and £22 million in costs.

According to the Daily Mail:

Sickening claims that British troops executed innocent Iraqis in cold blood were sensationally dropped at a war crimes inquiry yesterday.

After a year-long inquiry costing taxpayers £22million, the case fell apart when relatives admitted there was no hard evidence the insurgents were unlawfully killed in UK custody.

Lawyers for the families accepted the men were killed during a ferocious firefight, dubbed the Battle of Danny Boy, near Basra in 2004.

The whole thing was a tragedy for all concerned. Sgt Chris ‘Stick’ Broome won the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross – the award immediately below the Victoria Cross – in part for his actions that day. Here is his side of the story, as told to me in In Foreign Fields.

Danny Boy was a permanent VCP (vehicle checkpoint) we set up on a bend in the dual carriageway running south to MAK (Majar al Kabir), which was where the six Redcaps had been killed the previous June. The idea was to show the Iraqi Police how a proper VCP should be run, and what it could achieve. At that stage, their VCPs were a few bollards and sandbags, often set up at points where you’d have to ask yourself, ‘Why?’

MAK was a bit of a no-go area – it was hard getting Warriors and Challengers in, so we’d only go there if we had to. Risk-versus-reward. On May 14, one of our patrols was contacted on the outskirts and it started a bit of an uprising in the area. Down in Abu Naji, we were quite unaware of it. We were getting mortared – nothing unusual there. The mosques were singing away – again, nothing unusual there, though it turned out that the message coming out was, ‘This is an uprising, kill them!’

I was part of the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that day, and when it all started I was told to go to a place called Red One, a bridge I’d been to loads of times, to put in a VCP. So me and Joe Tagica paired up [in Warrior armoured vehicles] and went down there, got to the bridge and just sat there, looking for anything coming in or out that day.

All of a sudden, Major Griffiths came down in a shitty old Land Rover with some of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He was quite shaken up, and his vehicle was so full of bullet holes it was like something out of a cartoon – how no-one had been hit I don’t know. He pulled up, showed me his map and gave me QBO [Quick Battle Orders]. There was a platoon somewhere south of Danny Boy, under Lieutenant Passmore, the Ops officer, which had been pinned down by 70 or 80 militants. Maj Griffiths had been with them, and had managed to drive out of the ambush, but the guys were still in heavy contact. The plan was that Joe and I would get down to Danny Boy and hold there while we tried to establish their exact location, and another two Warriors – Sergeants Dave ‘Peter’ Perfect and John Green – would chase me down. We’d extract casualties and give fire support.

We could hear on the net that the platoon on the ground had taken casualties and, as we got to Danny Boy, we were ourselves ambushed from the right hand side. Pete and John Green just carried on through, and that was the last we saw of them – they got involved in their own personal battles, and finally met up with the call sign on the ground about half an hour later before assisting in their extraction in some very heavy fighting of their own.

Joe and I stopped, reversed up and started dealing with the ambush. There were 60 or 70 of them and they had picked at outstanding spot – they were firing at us from the other side of a roadside embankment and a deep, V-shaped drainage ditch, and all we could see was the tops of their heads and the RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) coming down at us.

Within a matter of minutes, my vehicle caught fire with the weight of RPGs we got hit with. Then the engine started stalling. Pte ‘JC’ Fowler, the gunner, was engaging, and all the time I’m thinking, What have they got? When Johnson Beharry’s wagon had been hit in one of the actions which led to his VC, it was by something like our Milan anti-tank weapon. It had gone straight through the centre of his Warrior and caused a big hole and a lot of damage, and all I could think was, This is ideal country for Milan. We were close to stationary, on open ground… if they’d done it to Beharry’s Warrior in a town centre, then, exposed like we were… it didn’t bear thinking about.

It became clear that we were going to have to get the guys out of the back and get them into and across the drainage ditch so they could close with the enemy. I spoke to Corporal Brian Wood and said, ‘Mate, you need to get your dismounts out… I’ll do what I can from here but the wagon’s damaged and you’re pretty much on your own. Fix bayonets, get out and go right, push in to the ditch for cover. Good luck, mate.’

Without a second’s hesitation, he and his lads got going. Brian won the Military Cross for his actions on this day, and it was very well-deserved.

By this time, another Warrior had come in, I think that was Lt Plenge, and the sergeant major was on the net to me, saying, ‘You’ve got a company plus a Challenger en route.’

Brian Wood met up with another set of dismounts led by Cpl Mark ‘Billy’ Byles, and they led their blokes, with bayonets fixed, up the embankment and then down into the drainage ditch. Very brave – they were assaulting a numerically superior enemy in well-prepared positions. I lost sight of them, and then they reappeared at the top of the ditch and started engaging the enemy, with JC using our 30mm cannon to help as best he could.

Just then, my driver, Pte Taylor, said, ‘I’ve got complete power now.’ The engine was working again. And, all credit to him, he said, ‘I reckon I can get across that ditch.’

The angle really didn’t warrant a Warrior crossing, but I said, ‘OK, but don’t get us bogged in or roll us.’ Because then we’d really have been sitting ducks.

Before I knew it, he’d put his foot down and driven the Warrior up the bank. We tipped down into the ditch at a crazy angle, hit the bottom of the ditch and just flew back upwards and out over the top of the bank. He smashed the front of the Warrior, he came down so hard, but we were now on the same side as the Iraqis.

They were using big chest-high wadis [channels in the ground cut out by heavy rain] as trenches. Brian Wood and Billy Byles got the guys to the right of our Warrior and we started going through the enemy positions, using us as fire support, suppressing them, then taking their positions. It was what we’d always practised for.

By the time we got to the first wadi, I couldn’t depress the Rarden [30mm cannon] barrel any lower to engage them, so I reversed slightly to get a better angle, but by then Brian and Billy were in there. I couldn’t see what was going on, and for a while no-one reappeared, which was concerning. Plus they were taking a lot of incoming.

Broome realised that the limited number of soldiers on the ground were struggling. His citation says: “He dismounted and, without a personal weapon for his own protection, moved around the battlefield under heavy, accurate enemy fire to take control of the situation. His courageous action and leadership under fire ensured that there was no loss of momentum and undoubtedly prevented friendly casualties.”

I jumped out of the Warrior and ran over to the ditch myself. I found the lads were fine, they’d killed three enemy and taken four prisoners, who were face down in the dirt but not tied up at this point, and were already starting to suppress other positions. I took control of what was going on on the ground, and left my driver and JC to crack on.

I looked around the trench; there was just an armoury of weaponry there. I swear that every man had about two AKs, and there were around six RPGs, too. There were warheads and ammunition everywhere, and water and food. Very well prepared. There were also some very dead people. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone dead – the same with the rest of my guys. The surviving Iraqis – they were only young lads – were very scared, but then so was I. My heart was beating so hard I had to undo my CBA (Combat Body Armour).

I had a bottle of water on my belt kit, and the first thing I tried to do was offer the prisoners a bit of water. Yes, they’d been trying to kill us a few moments before, but I think I wanted to reassure them that we weren’t just going to top them, that we play by the rules. I said, a mix of pidgin Arabic and English and gestures, ‘This is water… I need a bit, yes? You need a bit, yes?’

One took a sip, the others didn’t, they were just in shock. They cannot have expected us to assault their positions so quickly and effectively.

I said, ‘I need to blindfold you, yes? I need to tie your hands behind your back. You need to stay here with me.’

And we cuffed and blindfolded them, using their clothing to cover their eyes, and then separated them from the dead, turning them away while I searched the bodies.

It was all still incredibly loud, you had to shout at someone only a foot or so away. We’re still under fire and, behind us, our lads and the Warrior are firing into other positions. There’s a lot of shouting and screaming, and people talking on the net… ‘You need to push along this ditch this way… You need to cover over there… You need to get fire support on this position…’ It was quite unnerving, because there were a lot of rounds flying around and you didn’t know what was outgoing and what was incoming.

The way I’m saying this, it sounds like it was all really quick and confused. It wasn’t. It was actually all very slow and methodical. Everything seemed to slow right down, it was just how we had rehearsed it so often.

All of a sudden, the driver shouted out, ‘The company battle group is on its way down.’ I picked up an AK47, crawled along the ditch and rolled up and over the big drainage ditch and made my way down to the main road so I could cover the enemy with the AK while Maj Coote and Sgt Maj Falconer pulled in with the rest of the company.

Maj Coote got his Warrior up on the embankment – he was exposed, but it gave him a good overview – and started getting involved, and I led Dave Falconer back to the position I’d just come from. We unloaded the weapons as best we could, and he rechecked the three dead bodies. The Chally had turned up, as promised, and I saw him let off a HESH [High Explosive Squash Head] round. Somewhere in the distance, a Toyota van with an anti-aircraft gun on the back just disappeared in an explosion.

We then started to move into the enemy’s second and third positions. This was where Brian Wood and Dave Falconer won their MCs. They were outnumbered, but they engaged both positions by themselves, with me and ‘Spud’ Tatawaqa – a big, strong Fijian private, he was one of many lads I felt privileged to serve with – in pursuit. The Iraqis were hidden in little bends in these channels, and they kept jumping out with their rifles and every time Brian and Dave would put them down. Then another bunch of guys would stand up and the same thing would happen. And gradually, we got the upper hand and it all started to quieten down, until there was just sporadic fire.

We’d been in contact for about four hours and it was getting towards dusk now.

We started a withdrawal. Maj Coote told us to break clean and start to peel back to Abu Naji. We took our four prisoners back to the sergeant major’s Warrior, and then a message came over the net that they wanted the enemy dead brought back, too. The thinking was that they could have been involved in the Redcap murders, and we might be able to identify them, whether from DNA or their faces where possible, back at camp. I think there had been a bit of confusion – I think HQ thought there were only a couple of them. In fact, there were nine just from my position, a couple from another position and about 20 from where Peter Perfect was.

Dave Falconer said. ‘Chris, the bodies need to go in the back of your Warrior.’

This is where it starts to get a bit messy. Me and my team started collecting the dead and loading them into the wagon, as dignified as we could. Still with the odd shot from distance incoming.

It was quite hard, physically. The expression ‘dead weight’ came to me more than once. I wasn’t too keen on picking them up by their hands. I didn’t want to make skin-to-skin contact, I had little cuts and grazes all over me and they were covered in blood and I didn’t want contamination… there’s a lot of hepatitis and other conditions out there. So we’d try to grab their clothes, but some of them were not small, and because their clothing was loose they would just fall out of their clothes… It wasn’t nice work. A couple of them, we had to roll them in ponchos and pick them up that way. They had been hit by my 30mm chain gun and when you get hit by those rounds there’s not a lot left. One poor guy only had half a face, one eye hanging down over his cheek… he’d been clipped with a 30mm. Another was completely shredded. We were picking up body parts.

I’ve heard suggestions that lads laugh about things like this. If I can reassure anyone, no-one laughed or joked about the mess that we made. It was quite horrible, not a laughing matter at all. No-one wanted to kill people, and no-one was happy about it afterwards.

Eventually, we got all the nine dead in the back of my Warrior and returned to base, with my dismounts obviously travelling in other wagons. We pulled up and tried to open the back, but it was jammed. Somehow, one of the corpses inside had shifted and was preventing the doors from opening. It became clear that someone was going to have to go in through the turret and open it from inside. If you think about that for a moment – it’s scorching hot, we’ve got bodies and bits of bodies, which have been in the heat for several hours now. Imagine the smell inside the vehicle. Plus, it’s pitch black, and whoever goes in there is going to be clambering and slipping around over the dead.

Pte Taylor, my driver, volunteered for the job. I think he felt he’d not really got involved, being in the Warrior all the time, but that was wrong, he’d done a brilliant job that day. But anyway, in he went. He was in there for longer than anyone would have wanted, and he finally got the door open a bit, not the whole way, and squeezed out. And unsurprisingly he completely freaked out and just ran off into the distance.

We got the door open; it was a hellish, horrible scene in there. We got the bodies out, all covered in blood and matter ourselves, and they were taken away to see about this ID.

And we stood there, all covered in blood and stuff, soaked through, sweating, filthy, feeling like vomiting. We had to get our kit straight off and burn it, and then all take long, long showers. And then we went for blood tests for hepatitis. They all came back negative, but there was a long period of worrying about it, when I, certainly, got slightly paranoid.

It had been a massive day. It wasn’t just our little area…further south, there were people involved in their own contacts. For example, Billy Byles had gone off to join another fire team…he was also awarded the MC, as was Peter Perfect, which gives you some idea of the scale and ferocity of the fighting.

The whole of Al Majar Al Kabir had basically come to stand its ground.

They outnumbered us, but our weapons, training and tactics saw us through. They didn’t expect us to push through that open ground so quickly. But it’s just what we do in training, in Canada, Poland, Salisbury Plain. There was a lot of chat flying around, saying we’d carried out the first bayonet charge since the Falklands. It’s all very nice, but it wasn’t a bayonet assault. We had bayonets on the rifles because we just do in that situation. You get out of the back of the Warrior in a dismount, you don’t know what’s there, you only know from what someone is telling you in the turret via the net… there might be someone within bayonet range, so you have it on there.

Although undoubtedly a very brave man, Chris Broome later suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

I had no idea about Iraq before I went. My wife Lynsey had a baby daughter on April 6, and I flew out to Iraq on the ninth. I didn’t even want to hang around with them, because I thought I’d be straight back anyway. I thought it was going to be like Kosovo or Ireland… it isn’t that bad, there’s a big lump of soldiers, so they start looking for guys to send home.

Who wants to go on a course? Right, we’ll send you home.

Whose wife has just had a baby? Me. Right, send you home.

I was entitled to paternity leave, and I thought I’d get there and they’d say, ‘Things are alright, not much going on apart from the sun-tanning,’ and I’d be back to UK in a week or two. I’d even packed some weights and some muscle powders and was looking forward to working on my tan.

And all of a sudden, this has all gone off.

I’d gone through 17 years of my Army career at that point and never even cocked a rifle in anger. I’d just done courses. But everyone looked at me and called me ‘Uncle Stick’. I was one of the father figures in the team, and they all relied on me. And when it went lively and noisy, they really did look at me then. And I thought, Blimey, these guys think that just because I’ve done 17 years’ service, I’ve got experience. Which I hadn’t. I’d been on nine tours of Northern Ireland, and never been shot at once. It was hard holding it together. You do it because you have to, you’ve got to be there for your blokes, but then you think, When am I going to get time for myself?

There were quite a few times when I would wander off somewhere, have a little cry, a little grizzle, and think, What was all that about? Then you have to go back and be there for your blokes. You put on a front. Like, ‘I know Johnson’s lost the top of his head and it’s really bad, but we’ve still got a long way to go on this tour.’ I’d play down how I felt.

By the time I got home, a new baby waiting for me… and I didn’t like loud bangs, I didn’t like my daughter’s crying, there were just loads of things I couldn’t tolerate. I couldn’t stand Lynsey twittering on about crap. ‘Look what I’ve seen in the Littlewoods catalogue, aren’t those curtains nice.’

I was like, ‘Curtains?’

Or she’d say she’d had it hard, with the new baby. I’d say, ‘You had six months in England with a kid, that is fuck all, really, compared with what we’ve been through.’

I knew I was being selfish – she’s the one who should have been given a medal, for putting up with me and my negative attitude – but I couldn’t help myself. I’d have to get out of the house, and I’d disappear for a week. The only person I felt safe with was myself. You try and phone up your mates who were there with you, and they’re going through their own thought processes. Some of them were OK, and wanted to spend time with their wives and families, others wanted to talk.

I was never an emotional guy, but I dwelled on having killed people and I felt bad about it. Really bad. And you feel like you can’t talk about it. My wife is always saying, ‘You don’t talk to me.’ Well, I can’t explain it to you, because you probably won’t understand, and there are probably things I am going to mention that I don’t want you dwelling on, or lying in bed thinking, I’m married to a jellyhead, here. Do you want to sit and listen to how I piled nine bodies in the back of a Warrior?

Likewise, I can’t go to the pub and say, ‘Look at the tits on her… and, by the way, I killed a load of people in Iraq.’

You stand there with your civvie mates, or your dad, or your brother. And they’re like, ‘How was Iraq?’

You go, ‘It was alright. I was involved in contact, and took a fair bit of incoming, got someone in my sights and had to put them down.’

They go, ‘That’s good. Did you hear about David Beckham? And what about Rooney?’

You think, Hang on, I’m struggling here. You’ve asked me and I want to get it off my chest.

‘How’s that mate of yours, Lewy?’ [A close friend who was badly burned when a petrol bomb was dropped on him in an earlier incident.]

‘Well, not great.’

‘He’ll get better. Anyway, what about West Ham?’

And I’d think, You’ve just asked me how my mate is, he was on bloody fire. At least let me have the chance to finish what I was saying. I want you to understand about pain, about someone being on fire. They don’t understand, and they don’t want to know.

But then, at that time, even some of the British Army in Iraq didn’t understand. When I was a casualty in Basra, where the environment was pretty friendly, there were people in shorts and t-shirts having parties. They had a bar party with a Hawaiian theme. That was hard for me to see. I was like, ‘I’ve just come from Al Amarah. Have you any idea? We’re fighting for our lives down there. Food and water is an issue. Ask Justin Featherstone [a PWRR Major who won the MC for his part in the defence of Cimic House, a British Army outpost; the story of his MC is also related in In Foreign Fields], we have to deliver it to him.’

You have to live with the consequences of what you did for the rest of your life. You have to ask yourself, With hindsight, could I have done anything differently? The answer is actually, No, because we were ambushed and you have to fight your way out. But when you see the damage that our weapons systems can do to people, when you have to put the body parts into ponchos to bring them back, it does play on your mind.

The good thing is the Army now understands the possible effects, and I did see the doctors to talk things through, which was very helpful. And you look at blokes who fought in the Second World War, you look at what they did, where they took a lot of casualties, as well as inflicted them… and you think, How did they deal with it?

And how does it affect the Iraqis? I did feel sorry for them. Some of them are poorly educated. You put $50 in front of them and they grab a rifle and try and take you on without realising the fire power you have. The guys in the Danny Boy incident, they were just bewildered when we got to them. The four we arrested, they all went to court and I think they got five years each. Two of them were farmers. I think the youngest was only 17.

Broome’s PTSD later manifested itself in angry outbursts.

I got back and was posted to Winchester as a trainer. It was a case of the Army being good to me and thinking I needed a bit of time and space, and to be nearer my family while the rest of the battalion went to Germany… an easy posting, really. But it made things worse because I wasn’t with my own guys. No-one there believed what had gone on during Telic 4. Nowadays, everyone knows it’s like that all the time. If someone came into the mess now and started to talk about what he’d done in Afghanistan, you’d believe him but, back then, people thought I was exaggerating. They were like, ‘Yeah… I’ve been to Iraq, mate.’

And they had, but they’d been to Basra before it all kicked off, and, although the papers back home were doing a good job telling people what was going on, it still hadn’t become common knowledge, even in the Army. I felt like I was in the minority, trying to convince the majority. I was like, ‘I’ll make you believe me, get your kit on, let’s get down to Al Majar al Kabir and let’s see how hard you are. See it for yourself.’ I wished they could have seen what I’d seen.

I got into a few fights about it, to be honest. I remember being dumped on my arse in a pub by some students one night.

The only time that anyone ever believed me, and stood up and took notice, was when I went to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Then they started phoning me up and saying, ‘Alright mate? Want to go out for a beer? Want to go out for a chat?’

‘Well, no, I don’t.’

I carried that attitude through to training. Lads would arrive late on parade, or with an empty water bottle. They’d say, ‘It’s only water.’ So I’d go off on one and start shouting, ‘Only water? What about if you’re mate’s on fire next to you? What if you’re on fire?’ I was too aggressive with them, but wanted to make sure they understood the importance of the drills. I didn’t want them coming home in body bags. I wanted them to understand that a rifle is only used for one thing, and it makes a mess. I didn’t care whether they wanted to be a dog handler or a medic, they would be a soldier first. In the end, I was court-martialled for hitting a recruit over the head with my pace stick. I shouldn’t have done it, it was totally wrong and I bitterly regret it.

The court martial found Broome guilty and fined him £1,000, but did not reduce him in rank. Colonel Matt Maer, OC 1PWRR, told the hearing, ‘This is a man who repeatedly, in the face of mortal danger, put his life before that of his soldiers. If I was to command Colour Sgt Broome again, I would consider it an honour.’

That was a big wake up call for me. I’d been having flashbacks and things and I needed help, basically. And I did get it and I’m fully fit, now. I went back out to Iraq on Telic 8, as the CO’s gunner. [He later went to Afghanistan, too, though he has now completed his service and has left the Army.] I remember the first time we drove past Danny Boy… it was quite emotional. But then, I’m a human being, and this sort of thing does change your life.

All the citation and the medal and everything is very nice, and I am grateful, but I’m no hero, I’m just an NCO who did the best he could in difficult circumstances, the same as anyone else would have. I did no more and no less than anyone else, it’s just that you have got a report there which is all about me, me, me.

It is not about me, it’s about the blokes. There are too many of them to mention, but my hat goes off to all my team. They worked hard and gave 100% effort…there are guys who’ve since slipped back in to civvie street, and all they have is their memories of what they did and nothing to show for what they went through or stood for. They are the real heroes, to me. Getting on with it, under fire, with no questions.

If they’re reading this, I’d like to say, Lads, be proud, you’re my heroes.

I’m proud of what the battalion achieved. We went through something and came out of the other end and we had a hard time. We’ll watch the TV one day, and there will be peace and there will be pictures of people shaking hands and drinking tea, as though nothing has ever happened. Shame we can’t we do that now.

So the medal… I said to Lynsey, when I leave the Army eventually I’ll probably sell it and give the money to some needy organisation, maybe burns victims or something like that.

The New York Times reports that James Patterson is giving $1 million of his personal fortune to dozens of bookstores.

Alberto Mingardi, of Italy’s Istituto Bruno Leoni (their version of the Adam Smith Institute), believes ‘Patterson is doing something admirable. He has preferences – for the paper book versus the ebook, for the small bookseller vs the large chain – and he is putting his money where his mouth is.’

Though he is interested in the economics:

[C]urrently, he’s given away $267,000 to 54 bookstores. This means that he has donated, on average, a bit less than $5,000 to each bookseller. It is rather unlikely that such a small amount of money helps independent bookstores to thrive in an increasingly difficult market. It’d be more interested to know something on the criteria Patterson is following to give away money to bookstore X instead of bookstore Y. He can do whatever he wants with his money – but I do not really understand how he could have an impact.

$5,000 is obviously better than $0,000. I’ve never read a James Patterson book, perhaps I’ll try one. Maybe (as a cynic points out in the comments below) this is the idea. Personally, I can’t believe that a man as wealthy as Patterson needs any more cash. I’m sure his heart is in the right place. Whether it will achieve anything in the long term, who can say.

After all, even best-selling authors are struggling to make any cash, says The Guardian.

Thomson is not yet broke, but he’s up against it. The story of his garret is a parable of literary life in Britain today. Ever since the credit crunch of 2008 writers have been tightening belts, cutting back and, in extreme cases, staring into an abyss of penury. “Last year,” said novelist Paul Bailey, speaking to the Observer in 2010, “was sheer hell”. Off the record, other writers will freely confide their fears for the future, wondering aloud about how they will make ends meet. Hanif Kureishi, for instance, recently swindled out of his life savings, told me how difficult his life had become.

I went to see 12 Years a Slave the other day, and that does engender a little perspective. I didn’t really enjoy the film, actually, but the book is very good indeed, and at 49p for this e-version is highly recommended. Wish we had thought to stick it out as an eBook!

 

Weird approaches

We get lots of them – not so many as bigger publishers, obviously, but enough.

It says, very clearly, on our submissions page that we don’t open unsolicited attachments (for obvious reasons).

It also says that we don’t publish novels, that we require a full synopsis and three sample chapters, including the first chapter, and a brief CV of the author, that we prefer submissions to be emailed, and that we don’t return unsolicited manuscripts even if return postage is sent.

So why would anyone send us novels, via unsolicited attachments, with no reference to the author? We get two or three a week.

It’s not just novels. Last week, a colleague took a call from a chap offering us his take on what’s wrong with modern life – a discursive and wide-ranging book that takes in everything from the ‘war on terror’ to global warming. ‘I’ve researched it thoroughly,’ he said. ‘There are 26,000 footnotes.’

Then there was this one (details redacted to avoid embarrassment):

Dear Personnel,

This is to announce that I have just made a copyright of my book “(title)” which was original inspired by a meeting my secondary High School class had with Leonard Bernstein, the famous composer and conductor many years ago.

Mr. Bernstein at the time wanted to meet young people to encourage them to “make peace and not war” as his generation had done. Many years later I have completed an analysis on many different levels of our human condition, existence, history and why the situation continues to perpetuate.

If you would like to contribute and to be part of moving our race, the human race “(title)”, you are welcome to join. You can request a portion of the manuscript and/or recommend a Literary Agent whom you have worked with in the past who is reputable.

For if we try, to rise so high, then we can be, the endless sea…

Thank you for your time and consideration.

With Best Regards.

(name)

Random stuff

The 100 Best Novels, No22. I’ve never got past p100 – I’m not sure why.

The very best descriptions of self-published books.

A strange question. (Take them with you?)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (a great book for children, by the way) and other hilariously misleading jackets on classic books.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 283 other followers

%d bloggers like this: