MEMORY LANE 70’s 80’s & 90’s

Extract from the December 2010 edition of History Lines (No. 16)

Colin Bryan who joined at Birmingham New Street writes as follows:

Following on from Eddy Breakwell’s Memory Lane snippets (History Lines No. 15) here are a few of mine which include some of the locations already mentioned by Eddy.

I joined the force in March 1974 at Birmingham New Street and ended my service at Cardiff having served at Coventry, Newport Docks, Newport Rail and Bristol AHQ in between.

Birmingham New Street: I was part of a big BTP recruitment drive in 1974 and we outnumbered other forces on our initial training course at PTC Dishforth in North Yorkshire.  Back on Division we were put onto shifts and paired up with an old hand to begin with. BTP policed the shopping centre above New Street Station in those days and much of our time was spent dealing with shoplifters. New Street had Beats which consisted of Front Yard and Concourse, Overbridge and Platforms and of course the Shopping Centre. Shift Duty Driver usually dealt with calls away from New Street.

Eddy was one of my Shift Sergeants the other was Alan Livesley and the remainder of the shift was made up with about 5 or 6 PC’s.

The 70’s were somewhat busy with the IRA activities at the time and New Street was at the heart of their activities in Birmingham with attacks on the Forces recruiting office in the shopping centre and of course the Pub Bombings.

Curzon Street PCD: I remember it just as Eddy describes, taking your turn to do a month’s duty down there checking the pilfered parcels and completing crime reports. It was amazing what came through the depot, mostly catalogue traffic which was sorted into delivery bays for the delivery van drivers to load up and take out for delivery all over the Midlands. A cement yard was at one end of the Depot and the canal network ran alongside the depot on the other side. I can recall beam alarms being put on the Goods Shed which was constantly set off by birds flying through them.  The alarms must have deterred the thieves but losses were still coming to notice, it was only when British Waterways reported what appeared to be parcels in the Canal that the penny dropped as to what they had resorted to. Parcel trains bound for Curzon Street were held alongside the Canal just down from Exchange Sidings until the Depot was ready to accept them. The Thieves were entering the wagons and helping themselves to the contents, throwing the booty onto the towpath and then sorting out what they wanted and ditching what they didn’t into the Canal.

I remember going down there and seeing the CID there recovering goods with the assistance of the West Midlands Police Underwater Search Unit. I do recall that a passing Waterways man on seeing and hearing what they were doing offered to drain the canal section and went off and did what he had to do to drain it. I was told that some weeks later a bill arrived for draining the canal much to the consternation of Superintendent Maurice Woodman.

Snow Hill Station: In my time Snow Hill was closed and left to decay, on nights it was a regular call to eject the vagrants who used the underground rooms to sleep in, it always amazed me that we never found any bodies in there.

I did spend about three days at Snow Hill attached to a BBC Film Unit who used it in scenes for the TV series ‘Gangsters’ Star in that was the late Maurice Colbourne later to star in the series ‘Howards Way’ set in the Solent. The ‘Gangsters’ series also featured Terry Downs the Boxer who spent most of his time in a nearby Pub until needed for his scenes. Paul Barber later to be Denzel in ‘Only Fools and Horses was also a cast member of ‘Gangsters’. The Fight arranger on set was the Wrestler and Actor Pat Roach who was a really nice bloke to talk to.

Another memory of Snow Hill is driving through the tunnel between Moor Street and Snow Hill. The track had been lifted and it was quite a good level track bed; good job we didn’t damage the car, would have been difficult to explain that one away.

Coventry and Gents Toilets: It’s true BTP Offices seemed to be always next to the Gents Toilets, however, my story from Coventry concerns the toilets on the landing of the Police Office and Parcels Clerks Office.

Also on that landing was a door which led to the stage area of the BRSA Club, I recall one Saturday afternoon being on late turn and coming back to the office, went into the office took my coat off and then decided to visit the Gents. Picture this, on opening the Gents door I am confronted by numerous dogs all dressed in costumes and wearing hats. Enquires made soon revealed that it was an Act booked for a kids party in the Club, my initial thoughts were that DC Chris Cooper may have been responsible but on this occasion I was barking up the wrong tree!

On another occasion on a late turn I was lucky enough to return to the office to find a number of women in various stages of undress in the Parcel Clerks Office. Enquiries made revealed they were having a fashion show in the Club and using the Clerk’s Office as a changing room.

Rugby: The year Scotland were banned from travelling to Wembley following their appropriation of the turf on the previous occasion we had a special operation which consisted of officers travelling on all trains and being stationed at intermediate stations between Scotland and London to monitor services for fans attempting to get to Wembley. I got rostered for a week of nights at Rugby paired up with PC Bob Freeman. In between trains we explored the station and found the old BTP Office Eddy Breakwell mentioned. Closed for years it was even dustier than Eddy remembered at least an inch of dust on the desks and floor. I did find a coil of wire in a cupboard with a property label on it and guess whose name was on it as officer in the case?
Yes, it was DC Breakwell.

Northampton: Part of Coventry’s patch in my day and a regular visit to deal with pilfered parcels from the small Parcels Depot there at the time. The Police Office was closed but still furnished and had similar levels of dust as the Rugby office. The late 70’s saw the office reopened and PC Bob Freeman and PC Tunnicliff ex Derby were posted there as District Officers.

1980’s and beyond: Promoted to Sergeant in 1981 to Cardiff Rail and later two years as a Mobile Support Unit Sergeant until Associated British Ports decided to dispense with the Forces services. I was posted to Newport Docks to run it down and close the office. I am therefore the last BTP Sergeant to have served at Newport Docks.

The Docks gone I ended up back at Cardiff Rail and later Newport Rail as a District Sergeant.

It didn’t last long, Force Reorganisation again and Newport was closed. I was made redundant and offered the new post of Crime Desk Sergeant based in the then South West Area Headquarters at Bristol. Ended up running that for the next seven years until going back to Cardiff.

I finished my 34 years in 2008 as Event and Contingency Planning Sergeant at Cardiff. I retired but returned to the Force as Police Staff Contingency Planning Officer and am still there.