by Rob Ekins

The story of the events on the night of Thursday 15th and early morning of Friday 16th October 1987, when officers of the BTP assisted officers of Sussex Police at a site called Rushey Hill Caravan site, situated on the boundary of Newhaven and Peacehaven in East Sussex.

Three officers from BTP Brighton came to Newhaven to assist P.C.‟s Ekins and Dixon with prisoners that had been arrested on the harbour for thefts from unattended motor vehicles in the Senlac car park.

P.C. Dixon went off duty shortly after and P.C. Downer came on duty to continue enquiries with the remaining officers and carry out house searches in the Brighton area. At about quarter past two on the Friday morning we did as much as we could and left the prisoners in custody for the night.

The Brighton officers were returning to Brighton railway station but answered an urgent call from the local force for any officers mobile to attend the caravan site, due to the fact that it was in the path of a severe hurricane force wind and the conditions up there required every possible officer to assist in evacuating the tenants whose mobile homes were being totally decimated, and the area was virtually cut off. In the meantime, P.C.’s Ekins and Downer were in their office completing paperwork.

A message was received from the Eastern Docks security staff at a business called “Fishers” that the huge container crane had broken free and was in danger demolishing the foot passenger terminal nearby. In that area were members of Sussex Police, Port unit and H.M. Immigration officers.

P.C. Downer phoned them and told them to evacuate to our office about 400 yards away for safety. This was completed in about 15 minutes.

We advised Sussex Police. Newhaven control that we two P.Cs. were free of commitment and spoke to Sgt. Stewart by radio. He directed us to the Rushey Hill area. We had no idea of that location and had to flag down a milkman who was out on his rounds. He advised us to go along the A259 to the Brighton Motel, Peacehaven and turn left on to Rushey Hill. We arrived at the top of the road and our path was blocked with what I describe as a large wheeled trailer support such as are used to move the caravans around. I left P.C. Downer in the car and took the only good radio to find the Brighton officers who were P.Cs. John Montague-Williams, Gary Ancell and Probationer Chris. Jones.

Nearby, the only shelter was a normal sort of house which was uninhabited. There I spoke with P.C. J. M-Williams standing by a Land Rover. We could hardly hear ourselves speak due to the weather conditions prevailing. He advised me that he had two casualties with head injuries in the back of the vehicle and he wanted to get them to hospital as soon as possible.

He suddenly shouted “Look Out!” and the way I was facing the wind was at my back…coming from the sea. I ducked, he pulled my head down and he was hit straight in the face on the bridge of his nose by the edge of a huge piece of hardboard. He was pole-axed.

He lay on the ground, dazed, for several seconds and as I went to give him first aid he came round and insisted on getting back in the Land Rover. I accompanied him to try and get a path through the debris back down the hill to get these people to hospital. After 50 yards we had to give up. Meanwhile, P.C. Downer had gone to the house, the front entrance of which was blocked by and overturned caravan and debris so we had to use a side entrance at the rear of the house.

Adjacent to the house was a large Portakabin with metal walls, and across this, over the roof was a power line which was arcing across this structure, so the whole thing was “LIVE”.

Above the door, where P.C. Downer was stationed to direct people to safety when rescued, there was a huge square-shaped brick chimney. I left P.C. Downer to find P.C. Montague-Williams, but it was obvious he had taken the Land Rover somehow off site with his casualties.

I returned to speak with P.C. Downer, I could see, by the torchlight; he was visibly shaken as he opened the door to let me in. I then saw on the floor that the whole of this chimney stack had collapsed exactly where P.C. Downer had originally stood a short while before.

In the house were a number of people and P.Cs. Ancell and Jones. We decided we had to try and make a search to see if we could locate any more people and bring them to safety in the house.

I might say at this point, that if it had been daylight, I might well have wanted to turn and run away, it was that frightening!

However, we three went out in crocodile fashion, ignorant of the terrain, and with great difficulty we must have searched parts or remains of about 15 mobile homes. Much further down the hill we found a caravan in which there was an old lady and a middle-aged man. I said to the other two P.Cs. “I’ll try to get them back, if you carry on the search and I will come back and meet you as soon as I am free”. They then left and the old lady and gentleman were behind me. She was hanging on to the back belt of my heavy raincoat. I’d noticed she had a dog inside her coat which was her own pet that she did not want to leave, also, just before she left the caravan she said ”Oh! Just a minute” – and it’s rather typical of the British people, she went into a bedroom by the side of the main entrance to the caravan. I believe she had stopped to pick up a bag of knitting. I can’t be sure, but it struck me as quite comical at the time.

Anyway, we left the caravan, which was being torn apart by the wind and it must have been gusting at about 100 mph. luckily, it was at our backs and by torchlight we started our journey back towards the house.

After a short while, we reached the first bank of a series of banks leading back to the house. We couldn’t really see where we were going. When a gust of wind caught me and the two people behind me and we virtually flew up the bank which I think was about 10 feet high. Having been through that, we crossed a bit more level ground to another bank, we waited for the next really strong gust of wind and the same thing happened as before. Without that, as the ground was so slippery, I don’t think we would have got up the ground so easily.

Arriving at the house P.C. Downer told me there was one casualty with a suspected fractured shoulder and one or two with minor cuts. With everybody inside that we could muster we closed the place down, keeping everybody downstairs. P.C. Downer and I rendered first aid to the casualties with minor injuries. We did a roll call of everybody and the number we had was 27 adults, 3 young babies, we also listed the casualties by radio. With such radio problems we experienced, it was necessary for me to go upstairs to the top landing every time to get a broadcast to Sussex Police Newhaven control which was only a mile or so down the road. We then used a pad and a pencil and asked every occupant to write just their name and pass it to the next person so that we could later verify the head count.

I then left the house having decided to go and find the other we couldn’t contact them by radio. After about 10 minutes I had only reached the first damaged police car, the wind was so strong and the rain so heavy I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. I decided it was silly to stay out and try to find the other two , I realised they would have had the sense to try to find some sort of shelter and “hole up” until we could get to them.

I returned to the house, satisfied myself that everyone was O.K. and passed a message by radio to Sussex Police control stating we were not going to move anywhere under any circumstances unless the house disintegrated, then we wouldn’t have had any choice. By this time it was about 5a.m., the Warden spoke to me, who, by the way, was brilliant throughout the whole thing, stated he wanted while it was still dark, to go and recover his digger, in order to clear a path and start getting vehicles up when the storm died down. He would also look for any more casualties. I asked him to wait until daylight came up and this we did.

About an hour later it was clear what devastation had been caused by the storm, we could pinpoint various areas that hadn’t been checked. The Warden and I, him driving the digger, started to clear a path on the coastal side road down towards the toilet block. That was no easy task. There were trailers, vehicles all needing moving by pushing and shoving or gentle easing over in whatever way we could. I then met up with a woman by her car who said she had been in her caravan with her disabled husband and they were with P.C.s Ancell and Jones.

I said we would get them out as soon as we could and to remain there as they were safe. The storm was easing slightly and the light was getting better. We carried on clearing the road ways ready for an evacuation. By this time Sussex Police were in a more ready state to assist, them having corralled people from another caravan site in the motel and the bottom of the hill. They’d been fully occupied trying to account for people and trying to lay on an emergency plan and to get it running smoothly. I then walked down the hill to the main road. I flagged down a car and got them to drop me at Newhaven Police Station. During this time P.C. Downer had remained at the house with the people we had rescued. Having spoken to Sgt Stewart and Duty Inspector at Newhaven I was dispatched back to the scene in a Sussex Police transit with P.C. Carron and another P.C.

We went back to the site to commence evacuation. P.C. Downer and other P.C.s began to try and locate the police vehicles. The Brighton CID vehicle was a Ford Sierra which was severely damaged on the roof and sides. Their uniform vehicle, a Vauxhall Cavalier, had a flat front tyre. It was damaged all over the top and the roof, both vehicles were unserviceable. P.C. Downer and I knew that our vehicle was somewhere in the vicinity but we just could not find it….even in daylight we could not understand it! P.C. Downer said to me – “I did leave the side lights on, so that in the dark we could find it, if we could get a route out to evacuate”. Behind me at the top of the hill, to the side of the entry road leading down to the motel was where we’d stopped earlier. Here I saw what was almost a perfect cube of debris, two huge trailers upturned with gas bottles chained to them and around this was wrapped sheets and sheets of aluminium, from the sides of caravans that had been destroyed. There were all kinds of debris there, so much it was difficult to describe it all. I happened to crouch down, just out of curiosity, and, looking into this pile, I could see the red rear light of the off side of our vehicle which was still illuminated. So we got the digger, with the warden driving it, and with some difficulty, managed to push the debris away from the car as there was an outside chance that the car was intact.

By this time, members of the press had arrived which was typical, and they would not pay heed to our instructions to keep clear, this annoyed me somewhat!!

We eventually managed to uncover our car, although the rear end wing mirrors and roof were badly damaged, the windscreen had cracked but stayed intact. We managed, with P.C. Downer driving to back the vehicle onto the road. At this time all officers were requested to make a thorough search of the whole site to try to ensure that there were no fatalities on the area. There were none. We stopped at the toilet block where there were two or three people who had been there some time including a disabled lady who was laying on a mattress, covered over. She didn’t say a word; I think she was too frightened. With assistance from WDC Jukes, Sussex Police, we managed to lift the lady into the back of a private Land Rover and get her dispatched off to Meeching Hall where everyone else was taken for safety.

We radioed in we had done all that we could, and were about to leave the site, It should be said at this juncture we were getting car loads of sight seers on the site with a lot of young children! The time would be about 9a.m. at the latest. We had to abandon the two Brighton vehicles as they were. We salvaged what we could from them and also arranged to get transport off the site for other officers who needed it.

By this time, P.C. Downer and I were physically and emotionally shattered. We returned to our office at Newhaven Harbour for a short de-brief with our Sgt Barter, who came on duty around 9 a.m. I cleaned up as best I could and went home at 10a.m. having completed a 19 hour tour of duty. P.C. Downer had done 14/15 hours, the Brighton officers had done between 12-16 hours. Of course, the roads on my route home to Eastbourne via Seaford were, to say the least, slightly impassable. I had to drive all the way back to Newhaven to Beddingham arriving in Eastbourne at about 11a.m.

Something I remember ……a woman came up to me and was crying on my shoulder whilst we were in the house. She asked if she could go out and search the site as she had lost her purse containing £50. She and her husband had lost everything and had no money to pay their fare back to their home in Surrey. At that time I said to her “It is too dark and dangerous out there to risk it”, I added that she and her husband had come through the worst of it and that someone would help them later on.

I don’t know how we would have coped if we’d had any serious casualties, I suppose we would have made out as best we could. All I can add to this report, spoken straight from memory, three days after the event. It was a pleasure to work with the guys from my own force and, of course, Sussex Police. Right back as far as the back up in the control room. It was reassuring to know that they were doing all they could within the bounds that the situation allowed. How we all got away, both members of the public, whoever else was on that site during those few hours up there without more serious injuries I just don’t know.

I’m glad it’s over…just feel so sorry for those people.

This is P.C.1422 of the BTP concluding the report of the incident which took place on the night I mentioned. The date today is Sunday 18th October, 1987.

I made this tape recording at home at 11a.m Today is Monday 8th October 2007 ……20 years since the Great Storm.

The events are still very fresh in my mind. There is no doubt that it was an unusual set of circumstances we were faced with. I would like to add that I think what kept us going was something everybody has which I call “Brit Grit!”


We kept going right to the very end and were proud to have done so. Now on Wednesday, October 31st 2012 we have just passed the 25th anniversary of the Great Storm.

For all the officers BTP and Sussex Police who gave assistance on that horrendous night they were awarded, by their respective Chief Constables, commendations for Brave Conduct and Dedication to Duty.

Extracts from the January and February 2013 editions of History Lines (No. 41 & 42)


In 2017, Rob again recalled his experiences of that night to the Eastbourne Herald newspaper: Eastbourne Police Officer Recalls Storm