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Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hardened Criminal

So I've put it off long enough. The time has come for me to tell the tale of my first ever run-in with the local constabulary. Truth be told, it's the only run-in I've ever had with them that involved me on the side of the accused and I was actually innocent of any (well, almost any, and certainly innocent of what the police accused me of) wrongdoing. Which is not to say that there weren't other occasions when I was not quite so innocent that they just never cottoned on to; but what are you going to do when you come from a family of rogues? Anyway, it started with a visit to the home of Philip...

It's a peculiarity of the psychology of children I think, that no matter what the evidence presented to them in their own homes and families they always assume that other adults are all somehow intelligent, respectable, trust-worthy and above all honest.; be they teachers, shop keepers, random neighbours, or our friends parents. Those last perhaps most of all; you just never think that they could ever be like your own parents, or even worse...

I knew Philip primarily as one of the Brancepeth Boysbut he was also an occasional member of our merry little troupe at weekends. On this particular day he invited me and my brother back to his house to play on his computer. We had, in our house, a Commodore 64 and as with everything in life the grass always seemed greener on the other side so his ZX Spectrum was the highest of novelties to us* and off we trot. It was to prove a mistake.

Long story short, because I never do that on here and I fancy a change, is that while we were there Philip asked if he could keep hold of something of mine and I agreed. Then I saw something of his that I thought I'd quite like to borrow in exchange but after a long drawn out conversation with the paranoid voices in my head, wherein they convinced me that he didn't like me enough to lend me anything, I decided just to pocket it. As you do.

The next day, I showed what I had taken to Wayne, (I wasn't yet the fully fledged evil genius/criminal mastermind that I would become) and he, having promptly recognised it from his visit to Philips house and being far more honest than I, told Philip when next he saw him. Deep shit, was I in.The police were called in by Philips parents. Little bit of overkill, possibly, given that what I had taken was worth about 50p but fair play to them, they were playing the long game.

The police took me to the police station, did the whole 'scare the little bleeder' thing with the cells and stuff and then took me into an interview room with the whole tape recorder thing going on. Intimidation, thy name is local bobby. Now, I'd seen The Bill, I knew the score, and I felt confident that I could bluff my way through this. You see, I'd formulated a plan that would 'get me off' (and yes, I was thinking in those terms; to me this was Great Train Robber stuff) and what's more, would make me seem like somewhat of a victim in the whole affair. I was going to blame Philip. Genius.

The idea was that I would tell a sob story about how Philip had invited us up to his room and then once we were there he had demanded that I hand over my stuff (the stuff he had politely asked to borrow) and had threatened to hit me if I hadn't. I figured if they checked up, they'd find my stuff in his room and hey presto, they'd believe me. (See, I was at least on my way to criminal genius.) Then, I'd say, I decided to take the stuff of his to get back at him. I'd say sorry, that I knew it was wrong, and maybe throw in a few tears. No way could I be in trouble after that.


The police didn't care about the toy. That's not what they were interested in at all. They were interested in the money that had gone missing from the living room of Philips house. Say Whaaat? Oh yes, it seems that while I was there stealing toys from Philips bedroom a bunch of notes had disappeared from the jar in their living room. It couldn't be a coincidence could it? It had to have been me. Well, it wasn't me, and I'd be damned if I was going to sit there and let them say it was.

My indignation kicked in. The same hatred of undeserved authority being bandied about that had seen me locking my Dad in an outside toilet for several hours and would later see me get on the wrong side of many a teacher, and then bosses, led me to get very serious and determined in the face of this false accusation; I was having none of it.

The guy doing the questioning obviously figured he had me bang to rights. I'd admitted stealing one thing, so I must have stolen the other. Sherlock Holmes he wasn't. I explained to him that I had never actually been in the living room while I was at the house; that in fact I had never gotten farther than the kitchen on the ground floor. (The back door opened onto the stairs and you turned right into the kitchen. You had to pass through the kitchen to get into the living room if you entered through the rear) I said that I had gone straight upstairs upon arrival and that when we were leaving Philip had gone into the living room for something but the rest of us hadn't.

At this point he tried to trip me up. "Did Philip take any money while he was in the living room?" says the copper. "Not that I saw, no." replies myself. "Aha!", cries the copper, "I have cunningly led you into my trap. How could you know what he did if you weren't in the living room?"

Whoops, had I slipped up? Had I revealed a flaw in my intricate web of lies? Was I dealing with a Sherlockian mastermind? No. "I know because I was watching him from the doorway" I answered. This threw him for a moment but he soon rallied.
"Which doorway?"
"The doorway to the living room"
"But you said you didn't get further than the kitchen"
"I didn't"
"So how could you be in the doorway to the living room if you didn't get further than the kitchen?"
"Have you been in their house?"

The doorway to the living room was in the kitchen. The rooms were directly linked. Had he been in the house he'd have known that. So either he did know and had just assumed he could make me flustered (because I was just a daft kid after all) or he didn't, in which case why was he the one doing the interview? Anyway, I refused to back down and at one point told him that he should go and look at the house before he called me a liar, which made my mother shout at me for being cheeky, which made the copper tell her off for shouting at me. It was all very tense.In the end the police took my fingerprints and sent me on my way. Nothing ever came of it after that, presumably because they didn't find my fingerprints anywhere in their living room and so knew I was telling the truth.

I've often wondered who did take the money, or even whether any money was ever really taken at all. I thought at the time that it must have been Philip, using my real actions as a cover but I reckon now that that was just my blindness to the faults of adults coming in to play. I'll be honest, I don't think Philip was bright enough to think of something like that, but maybe his parents were; maybe one or the other of them took the money and blamed me to the other one, or maybe there never was any money and they were just trying to get my mother to cough something up to keep me out of trouble. Who knows, really, and at the end of the day it doesn't really matter; all was well that ended well, as they say.

The one lasting impact that incident had on me; the one way in which it changed the direction of my life completely, was that it badly eroded my respect for the police. In their dealings with me they were one of two things; either they were incompetent, or they were bullies and neither one of those things inspired me with confidence. It would be a long time before my disdain for them subsided.

*Younger readers may be confused by the terms Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. This is because you are all spoiled rotten by the wondrous technology of today. They were the absolute cream of the crop of home computers back in my day and would take anywhere up to half an hour to load a game. Good times.

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