The Old Black Dog

Some of you may have read this before, some may not. If you have I apologise.

I tell this story not because I want your sympathy, but because I want people to be aware, and the majority of Police Officers will have suffered, or be suffering, but for their own personal reasons will stay quiet.

I was influenced in writing this by a few different conversations I had with various folk over the past few days, and they made me see the problems from a slightly different angle.

Stress, PTSD, Depression.  They come in many forms, for many reasons and affect many people, and it spreads outwards to others like ripples in a pond.

We hear a lot about Mental Health in the Police Service these days.  Some of it good, some of it not so good.  Some used to be good but has now got worse.  The Metropolitan Police had its very own Nursing Home at Hendon with qualified Nurses 24/7, Doctors on call and access to all manner of Consultants, normally at St Thomas’ in London.  I’m reasonably sure that excellent facility has gone.  In fact, I’ve just remembered, there were two, the second being in Denmark Hill, South London, but that one has definitely closed.  I know there is Flint House, but the Met Police Nursing Home was just that, much less of a Rehabilitation Centre.

Returning to the plot,

Way back in 1980 something or other a friend and colleague attempted to take his own life. Unusually the reasons for it had nothing to do with drink or ‘other women’.  He was found in time by his wife, who called an ambulance and he was carted off to hospital.  For some obscure reason he was put in a ward on the 8th floor and attempted to jump out of the window during the night.  The following morning, Saturday, he simply walked out of the hospital wearing nothing but his rather fetching white hospital gown.

The hospital, who had been unable to keep him in, phoned my Police Station to report him as a Missing Person.  As ‘luck’ would have it I was on duty that morning, and I was summoned to see the Duty Inspector. “Shit, what have I done this time?” was all I could think, I wasn’t yet aware of my friend/colleague’s predicament.  

Sitting in the Duty Inspector’s office it soon became apparent that I was not in trouble. This was something much worse. “You’re a friend of Billy [not his real name], he’s walked out of *************** Hospital. Get yourself over there and find out what’s going on.  He’s been recorded as a Missing Person, you’re the only one here who knows him [he worked at a different nick] so I’m allocating the MisPer Enquiry to you”.  Cheers Guv.

To cut a long story short, I went to the hospital and spoke with the nurses, and gained all the background info from the last 24 hours and what had happened.  I was making my way back to the nick when the radio crackled. The station were calling me up to tell me that a train driver had reported seeing a woman’s body on the railway line passing the hospital. *** I thought, but then he did say woman, maybe not.

When I got to the tracks it was immediately obvious that it was not a woman but Billy in his hospital gown, and I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that he was dead. I was then joined by the Section Sergeant and another PC and between us we set about dealing with the grim task ahead of us.  I’ll leave out the gory bits, and next thing I was in the back of an ambulance with what remained of Billy en route to the hospital mortuary.

Hand the body over to the mortuary staff and back to the nick for a cup of strong coffee and try to write this awful mess up.

When I handed my report over to the Duty Inspector he flicked through it and said “OK, see you tomorrow then”.  “Thank You”, “Well Done” or “Can I buy you a pint?” would have been nice, but no, I got the full “See you tomrrow”. 

So I took myself home to a wife who, bless her, said “How’s your day been? Quiet?”

And yes, I went to work the next day.

Then there was the Post Mortem followed some time later by the Coroner’s Inquest with his family there.

I know why he did it, but I’m keeping that to myself.  Suffice to say most people would have regarded his reasons as trivial, but obviously not to him.

I had nightmares for months after, but I don’t get them any more, but I will NEVER forget that awful day.

The point is, just doing my job and dealing with a Missing Person Enquiry ad an effect on me.  Thousands of other officers will have dealt with similar, seen awful sites at Road Traffic Collisions, or even been tasked to a RTC only to find that is a family member involved.  I am far from alone.

These officers will bear the scars.  You cannot see them, but they are there.

Te problem we now face is that the then Home Secretary, Mrs May, set about dismantling the Police Service.  Despite the Tory mantra, crime is NOT down, the number of 999 calls is rising relentlessly and there are fewer and fewer Police Officers to deal with them.  It is the nature of Police Oficers that they don’t like to hand a job back undone, for someone else to deal with.

We are breaking them.

We might not be able to see the injuries, the officer may not have a raging temperature, but many of them are suffering and we have precious little way of knowing how many or who unless they seek help. Some do, and I applaud them.  Some don’t and they survive.  Some just quietly carry the scars, but scarred they most surely are.

In the background the very senior officers seem to do very little to help the situation.  They will sometimes SAY the right things, but what do they actually do?

Invoke the Unsatisfactory Performance Procedure.

Reduce pay, even though it is clearly a problem originating at work.

‘Encourage’ an early return to work.

Welfare visits – yeah, right.

All the while, a Police Officer who is off sick is no use to his nick, and he’s no use to the public.  Do we invest sufficient resources to get them fit and back to work in a timely manner?  I’ll let my colleagues still serving answer that one.

I have every sympathy with them, and I am certainly not advocating that they return to duty before they are in full health, I am advocating that Police and government invest sufficient resources to get them back to work fit and healthy. Mend them, not Bin them.  None of us knows what horrors we will encounter when we leave home for work.  Things such as I have described could happen to any of our Police Officers at any time. I can still picture that day when I allow myself to.

It is entirely possible that somewhere out there is a Force that is really good at it.  Nothing would please me more.  I am informed (if anyone of you is ołd enough to remember) that after the Bradford City FC  Fire in 1985, officers on duty were all offered counselling.  Not my Force so it may not be true, but I really hope that it is.

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2 Comments

  1. Welfare was an alien concept to the Met in the 80s, I hope it has changed. In 1988 as a recently seperated father with three children who I had custody of, one of whom had a disability, I made an appointment with the ‘welfare’ department to see if they could assist in any way. I was unfortunately unable to keep the appointment as I was refused entry to the building as children were not allowed in.
    So no advice re child care was available there.
    I can laugh about it now.

  2. Welfare…plenty of fine words are said but if you are ill and they can ‘adjust’ your duties, even if that means very little in reality and you are still deployed on the front line doing everything everybody else is doing, they can threaten to reduce your pay by 8% and eventually sack you. That’s what’s happened to me! Arguably my issues was caused by long hours and no breaks. This isn’t accepted however. Conveniently.

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