Ian Williams on a summer of trigger-happy policing in Sheffield
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and three lads from Sheffield were visiting
a mate at some flats in the city. As they left there was a bit of a commotion
as five police cars sped into the car park. Officers in flak jackets entered
the building, guns drawn. The lads hung around for a bit to see what was
going off but after a time decided they might as well go - it didn't look
like they were going to see anything anyway.
As they left a police officer at the entrance to the car park was clearly
unnerved by the sight of three lads in a car. David, sitting in the back,
thought it might have been because he hadn't put his seat belt on. He duly
complied. Mark, who was driving, made a mental list: insurance, OK; tax,
OK; MOT, OK; tyres, a bit dodgy but OK. Roger's conscience was clear. They
continued their journey across the city.
They were just about half way home when they passed a police car parked
on the side of the road. It pulled out behind them. They drove on and the
police car followed. Mark thought they must be after the hippies in the
dodgy camper van just in front. A mile or so on and the police car was still
behind. The hippies were still up ahead and Mark was doing bang on 30 mph
so he wasn't bothered. Then came the friendly flash of the police light.
Mark pulled over.
No sooner had he pulled over than police cars came screaming at them from
all around. Armed officers jumped out. The friendly little panda which had
so courteously signalled them to pull over was nowhere to be seen. Instead
they were surrounded by the police cars they had seen earlier at the flats.
Police officers in shirt sleeves and flak jackets crouched behind open doors
with their guns trained on the lads in the car. Others approached the car,
guns in hand. The lads were ordered out.
Fireworks and water
David struggled with his seat belt. He had put it on the wrong way round
and could not get at the release button. 'I was shitting myself. I didn't
know whether the guy with the gun would know I was trying to undo the belt
or if he thought I was fumbling to get something from my pocket. He looked
jumpy enough. When I did manage to release the belt and got out of the car
I was thrown against the wall; my feet were kicked into position and I was
searched for weapons.'
It soon became evident that David, Mark and Roger were just three lads in
a car. Unfortunately the police happened to be looking for three lads in
a car, so any three lads in a car warranted the Sweeney treatment
that afternoon. The police put away their weapons and drove off leaving
David to contemplate whether it was worth risking a fine for not buckling
his seat belt or a bullet for not unbuckling it quick enough.
It seems that South Yorkshire's armed response unit will now respond to
any incident no matter how trivial. The week after Mark got the full treatment
for having two mates in his car, armed officers cordoned off the area around
Park Hill flats in Sheffield after some fireworks went off.
Every hour, on the hour, Radio Sheffield reported that there was an armed
siege in progress. A man with a shotgun was reported to have gone to ground
after police attempted to arrest him for the theft of 24 pairs of jeans.
Threats were made; shots were heard. Emergency services were moved into
the district; an armed response vehicle was deployed; marksmen took up position;
and roadblocks were set up. Then after eight hours of hyping it up the station
announced it was over; the 'shots' had been fireworks and that was it. End
The same day the local paper reported that 'armed officers raced the breadth
of the county' to attend an incident involving a broken water pistol. One
of South Yorkshire's gun squad told the story: 'We were in Doncaster when
the alarm went up and [we] began tearing across to Sheffield. A car had
pulled up outside the bank and a man had gone inside. He left a couple of
people in the back, one of them apparently brandishing a firearm. It seemed
an obvious robbery in progress.'
You've got to laugh
Obviously driving a car to the bank is pretty suspicious. And when the driver
gets out to go into the bank it can only mean one thing. Especially when
he had left a couple of people in the back of the car. And, let's face it,
what other conclusion can you draw when one of those people has got something
in his hands?
'Before we got there', the police marksman continued, 'a West Bar officer
managed a clear look inside the car, and saw a bloke trying to mend his
child's water pistol'.
Well, would you believe it? Driving to the bank with two people in your
car is all quite innocent after all: 'We laughed, but after the amount of
armed robberies recently, we were all very relieved too.' (Sheffield
Star, 16 June 1993)
And with a line lifted straight from the pages of Viz, the incident
is over. It is good to see that officers have not lost their sense of humour.
If chasing half way across the county to a 'gun war in the High Street'
is a laugh, then setting up the road blocks and positioning marksmen around
a block of flats must be quite good fun. And chasing half way across the
city to terrorise three lads in a car must be a bit of a hoot too.
The Sheffield Star reported that 'officers have drawn their weapons
73 times in the county this year...compared to 78 for the whole of last
year'. It is not surprising that officers have drawn their weapons twice
as often this year as last: super-soakers are in.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 58, August 1993