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Gun law

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.

Friendly flash

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 of story.

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

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