Tag Archives: True Tale


‘Possible housebreaking, top end of Long Cross. CID on the way but delayed. Can you attend?’

I noted the details, replaced the radio handset and kick-started my motorbike. The house wasn’t that far away, I could be there in less than five minutes. A quiet approach was needed, no point letting an intruder know you are on your way (not that we had blue lights or nee-naw horns on our bikes back then. The road traffic department superintendent believed that his officers’ riding and driving skills should be so good that they didn’t need such things). I approached the house, switched off the engine, coasted down the hill and put the bike on its stand.

It doesn’t take detective training to know that on busy streets like this one, burglars tend to break into the backs of houses rather than the fronts. This house was semi-detached, so instead of going to the front door I walked down the path at the side. All windows, and the front and back doors, were closed. There was no sign of a break-in. By the time I’d returned to the front of the house, the lady who’d phoned us was there, standing in the doorway. “More things have gone missing,” she said. “It’s just like last time.”

The more questions I asked, the more I realised that there was no evidence of anyone else having been in the house. The lady lived on her own and had mislaid things. Unable to find them, her only explanation was that someone had broken in and stolen them. I checked with neighbours. They confirmed that though she was generally a level-headed person, she was very forgetful.

I did my best to console her but she remained unconvinced. Then CID arrived, an experienced officer twice my age. He had been there before, he said, several times. Like me, he was convinced there was no break-in. When the losses mounted up she phoned-in, convinced she’d been burgled.

“Help me,” he said. “We’ll wire the place up…”

The only way to describe what happened next is to say that we mimed unreeling rolls of wire and tucking it behind the sitting room picture rails – that room and the kitchen only, because these were the rooms where things tended to go missing. My colleague convinced her that we were trying out a new device that would call the police if a stranger entered her house. It was invisible so the intruder wouldn’t see it. When we had finished wiring the rooms she insisted that we also did her downstairs windows and doors. I felt bad about it. I didn’t like deceiving people.

It was around a year later when the duty inspector called me into his office. He looked puzzled. It was in the days before computer records and he’d been looking through old journals. ‘Last November,’ he said. ‘You attended a break-in at Long Cross. Would you care to tell me about it?’  I could see that this particular bit of writing, an entry in a daybook, had my name against it (being able to read text from all angles is an asset that I probably learned during my time with the police). He also had a handwritten letter, addressed to the force’s Chief Constable. He read part of it out to me. It went something like this:

“… the man has not been back to the house since your officer came. I am sure there will be no more burglaries so I no longer need your invisible wire. Please will you send the officer to take it down so it can be used again somewhere else.”

“Invisible wire?” he said. “Care to explain?” I explained as best as I could, wondering if there would be disciplinary action of some kind. There wasn’t. “Better get on with it then,” he said.

“Sir? Get on with it?”

“You heard what she wrote. She wants you to take it down so it can be used again.”

I did what I was told. On my own this time, with the woman watching, I mimed going around the rooms, reaching up, coiling invisible wire over my arm as if coiling rope. Then I did the windows and doors. It felt like some kind of punishment and I still feel guilty about it. I suppose I shouldn’t. Because it worked.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized




I used to believe that there was no such thing as a coincidence. It’s what all my mates used to say. Then something happened. I took a flat in a small Gloucestershire town. The old dear – sorry, the elderly lady – who owned it told me that her previous lodger was constantly in trouble with the police. He held parties, she said, entertaining ‘all kinds of girls’. Finally she’d made him to leave. Assisted, she added, by her friendly local police sergeant.

One year later I left the place and went to college to study maths and physics – a scary two years – and then went on to uni to study geology. As part of my fieldwork I got vac work in Canada, on a mine surrounded by hundreds of miles of dense forest. Fifty miles away there was a one-horse town, with single-storey wooden buildings strung out along the main drag. The mine was new. Though it had been operating for three or four months, they held a grand opening ceremony soon after I arrived, attended by mining company bigwigs flown out from London. The mine organised an impressive outdoor party with food and beer. And invited the great and the good from the one-horse town.

It was July, and it was hot. The organisers provided tables, those heavy wooden outdoor things that pubs have. I sat at one with the mine’s engineers and geologists and a big stash of Labatt’s Blue. We had been there a while when a guy in his late 20s like most of us (I was a mature student by then), slid onto the end of the bench. One by one my new colleagues got up and left. I got chatting to the new arrival. He had a Canadian accent and said he didn’t work on the mine. ‘Got a business in town,’ he said. He asked what I did, and where I came from. I told him I was at uni, and that I had worked on the engine test beds at a firm in this Gloucestershire town. ‘Hey, so did I!’ he said. ‘I had a place in an old house in High Street, you know it?’ I knew it. I knew it because I had lived in the same flat for over a year. ‘Got out eventually,’ he added. ‘Coppers never left me alone. The woman who owned the place had me thrown out so I decided to get as far away from the bloody place as I could. It’s good here. I’m a respected member of the community. And the police leave me alone.’

The mine’s geologists and engineers had taken their beer with them. I went looking for it. When I found them they looked at me inquisitively.
“What?” I asked.
“You get on all right with that guy?”
“I did.”
“He didn’t ask you to his place?”
“No, why should he?
“You best keep away from him. He’s married to a local girl. He lives in a house in town, he invites all kinds there, men and women, you know? Just wondered if he’d asked you there….”
I grabbed a bottle, managed to snap off the crown cork by whacking it on the wooden bench like they did, and took a big swig. I stayed with them, I didn’t go back. The last I saw of the mechanic he was still on the bench, talking to another young man.

Coincidence, or what?

*apologies to J M Barrie

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized