I have hidden a secret for many, many years and although the actual date has been long forgotten, the events of this incident are still very clear in my mind.
It was one of my many weeks on night duty and I was the regular Police car driver on my section, together with my regular partner, Bob Kennard. We were both assigned to ‘D’ Section on what used to be known as ‘B’ Division.
The date of this incident was sometime in the early 1970’s as my time on the Police cars came to an end in 1976, when I was posted to the Communications Room at John Street.
At the briefing that we had at 10pm on this particular evening was some information from the CID. They stated that their information, being pretty reliable, was that a safe blower was going to blow a safe in the Queen’s Road area and that all patrols needed to be extra vigilant. This criminal had a car and the index number was circulated to us all.
On ‘A’ Division was a policeman, new to the job with little service but very keen to do well. He was pretty young, about 5’.9’’ tall and of medium build, his helmet looking a little large for his head. I have already made mention about my desire to do well and be the best policeman that Brighton Police had ever had, and so I understood his keenness.
It just so happened that he was working a beat that included Queen’s Road and the side streets leading off from that road. Although the CID could not tell us any details about the time that this criminal might be at work, many policemen often thought it was in the early hours of the morning, why, I don’t know.
The first part of the night shift went off peacefully with the usual sort of problems to sort out, a couple of arrests for drunkenness, a yob or two, a fight on one of the well known Council estates, together with a domestic incident.
Bob and I cruised around our Sub-division getting involved in the odd skirmish. We were taking the first meal break and so just before 1.15am we pulled into John Street for our break. At this time the Police car working on ‘A’ division would cover our patch for any calls that may involve the use of a car. It is true to say that both cars would take the opportunity to drive around the other sub-division to have a change of scenery.
At 2am we went to the Communications room to change the batteries in our personal radios and were reminded about the safe-blowing criminal, at this time the other car was called in for their meal break.
We left John Street and immediately drove through the centre of town and up Queen’s Road, where we saw the new policeman that I described earlier. He was slowly walking along the east side of Queens Road, just north of North Road. We waved to him as we passed and headed northwards and turned down Trafalgar Street.
We drove through the back streets with a view of looking for the criminal’s car, the index number having been circulated to all of us at the 10 pm briefing.
An old battered TV set
We didn’t find the car but what we did find was an old battered TV set on a disused piece of ground. We suggested that we could have a bit of fun with the old TV set and picked it up and placed it in our police car. We drove up North Road and into Queen’s Road again. There we saw the young policeman walking back down Queens Road, on the west side. We waved to him again and made our way up the street, down Trafalgar Street and into Frederick Place.
We stopped and took out the old TV set and threw it up in the air. It came down and imploded with a very loud bang. The idea being to play a trick on the young policeman, making him think that a safe had been blown.
We then drove off down Gloucester Road towards our own sub-division. What happened next was something that we hadn’t bargained for. The young policeman obviously hearing the TV set imploding radioed in to Communications Room that he had just heard an explosion, like a safe being blown, somewhere in Queens Road.
We heard this message and we started to laugh at the fact that we had successfully played a trick on him but that laughter very soon disappeared as the officers in the Communications Room called for the Inspector to attend the scene in Queens Road. It was then requested that the office and business key-holders were called out as soon as possible.
What then made matters worse was that the sergeant in Communications room called out that the duty CID Chief Inspector had been contacted at home and would be attending the scene. We were then called on the radio to attend the scene as was many other officers from beats all around the town. It was obvious that the area was going to be saturated with policeman.
The Detective Chief Inspector
We looked at each other with drawn faces as we knew what might happen if it was known what we had done. Everything moved so quickly and there was little we could do apart from do as we were told.
We were instructed to set up a road block in Queens Road just north of the Clock Tower. We did that knowing that there had not been any safe blowing. It wasn’t long before members of the public; the key-holder’s arrived at their respective offices and was accompanied by a policeman to search their own premises. This incident started about 2.30am and the incident was played out for the rest of the night shift.
At 5.30am we were still manning our road block, but shortly after that we received a ‘stand down’ as all the premises had been successfully searched with negative results.
The Detective Chief Inspector was not very happy at being woken from his slumbers for nothing and being rather disgruntled went home to try to catch up on a little more sleep. The young policeman had a report to write and we had done very little patrolling from 2.30am onwards.
Looking back on it now, it was obviously a very silly thing to do but for more than 3o years I have never said a word to anyone about this very silly prank that went disastrously wrong.
I have deliberately left out the names of the people who were involved. Bob and I both knew that had we admitted what we had done, we would have been punished by being taken off driving and made to work the beat.
I would now like to apologise to anyone who was inconvenienced by our silly prank that is, if anyone actually remembers this incident.