Sometimes you need scum to hold society together. Take the police and politicians.
Yesterday I was in Greenwich.
Around lunchtime, I was walking on the other side of the street from Up The Creek comedy club.
Five men were standing outside the club. One man was being repeatedly punched in the face by two of the men. The other two were standing watching.
At around ten o’clock last night, I went out to buy some chocolate for my eternally-un-named friend from a late-night shop. I was walking along the pavement a little way from Up The Creek, near a road junction – If you know Greenwich, it was at the start of Creek Road, where traffic from central Greenwich’s square one-way system comes round into two-way Creek Road.
There was heavy traffic driving along the other side of the road. A man wearing a grey suit was standing in the middle of my side of the road near the junction, facing the on-coming traffic, doing slow-motion tai-chi moves. His back was to the blind corner of the junction. No traffic was coming round the corner behind him (it is controlled by traffic lights). But any vehicles coming round that corner would not see him until the last moment and would, fairly inevitably, hit him.
As I approached him, the man slowly staggered off the road and onto the pavement behind me. A few minutes later, as I was leaving the chocolate shop, the man staggered in asking where he could buy drink.
Yesterday, an MP used Parliamentary privilege to reveal that Sir Norman Berttison (South Yorkshire police chief at the time of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster in which 96 people died – currently Chief Constable of West Yorkshire) “boasted” about a plot to “fit up the Liverpool fans”. It is claimed he said at the time: “We are trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and we were afraid that they were going to break down the gates so we decided to open them.”
The (allegedly) Independent Police Complaints Commission has been given the names of 1,444 officers, including 304 serving police, to investigate over the disaster. According to the Daily Mail, around 164 police statements were altered to make them look more favourable to the agreed police version of events.
And, according to a piece in the Daily Mail on 12th September this year, “Richard Wells, who took over at South Yorkshire Police a year after the 1989 tragedy that killed 96, admitted the scale of the conspiracy to pin the blame on the innocent dead and injured had left him ‘disappointed and angry’.”
Other people might have said that a conspiracy made them disappointed and angry. He appears to have said it was “the scale” of the conspiracy which disappointed him. An interesting distinction.
I was also interested to read a couple of days ago in the Guardian a follow-up to a previous news story in which a policeman used a 50,000 volt taser on a 62 year-old blind man because he thought the blind man’s white stick was a samurai sword.
I had not realised that this registered blind man, who previously had two strokes and reportedly is only able to walk at a “snail’s pace” was tasered in the back.
The policeman involved has not been suspended pending any investigation and is still allowed to carry and use a taser.
As far as I understand it, police rules on tasers say they should only be used when there is an imminent and high threat to the police officer involved. Quite how this could happen when the “threat” is a man walking away at a snail’s pace with his back to the policemen, is an interesting logistical point.
“Perhaps the police are employing blind people themselves,” I suggested to my eternally-un-named friend last night. “Perhaps it’s an equal opportunities initiative.”
“You’re very unfair,” she said.
“Tell me about the waving knives story,” I suggested and pressed the record button of my iPhone.
“I had just finished shopping at Marks & Spencer’s in Greenwich,” she said. “It was about six o’clock at night and I was stepping out of the door. The pavement was empty except for this child of maybe ten or eleven who was maybe two shops away, stomping along, with his arms moving as he marched. He wasn’t slow. He looked like he knew where he was going. He had a plan. And, in each hand, he had a foot-long bread knife. He wasn’t waving them about over his head; they were swinging backwards and forwards as part of his marching.
“He was a little guy, which made the knives look even longer. He was maybe up to my chin and I’m 5’4”. He was stomping along. There was no-one on the pavement near him. I think maybe they had gone into shop doorways. But I was coming out of Marks & Spencer’s and my brain went: Do I just walk past him and assume he’s not going to stab me? Or do I not risk that because he’s obviously off on some odd mindset. It might be a case of Oh, I’ve got a knife… Ooh, there’s a woman. Let’s stab her!
I wasn’t stupid enough to think I wasn’t at risk. So I stepped back in, found the security guard and said, There’s a boy just about to pass… and, as I’m talking to him, the kid passes with the bread knives and the security guy rushed off to have a look at the video they have of what’s passing in the street.”
“And you never heard any more about the kid or anything happening?” I asked.
“No,” my eternally un-named friend said.
“And it was a few years ago,” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “I think it was before the shooting in my square… We used to have gangs running through from one side to the other.”
“How many?” I asked. “I thought it was just one person on one night.”
“No,” she corrected me. “There was one person who was shot. That was one gun on one night, though who knows how many guns the others had? No, there were gangs of ten or twenty passing through. I didn’t count and it was a bit hard to tell. It was like rats going down holes. And, if you’re coming back from shopping and they’re running towards you – Whooaaa! – You suddenly pass someone who’s charged towards you holding some metal bar in his hand, looking back over his shoulder.
“They were having a whale of a time having fights. It happened for about two or three years. It stopped after the actual shooting. Sometimes the police came, but there was a time when I phoned up and said: There’s a bunch of youths outside. What do I do?
“What are they doing now? I was asked.
“Well, at the moment, I said, they’re just sitting on a bench talking, but one’s just thrown a glass panel from a shower unit into the children’s play area
“Well, said the policeman, that’s a past event now, isn’t it?… That was a minute ago, so it’s not happening now, is it?
“But, I said, there’s obviously something wrong with them. It was a six-foot high pane of glass…
“It was like you’ve heard in Victoria Station. They would have running fights. Wasn’t someone stabbed there? That was what was happening in Greenwich for a couple of years. You would be sitting here and there would be a commotion outside for five minutes or half an hour, then it would stop a bit and you’d look out and see little groups because they were waiting for someone or whatever.
“When the shooting happened, the first I knew was this BANG! and everything went deathly quiet. The next time I looked out, I saw a little policewoman standing with tape at one entrance to the square, cordoning it off. All the entrances were taped off.
“Someone told me They’ve shot someone, but he hasn’t died and I said Well, that’s a pity. One down, nineteen to go – because you got so blasé with it.
“You no longer cared if people killed each other, you just wished they would and would they mind hurrying up about it, please? That’s the truth. That’s how you felt. It’s where you live. The noise was annoying, it was a bit frightening to step out. You’d think Oh, I could do with some milk. Will I go out now? Better not. Maybe that would be a bit daft.
“You just had to live with it, because no-one really did anything about it.”
Last night, I moved my car at about one o’clock in the morning, ready to drive away from Greenwich. I have had it broken-into twice in central Greenwich, so I now park it in a different area. As I turned a corner, there was the man in the grey suit I had seen a few hours earlier. Now he was staggering along in the middle of a side road, heading towards Creek Road, a main road from central Greenwich into London.
As I turned my car right into Creek Road, he staggered onto the pavement at the other side of the street. As I drove away, in my rear view mirror, I saw him turn around, half cross the main road then turn into the road, walking, swaying along the middle of the left side of Creek Road, his back to any oncoming traffic, heading towards London.
I hoped he would meet some police.
That is not a hope I often have.