Motorway Police Stories
BONFIRE NIGHT 1994
By Geoff Taylor
November 5th 1994 and I was the afternoon Inspector on the GMP Motorway network. It had been a run of the mill day and at 10.45pm I was refuelling my Range Rover at Whitefield Police Station, prior to going home. Then a call came in, reporting an RTA persons trapped, Fire Brigade attending M61 Northbound at Westhoughton, Bolton. I knew the afternoon troops would be in parading off and the night staff hadn't turned out yet, so I answered up for the job, hit the blues & two's and started making my way.
The accident had happened as follows: Just north of junction 5 of the M61 the motorway descends into a slight hollow. With it being bonfire night a fog had developed in the hollow and a number of cars had collided as they entered the fog bank. No one was seriously hurt but one party could not get out of the vehicle due to the damage and so it was reported as "persons trapped". The Fire Service sent two appliances from Horwich which came south on the motorway, exited at junction 5 and turned to rejoin the nortbound carriagewy. The first appliance reached the scene of the bump and started dealing with the incident - still no police motorway patrols at the scene. As the second fire appliance travelled up the nortbound slip road there was an articulated lorry travelling north along the motorway. The lorry driver moved out into lane two to allow the appliance to join, overtook the fire truck and drove into the fog bank at 60mph. Seconds later the fire crew heard an almoghty collision and thought the artic had hit the other fire appliance.
There was standing traffic within the fog bank, including a bulk powder tanker with a saloon car stationary to the rear. The artic collided with the rear of the saloon car, crushing it against the back of the tanker. The momentum of the artic then caused it to climb on top of the saloon car which then caught fire. Just after this the second fire appliance arrived at the scene and the crew rescued the artic driver from his cab. A few seconds later I arrived at the scene.
Having done a quick recce of the accident scene, and knowing other police patrols were making to the scene, I instructed the motorway should be closed due to the serious nature of the incident. In amongst the standing traffic on the motorway were two cars carrying rival factions of asian youths from the Longsight area of Manchester. November is one of the Asian Festivals and the young Asian lads used to hire flash motors and race them on the prom at Blackpool. These two rival factions were shaping up to do battle on the motorway, so putting on my best John Wayne impression, I threatened them all with instant arrest unless they got back in their cars and behaved. Fortunately it worked.
As more patrols arrived at the scene we started creating a bit of order out of the chaos. After speaking to the Sub Officer in charge of the second appliance the HGV driver was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. We knew the crushed car was a Rover as we could see one wheel with the Rover emblem on it. The remainder of the car was unrecognisable and still crushed beneath the tractor unit of the artic. We started to clear the traffic that had been trapped on the motorway by sending it the "wrong way" down the northbound access slip road. When the cars containing the asian gentlemen reached the roundabout at the bottom of the slip road they were met by two units of GMP's Tactical Aid Group and both they and the cars were thoroughly searched, the youths being suitably advised re their conduct, prior to being let go.
Eventually we got a mobile crane to the scene of the accident, straps were put through the cab of the artic and it was lifted off the car. The Fire Service still wouldn't go near the car, so we put a towing strap onto the Rover and dragged it clear with a Range Rover. The fire fighters then went to work and we then found the car contained two people, believed to have been killed instantly by the impact before the car caught fire.
My 3/11 shift for Friday 5th November ended at 8am on Saturday 6th November. The HGV driver was successfully prosucuted for causing death by dangerous driving. The Sub Officer who climbed up to rescue the driver from his cab spent most of that night muttering to himself "should have left him there!". This was one of the worst incidents I attended in my ten years on the Motorway and will stay with me forever.
MAKING THAT FIRST IMPRESSION
By Maurice Kime
In the mid 1980s I was a Traffic Officer with the Greater Manchester Police Motorway Section covering all the motorways around the Manchester area including the M56 Airport spur. Our shift on the motorway section had a change of Sergeant and he asked to see me in order to introduce himself. He worked out of Birch post and I worked out of Stretford post, some 10 miles away, so I duly told him I was on the Airport spur and waited for him. In those days we were allowed to park up on the grass verge and watch for miscreants driving past us!
He duly arrived and parked his Range Rover near to mine, walked over and I told him that I needed to move my jeep a few feet. So he stood at the side of my Range Rover whilst I performed a slight shunt. Suddenly there was this almighty bang and yes two tons of Range Rover had rolled onto a full plastic milk bottle with the result that our new Sergeant suddenly became covered in sour milk, from top to toe! All he could say was "well that’s a nice way of introducing yourself".
Well I was doubled up with laughter and yes as is the case in police circles word soon got around about what I had done.
MY MOTORWAY POLICING EXPERIENCES 1988 – 2008
By Steve Woodward
Getting onto the Traffic Division had been my ambition from the day I took the oath. And after doing ten years of inner city policing during the turbulent and violent 1980s it was time for me to move onto my dream job. In July 1988 I was posted to Cosham Traffic on the outskirts of Portsmouth, to commence Traffic patrol duties. At that time Hampshire had more miles of motorway than any other county in the UK (I think it was 186 miles) and included the M3, M27, M271, M275, A3(M) and the four lane section of the A27 that links the M27 to the A3(M) and which we policed as motorway.
Despite the large amount of motorway within its force area Hampshire has never had a dedicated motorway policing unit. Neither has it ever had (until 2008 anyway) a dedicated ARV section. Instead Hampshire opted to merge all three sections under the Traffic Division umbrella and its officers responsibilities consisted of motorway duty first and all other traffic duties second. Those on ARV duties did the same unless redeployed to an armed incident of course.
BMW 528i sits above the A3(M)
In 1988 Hampshire was firmly in the grip of using BMW 528i (E28) saloons with the series 3 Jaguar XJ6 4.2 saloons being phased out. We had been using BMWs since 1978 but mixed in the Jags in 1983/4 plus a few oddities like the Volvo 264 DL. We didn’t have any crash tenders then either. The BMWs were fantastic cars except for the seats. Not only were some of them covered in black vinyl, which made you sweat something awful during the summer (no aircon in them days me lad!) but the seats themselves were incredibly uncomfortable. We all suffered from back ache and most of us used those log-rolls to support the base of our spines. But the cars were very quick with excellent road holding and they had a certain presence about them. By 1989 we were starting to replace the E28 model with the E34, firstly as the 530i and then as the multi-valved 525i. This was the best Police car I ever drove, they were superb. Brilliant handling, bullet proof engine (my last one did 201,112 miles) and excellent build quality. By the early 1990s we started to bring in a few MK2 Vauxhall Senators. To many officers and enthusiasts these were the best Police cars of all time. Well they weren’t if you worked in Hampshire because we had BMWs which were infinitely superior in every department. OK so the Senator could hit 150 mph but when the bonnet ripples at anything over a ton and the rear suspension has a habit of appearing through the parcel shelf, it didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Oh and in the wet, they were bloody lethal. I also got to drive the Range Rover 3.5 V8 Classic and the first of the diesel Landrover Discovery’s which we nick named ‘the tractor’ and with very good reason. It was as noisy as a farm yard tractor and just as slow! But you couldn’t accuse the Volvo 850 T5 and the later V70 T5 as being slow, they were a sensation when issued to us in 1994 and were the Traffic patrol car for next decade when the current E61 BMW 530d estates then took over. And in 2001 Hampshire had the honour to use the very first BMW X5 3.0d 4x4 as a replacement for the old Disco. Chalk and cheese would be a gross understatement and the X5 ran the E34 a very close second to being my all time favourite patrol car.
This BMW 525i was my favourite all-time motorway patrol car
On board the 528i we had the usual boot full of 12 cones, 6 accident/slow signs plus the metal tripod frames to hang them on, tow rope, crow bar, first aid kit, gallon of water (usually to top up the BMW with because they did had a habit of boiling over when left on the hard shoulder with the engine running!) 2 blankets and a tube full of road flares. These were great fun to play with. Basically they were a hand-held flare about 12 inches in length. You struck the sharp end along a piece of attached sandpaper to ignite it and a long reddish flame erupted. You waved this in the dark to slow approaching traffic down or laid several of them on the road surface on the approach to an RTA. When things went horribly wrong and the car you were trying to slow down didn’t, you tended to throw the flare at the rear of the offending vehicle whilst screaming out some expletive or other! This generally had the desired affect.
I could write pages and pages on the various motorway incidents I have attended in 20 years on Traffic which would probably bore you to tears, so I will just pick a few for no particular reason other than to demonstrate the huge variety of work that motorway cops deal with on a daily basis. Some are quite amusing, others tragic.
I recall coming down the on-slip at junction 11 of the M27 late one afternoon when we saw a Hillman Avenger weaving from lane 1 to lane 3 and back again. It was all over the place, so much so that the public dare not overtake it. We pulled up beside it and were horrified to see the elderly male driver slumped against the driver’s side window, eyes closed, mouth wide open. “He’s dead” my partner shouted out. With that the Avenger veered left again, onto the hard shoulder where it completely demolished an SOS phone and drove 10 feet up the motorway embankment before coming to rest on the hard shoulder with steam and water pouring out from under the demolished front end. He wasn’t dead, he was asleep and the impact had woken him up! We drove him home where his son, who had been concerned about his father driving for sometime handed us his fathers driving licence and told him he would never drive again.
Late on a Sunday afternoon we got sent to a car on fire at the top end of the A3(M). On our arrival we found a MK2 Ford Granada well alight with huge flames and smoke blowing directly across both the southbound lanes. The traffic had already been forced to a halt because of this and for some reason they were all stopped in lane 2 with nothing in lane 1. The first fire appliance had arrived at the same time we had and were now busily doing their bit to extinguish the fire. We had only been there about two minutes when to my horror I saw the third car in the traffic queue pop out from the line and do a U turn and start driving north up the southbound hard shoulder. Within seconds another eight cars did the same thing, with some driving up the hard shoulder whilst others drove up lane 1. My partner Barry and I screamed at them, waving our arms in an effort to stop them. Things got even worse as we saw the second fire appliance plus an ambulance all arriving on blues and twos to be confronted by this wave of stupidity, forcing them to swerve violently to avoid what seemed to be a certain collision. Thankfully a second patrol car was also arriving just behind the ambulance and he managed to stop seven of the cars from reaching the slip road they were aiming for, some 400 yards away from the fire. Barry and I had run after them and puffing and panting we lined them all up on the hard shoulder, took all their keys away from them and told them they could wait there until we had finished dealing with the car fire and only then would we come back to speak to them further. It took us well over an hour to deal with the remains of the Granada and get it recovered. We then went back to our now rather sheepish looking car drivers. They all got reported for dangerous driving, they all pleaded guilty and all got disqualified for 12 months and rightly so.
I hate seeing animals suffer, so imagine my horror at the sight of a horse box being towed by a Landrover sitting on the hard shoulder of the A3(M) with the two female occupants absolutely frantic, running around the box and looking underneath it. As I approached I could see a trail of blood coming from underneath the trailer. Inside I could clearly hear a horse in distress. The two women were screaming and crying. I looked underneath the box and saw the front two hooves of the horse had come through the rotten wooden floor and had been virtually worn away as its feet scraped along the motorway surface. There was blood and exposed bone everywhere. I called for a vet and was told it would be about an hour. I told the control room that simply wasn’t good enough and after much shouting on my part we eventually got one to the scene (having been picked up in a patrol car) in less than half that time. By then the two women had opened the trailer and climbed inside to calm the horse down, which to their credit they managed very well. But like me, they both knew that the horse would have to be put down right here at the road side. The vet arrived and confirmed our worst fears. He thankfully put the horse out of its misery within minutes and we were left with the grizzly task of trying to get the now limp horse out of the box and recovered to a place of rest. It was an extremely unpleasant and distressing incident to deal with and has stayed with me for years.
ECP’s, remember those? Emergency Crossover Points just in case you don’t recall. They were basically a large gap in the central crash barriers, big enough to squeeze a patrol car through in order to facilitate a U turn onto the opposing carriageway. Whose stupid idea was that? Anyway I remember doing my very first one. Just as a practice run you understand, so that my partner/tutor could teach me how to go about it ‘safely’. There was a definite technique to it but the scariest part wasn’t the actual turn (although that was bad enough) but the slowing down in lane 3 to about 10 mph hoping that you weren’t going to get rear ended by the driver doing 90 and looking no further than the end of his bonnet. I did use the ECP’s on my patch now and again but only in the most urgent of responses. By the early 1990s most of them had been closed for obvious reasons and by the turn of the century I think the last of them were sealed forever.
Picking up debris is an everyday occurrence for motorway crews and over the years I’ve had to pick up or sweep away all manner of stuff, from dead foxes to an up-right hoover and from car exhaust pipes to a leather settee. By far the most common item to remove is wooden pallets and the damned things just disintegrate upon impact with the road surface and then spread like a wooden rash over the next two hundred yards. The protruding nails invariably puncture a few tyres and after sorting out the debris its time to go and pacify the distraught motorist once again. The most bizarre item I ever got sent to was a complete Luton box from a Transit van or similar laying in lane 2 of the M27. It had clearly been ripped from its mountings and the empty box bounced down the carriageway thankfully without hitting anyone else. And the owner? No idea, he never came back and we didn’t trace him. I often pictured the look on his face when he reached his destination to find that most of his vehicle was now missing!
And its debris again that forms the basis of this next little bit of lamp swinging. Late one evening I got sent to an RTA on the northbound section of the A3(M). Upon my arrival I found a Vauxhall Astra on the hard shoulder with the front end quite badly damaged. I spoke to the young male driver and asked the obvious question “what happened?”
“I hit a clowns head” he replied.
“A clowns head, about 3 feet high it was”
In true Traffpol style I have to confess that I was somewhat sceptical concerning his story but he was most insistent that he had collided with a 3 foot high clowns head in lane 1.
I therefore grabbed my torch and searched the motorway hard shoulder and embankment. And there it was. A 3 foot high, very colourful, fibreglass clown’s head with the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. And hardly any damage it has to be said, certainly not as much as the Astra had suffered. I did trace the owner via the local media and duly returned the head to him, together with his summons for having an insecure load. However we did have a bit of fun with the head first by sitting it in our Sgt’s chair with a note attached saying ‘spot the difference’. He took it in good heart I’m pleased to say.
The clowns head
And finally from me, you never know whose watching. Whilst on nights about half midnight, my partner Chris and I entered the M275 northbound and up ahead we saw another BMW patrol car. Must be the Fareham crew we thought. What are they doing on our patch? It was very quiet, so time for a bit of fun we thought. I raced up beside them, roof lights fully ablaze, whilst Chris hung himself out of the passenger window doing his best impression of ‘The Scream’ and gesticulating with both hands in the most disgusting manner. It was hilarious until Chris shouted out “shit, it’s the Chief Inspector, drive, damn it, drive”. He wasn’t joking either. We spent all night trying to think up excuses or somebody else to blame. We were convinced we were going to be hung, drawn and quartered. And that’s if we were lucky. But nothing ever happened. Nothing was ever said. Which made us wonder. Just what was a Chief Inspector doing out in a patrol car at half midnight anyway? Whatever it was, we weren’t supposed to have seen him! Night, night.