Earlier this year I had an “arresting experience”. I was literally arrested by policemen, taken to the local (Southend) nick in handcuffs and stayed in a locked cell for the best part of eight hours.
And all over a photo, and to be precise the first of the two above. The second photo was taken in 1962, which was of the country dance team that I had been part of, with the school I attended in the background. The photos relate to Blenheim School, which ajoins Blenheim Park. As for the school building, which other than colour of frontage and extra bits in front, little had changed, other than the oak tree just in front growing somewhat in 56 years. I was on my way back from dropping my wife at Heathrow airport and having an hour to kill before attending a doctor’s appointment I thought I would stretch my legs in a park that held strong childhood memories and take the photo to show friends. One passer-by didn’t quite see it that way and reported me to the police as being up to no good. The experience of being arrested bemused me although it didn’t take much imagination in this day where people are rightly concerned about protecting children etc. why my actions made me a suspect.
Other than the arresting officers whose actions were in my view heavier than need be I could not fault the actions of the police. My police engagement thereafter occurred at Southend’s newly refurbished custody suite, a fact that was brought home when a friend described a recent experience of being given a guided tour. Between being dropped off and “booked” I engaged in a pleasant conversation with the police officer that was “looking after” me, where he related his concerns for the police service. After that I interacted with a number from the custody team and all acted agreeably. My cell was as comfortable as could be expected but there was little I could do other than rest and reflect. I had been earlier subject to a thorough search and had nothing with me to distract like book or smart phone. I was allowed to “phone a friend” (my sister) who took care of my cats and brought me my medicines (but we couldn’t meet). Refreshments were on hand and twice I was checked out by medics in the light of medical issues. I again engaged in a pleasant conversation with one of them, as he relayed his concerns for the service he was part of, who thoughtfully made me a bowl of porridge, and then back to my cell to await my fate.
At the end I did get to see a solicitor, one the “system” provides to guide you through the “what happens next” process. She was great. It was only then I was able to figure out what exactly I might have done wrong and learn that while I was playing imaginary noughts and crosses on the squares in my cell an officer had been allocated and did interview witnesses. I made a statement as to what I was doing in the park (see above) and under advice answered “no comment” to his questions. It was over in no time at all and after a short wait back in my cell I was told there would be no charge and I was free to go. I thanked the custody sergeant for his hospitality, commented on how much police time had been wasted and unnecessary stress caused and suggested that the tea needed improving before I could give him top marks. The interviewing officer (who done well) took me back in a police car to where my car was parked and this time I sat in the front rather than the back of a custody van. Yet another pleasant conversation took place with this officer who I reckoned was a credit to the service by his conduct.
To say I was in a state of shock between being arrested and let go would not be overstating it (my blood pressure registered pretty high and a day later was normal). It was in many ways an unpleasant experience and during my uncertain confinement I couldn’t help but dwell on the possibilities of what could turn out to be the worst possible outcome. It was the first time I had been arrested, and it was an educational one from all sorts of angles, including experiencing similar to what some of my homeless friend go through if arrested. I wondered if I should share this but decided to do so, so others can learn from my experience, and rather than retreat in embarrassment I needed to lift my head high, although I doubt I can view in quite the same way my childhood wonderland. Now I can see clearly the need for wisdom and in this case it ought to have trumped convenience. We need to protect our children, but there is no excuse to engage in or support witch hunts, and those who tell lies to pursue their dubious agenda need calling out.
It is a sad reflection of our times that one might be arrested for merely being in the vicinity of a school, but such are the times we live in there are understandable concerns. While my natural inclination was to name and shame the person who brought a false accusation and point out flaws in a system where an innocent man can be arrested, I thought better of it, as much due to beliefs about turning the other cheek. I quite get it that the whole episode has brought home yet again real concerns over child safeguarding, and yet shows how this can lead to the innocent suffering and still not crack the issues that matter. At the end, I was grateful something that could have turned out quite nasty had a happy(ish) ending.