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Tales of a Detective


The audience in a packed hall listened attentively to retired Detective Inspector Steve Roberts who gave us a fascinating talk on his thirty years’ service with the Metropolitan Police.  He applied to join the Met in 1976 as he came from the Whitechapel area.  After a two-year period walking the beat, he decided that he wanted to become a plain clothes officer.


One of the things he specialised in was the prevention of “jump up” crime which is where the criminal waits for the appropriate moment then climbs on to a goods vehicle and steals parcels known as “joeys”* in the trade.  He told us the amusing story of how he helped foil an attempted robbery by three men in the Commercial Road.  One of the robbers tried to get away in a truck and Detective Roberts threw himself on the back of the truck armed only with a truncheon.  This could have been a dangerous situation but fortunately the robber agreed to drive them to the police station.


After ten years, he joined the Flying Squad (“the “Sweeney”)* which deals with major armed robberies.  There were four Divisions in London and Detective Roberts was stationed in the South-East branch based at Tower Bridge.  They sometimes carried guns but a great deal of the time they were doing surveillance work.  He spoke about the attempt to steal the Millennium Diamond by ramming a JCB into the wall of the Millennium Dome, but because of intelligence work the police were waiting inside for them.  He also recounted the humorous story of the same thieves who planned a robbery in Nine Elms.  They left their getaway vehicle empty with keys in the ignition ready for a quick escape, but were foiled by a commuter who, finding himself blocked in, took their keys and walked off.


There are two types of operation, one reactive, investigating a crime after it has happened and the other proactive when they get intelligence beforehand.  They usually work in pairs in unmarked cars, sometimes watching suspects for 14/16 hours a day.


Finally, he moved to the Kidnap Unit which works out of New Scotland Yard.  The most important rule here is not to endanger the victim’s life.  He has worked abroad in the USA, Thailand, Holland and China.  His last humorous anecdote concerned eating Chinese food whilst on assignment to sort out some Snakehead gangsters preying on Chinese migrants.


An appreciative audience asked many questions.  The vote of thanks was given by Jackie Casey.


Sue Bolam


*Cockney rhyming slang: Parcel = Elephant and Castle = joey the elephant;

                                        Flying Squad = Sweeney Todd.



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