In your face

Mike Guilfoyle
Thursday, 9 June 2022

Sometimes I light upon a book that evokes an array of emotions and leaves a lasting impression.

This time, unusually for me, it was reading the memoir by John Sutherland, a former Metropolitan police officer. A phase used through out was "every contact leaves a trace". IT reminded me of an police-related incident at the probation office I then worked at. It involved a strange mixture of a stake-out, a selectively incontinent client, and a remarkable probation officer.

The probation office (now closed) sat atop a housing office and a series criminal damage incidents to staff cars parked aside the building prompted a police call out.

On arrival, the plain clothes officers, somewhat abruptly, made their way to one of the windows overlooking an adjacent block of flats. It happened to be located in the office of a probation officer, Barry, whose seasoned practice experience and well honed people skills were partly fashioned after working for many years in a specialist unit within the Metropolitan Police.

The client who was the subject of police interest was on Barry's caseload, which immediately complicated arrangements and placed him in a most invidious position. As the officers, using binoculars , furtively viewed the property, the client in question, Arnie (not his real name) reported to the office.

In the many years up to that point that I had been supervising clients, Arnie was unquestionably the most worryingly volatile person I had yet met, with a string of past convictions for violence and an unnervingly in-your-face approach to whoever was in his range of vision.

Barry asked if I could speak to Arnie, on the pretext that he was otherwise engaged. I gingerly stepped into the waiting area and introduced myself. I was confronted by an abusive tirade. "I ain't seeing anyone but Barry, so you can **** off."

Without wanted to make a very fraught situation more problematic, I, on reflection perhaps a bit feebly, asked Arnie to be patient and Barry would see him. The officers then reappeared and walked past Arnie, without any obvious show of recognition.

Barry emerged from his room, having picked up the animated exchange. A complete change of tone and manner from Arnie left me somewhat abashed.

"Mr Lewis, very good to see you".

"Arnie, we work as a team of probation officers here. Any bad language will see you back in court", Barry replied.

Later, when Arnie had left and some semblance of order had returned, the team was briefed by the Senior Probation Officer (SPO) on what appeared a rather unconvincing explanation for having the police stake-out an address of someone, with a history of violence, reporting to the office.

"They will be back tomorrow", the SPO said, to everyone's consternation.

Matters turned out to have a rather unexpectedly olfactory outcome, which resulted in the police visit being short-lived. Another of Barry's clients had a very unwelcome habit of defecating in the waiting area. Nothing could be pinned on him (no CCTV) but Barry elicited an 'unforced confession' some time later from his selectively incontinent client.

The plain clothes officers 'discretely' announced their arrival, and having made their way to the third floor via the stairway, passed another client who vaguely recognised one of the officers.

"I know you", came the matey retort. The client who claimed to be Britain's oldest bank robber, eyed the officers awaiting to be buzzed in. As they entered the waiting area , the unwelcome presence of human excrement greeted them, strategically positioned in the middle of the room.

"Perhaps we will come back later", one of them said.

They then opted for a more aggressive form of policing. The following day, after an almighty bang, the front door gave way and Arnie was led away in handcuffs from a adjacent property.

I later joshed with Barry, "I have heard of the smell of practice but this is taking in to another level". Barry smiled knowingly and, returning to his office, remarked "**** happens".

Barry left the team some time later to take up a post as an SPO elsewhere in London. We continued to meet up socially, due to our shared enjoyment of real ale. He later sadly passed away following ill-health retirement.

I would like to dedicate this post to his memory.

Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer.