A Police Story
A Quiet Weekend By B.G. Senior
It is very seldom that a CID Inspector puts pen to paper in praise of the work done by the uniformed section, but the 80th edition of the British Transport Police Journal 1968 carried the stories of an almost unbelievable chain of events. The stories of a weekend in January 1968 were written by Detective Inspector Ben Senior in praise of the super police dog, Storm. He was there, he saw it for himself, and yet he did not quite see what he thought he saw. My account differs slightly from Ben’s, because he has written his stories through the eyes of a CID officer, and mine are written with the knowledge of knowing exactly what the police-dog was doing, and why he did it his way.
Edited and amended by Harold Philbin, on behalf of Police Dog Storm
At eight twenty five p.m. Friday the 26th January nineteen sixty eight, information was received that a block failure had occurred between Castleton East Signal- box and Middleton Junction Signal-box. On arrival at the scene, our mobile officers already in attendance informed me that the job was ruined because the City Police officers had arrived first, and by shining their torches on the telegraph poles as they walked towards the thieves, had disturbed them and they had fled, they also told me that a local farmer had seen the thieves up the telegraph poles.
When I questioned the farmer, he told me that they had actually cut his electricity wire as well. He stated that the thieves were still up the poles when the police came in sight, and they had only fled at the last minute. My normal plan of action would have been to let Storm have a look around the immediate area first, but for some reason I did not do that. The farmer had also told me that the thieves must still be nearby, because the railway lines and the road passing his farm were the only ways out of the area. The canal swung round in a half circle, and they must still be in that circle unless they had swum the canal or crossed the tracks.
Then I told Storm to search and away he went, loose, straight to the canal he went, and then he followed it back to the railway. The water went under the railway at this point, and Storm gave his usual indication for me to come and collect his prisoner. When I got there, I saw a young man up to his neck in the very cold water and I said to him, “Come out now or I will send him in for you.” He replied, “I didn’t think they could track on water, I am coming out right away.”
As I have said already, this was January and he was cold, shivering like a leaf, but he said, “You can’t lock me up, I am working with the CID and the other men that you should have caught have got away.” As quickly as I could, I got him to Middleton Police Station and into a warm room to dry him out, and hand him over to our CID later. He must have been quite a good talker with a very interesting topic of conversation, because two of our CID Officers, and our own Detective Inspector Senior turned out for observations, as well as two very obviously involved Manchester City Detectives, who admitted nothing of the kind to me?
Then Storm and I were invited to the party as well, and a very complicated system of observations was set up, consisting of four detectives, one detective inspector, a police dog, his handler and the captured thief as well. All of the policemen were issued with the latest models of portable radios, which after many years of indifferent performance were now beginning to actually work some of the time. The thief had been issued with his two rolls of telephone wire, disconnected of course, and he was obviously the bait. He took up a position adjacent to the same place where he had been swimming a few hours earlier, and the rest of us were in vehicles stationed all round the area observing the comings and the goings of all vehicles.
Already any reader must have realised that this is not the way that police dogs work, and that Storm had no chance at all of using his superpowers from inside a van. We could actually have been doing something a lot more useful elsewhere. About two fifteen am that morning, we were advised that thieves had been disturbed in Moston Sidings, and they had left a van loaded with parcels at the scene. The mobile officers had asked for Storm to assist them, and they had been told that he was too busy with a very important job, working with the CID, but about three thirty am, it was decided that the observations should be cancelled, after a fiasco worthy of a Laurel and Hardy film.
Our now only slightly damp informant had been waiting patiently with his coils of telephone wire, at a convenient bus stop on the main road in Middleton Centre for his accomplices and a vehicle to arrive, they did arrive eventually but something aroused their suspicions, and they drove away at high speed. Our hero ran off down the road after them trying desperately to put his roll of telephone wire into the car with the occupants trying just as desperately to push it out, and they won.
This left the informant back where he was when I had finished with him in the first place; he had a cell to himself in Middleton Police Station and a charge of theft to answer to. And now we were all on our way to where we should have been in the first place, Moston Sidings. The CID car lead the way with two detectives and their Inspector in it, Storm and I were just behind them in the dog van as we approached the entrance to the side road to the sidings where the abandoned van and the mobile officers were. We all saw four men crossing Thorpe Road and they may have come from the railway sidings, but I saw something that the others in the car in front could not possibly see.
As soon as they had crossed the road, they all ran at full speed up the footpath towards Newton Heath Loco Sheds, obviously they had recognized at least one of our vehicles. I switched off the van engine, applied the handbrake, and stepping out of the van while it was still moving, waited for it to pass me, and as it did so I opened the back door, Storm was out of the van before it had even stopped and he was off like a bullet. With his limited view in the back of the van, goodness knows how he knew what I wanted, but he did it to perfection, and he grabbed one of the running men and held him firmly by the arm until I had put the handcuffs on him.
As I took him back to where the CID car was waiting, I heard one of the detectives say, “Why the Hell did he do that, he has no evidence at all. “ True the evidence was thin; after all it is no offence to run away, even from plain -clothes police officers, but the Golden touch was there once again; because in the man's pocket was the ignition key for the abandoned van. The CID report says and I still have it, that on first sighting the four men it was immediately realised that they may be the intruders.
But I was only working on the fact that the thieves had run off down that footpath, and the detectives' could not see that: P.C. Geoff Bentley had summed it all up perfectly, long ago, as he had said then “If only Storm could do the typing we could all go home,” the arrested man was taken to the CID office, and when he was being questioned about the thefts from the sidings it was established that rival gangs were also stealing from the loaded vans in the sidings. And while he would talk all night about the others, he would not disclose any information about the other three men with him who had got away.
While he was giving this information and the teapot was still warm, a message was received of a block failure near to the remains of Agecroft Locomotive Shed. When Storm and I arrived at the block failure where the wires were cut, he set off in his usual manner of running faster and faster, then looking back for my stop signal, I just let him carry on; and soon he was going at full speed, and he very quickly caught one man. Having caught that one, I allowed him to continue after another one who had run down the embankment.
Looking down the embankment I saw that Storm had got the second man and he was bringing him back to me, he had caught him on the exact spot of that life saving intervention so many years ago, but the huge concrete coal hopper was long gone. (Yet another very good, previous story.)
When I got back to the police office with the two new prisoners, Detective Inspector Senior was laboriously, one finger typing a report, and he said to me, “Will you please take that dog home, (or words to that effect) As a result of all the information received via the captured prisoner at Moston Sidings earlier the same day, observations were set up to cover a period of five p.m. to five a.m. in and outside the sidings. There would be two CID officers outside the sidings, and one inside the sidings with Storm and myself.
All were to be radio linked, and this time it was a much better arrangement than the fiasco at Middleton. Cliff Cavanah one of our very best detectives was detailed with Storm and I and it looked like being a very long night if we had to go through until five a.m. At least it looked like a worthwhile proposition, the only snag that I could see was if our prospective customers spotted the police car outside the sidings like they had done at Middleton. No need to bother about that this time, because when Cliff said very quietly, “I will switch on now and make sure that it is working properly.” I just replied, “Don’t bother Cliff, he has got one already. "Cliff was so busily fiddling with the radio, that he had not noticed Storm set his ears in the direction of the loaded vans, or seen him look at me for permission to go. But everyone did hear the roar of fury from the dog, and the human yelp of pain as he took hold of a prisoner who had obviously done something to upset him. Cliff and I went to the middle of the loaded vans in the sidings and a number of them were open, there was a large amount of various goods on the ground nearby, and Storm still had a good firm grip on a man by one of the van doors. I called of Storm to release him, Cliff handcuffed him, and Storm searched the sidings for the usual other man. We had no further result this time, and we went back to join Cliff and our prisoner who by now had become very helpful to our enquiries. He had told Cliff that the other man was his brother, and after a full confession regarding all of the goods found in the sidings he told us that they had both been in the sidings and stolen some property, three times previously.
His brother absconded and was not to be found, but on the following Wednesday he was arrested in Birmingham and he soon admitted all of the listed offences. Later the CID also arrested two receivers of property stolen from the sidings and Detective Inspector Senior was so impressed by the performance of the dog that he could not wait to put pen to paper to tell his side of the story regarding our very successful joint effort at combating crime. And while his version does not quite tally with ours, it is very complimentary to both of us, and the legend received one more little nudge. To Ben, an old gentleman who sadly passed away last year I can only say, thank you for your part of a happily shared memory with the making of the Storm legend.
Submitted by Mr Harold Philbin. January 2011.
Photo of Storm courtesy of Solo International