Working Lives

The Norfolk Beat Officer (1980s-2023) ‘Every day as a police officer is different!’

Location: Norwich

Paul is a beat manager with the Norfolk Constabulary patrolling the Norfolk Broads. Whilst working in store security for a number of firms in Norwich, including Jarrolds, Paul served as a special constable before becoming a full-time police officer in 1994. Before his current job in the marine unit on the Broads, Paul undertook a variety of police roles including working in royal protection at Sandringham. Part of his work is to liaise with other public bodies including the Broads Authority.

Early life, and school in Taverham

I was born in Norwich and grew up in Norwich. I lived my early part of childhood over in Old Costessey. I’ve got a younger brother, Kevin. Dad was director of crop care chemicals and worked across Norfolk seeing all the farmers and advising them how to grow their crops, arable farming. My mum worked in the old Norfolk and Norwich hospital, in A&E.

I went to all the Taverham schools. Started off at Nightingale First School, then went to Taverham Junior School. When the new Taverham High School was built we moved there. Even though we were in Costessey, they were the schools of choice, my parents chose, and then we eventually moved to Taverham. Because of my age, I was only 15 when I finished high school, I did an extra year at Hellesdon Sixth Form, just to do some extra exams.

A really nice paper round – with free vegetables!

I was a paper boy for a time in Costessey, thoroughly enjoyed that. I didn’t fancy getting up very early, so I did the evening paper round, for that very reason! Six nights a week. I could do it in half an hour, but I had 52 houses to deliver, and my paper bag was actually heavier coming back, because I used to speak to all the residents on that street. I was, like, their point of contact for the day for some of the elderly residents that expected it. A lot of them grew their vegetables on their allotments and gardens. They used to give me a cauliflower and potatoes and carrots to take home for my parents. It was a really nice round, loved it.

First job with Hughes – Cassio, VHS and Betamax

My first job was Hughes TV and Audio. All the games were starting to come out, and Cassio was the ‘in thing’. I was demonstrating computer games in their shop on White Lion Street, which has moved on now. Then I moved upstairs to the old VHS and Betamax for video recordings, all the films that people used to hire out. That was a Saturday job that progressed to be part time then moved on to full time with them.

I loved it, because upstairs in the White Lion Street branch they used to demonstrate all the music for the hi-fi systems and stereos. It was just a fantastic atmosphere to be working there, dealing with films, meeting with the members of the public and listening to the music all day long. I was with Hughes about three years, I think. Really good company to work for.

Joining the Norfolk Special Constabulary

I always knew I wanted to join the police, but I was just trying to get some experience. When I reached 18 I made some enquiries about joining, and they advised at the time that they obviously wanted people that had life skills, were a bit more mature. They were asking you to go out, see the world and do as much as you could. So, I joined the Norfolk Special Constabulary at the time, in Norwich. I was based at Bethel Street initially, then branched out to Bowthorpe, Mile Cross, Ketts Hill, so I did a lot of football matches, public order etc.

Specials are volunteers. You get paid boot allowance and expenses, travelling expenses, meal allowance, so, you know, you’re not out of pocket. You do have to give up four hours a week of your time. Actually, I used to combine it and do one shift of eight hours and that would see me over. I knew it was a job that I wanted to do. I was trying to work with as many police officers and as many different teams ‑ like dog handlers, CID etc ‑ as I could, just to get an idea, a flavour of what I might want to move into.

Working for Marks and Spencer, and on summer camps in America

Meanwhile, I’d moved on from Hughes TV and Audio. And I went to work for Marks and Spencer. Had a really good career with them as well. Worked for them for about seven years, but I was on and off cos I wanted to do travelling as well, I had itchy feet, so I went and worked in America every summer, on the American summer camps. Really good, that’s opened so many doors for me just talking about that experience. That enabled me to work on the summer camps for eight weeks and then move on to do travelling. I’ve done most of the United States now, on a shoestring budget, but a fantastic experience, buying cars and travelling around.

As I was still with the Specials at that time. I took a sabbatical, as it were, when I went to work in America in the summer holidays, then came back and re-joined.

Working in store security – more insight into what police work might be like….

In the meantime, with Marks and Spencer. I was on the men’s suits department for a while. We weren’t in uniform as such, we wore suits, and I suddenly got the taste for catching shoplifters. We had so many people stealing things, from whatever department. I had a pager; as soon as security found someone of interest I’d get called up. We’d do many chases around the city catching people. Some were pretty violent. That gave me a really good taste of what was to come with the police.

I got headhunted from Marks and Spencer to go and work at Jarrolds. I did the store detective work in Jarrolds, and then I got headhunted from them to work for Boots the chemist. I did that as well. Again, very interesting. We had a lot of people who’ve got drug issues that queue up outside Boots, the various stores, to go to the pharmacy, pick up their methadone in the morning. I’d have the cameras set up on them, what their descriptions were, what they were wearing that day. In the afternoon, those people would come off their medication and go shoplifting, so that was easy pickings. I really enjoyed that. That’s when I put the application form in to the police, and was accepted.

The plan worked!

I always had a plan. I would join the police at 25, get married at 27, kids at 30. And that’s pretty much how it mapped out!

I joined the police in March 1994, had a really good interview. That Camp America experience really helped, plus what I’d been doing at Marks and Spencer, Jarrolds, Boots and Hughes, and I’d got really good life skills, and because of what I’d been doing in the Special Constabulary. I knew a lot of the people and, you know, I’d got used to wearing the uniform, they’d got used to seeing me. It was just perfect, it was a really good entry.

Initial training at Shotley, and first posting at Gorleston: ‘a really good set-up’

I did my initial training at Shotley, the old HMS Ganges, down at Shotley Gate in Suffolk. There was a big recruitment freeze on at the time, so we were one class, Class Three of ’94. We were all Norfolk officers, so we all bonded really well, and, it was a really good experience.

15 weeks of training, came back, was posted to Gorleston. I’d never really been to Gorleston before. My grandparents had a beach hut at Lowestoft, so we’d always go to Lowestoft beach instead of Gorleston beach. Really lovely station, fantastic beach area, and we had a really good set-up there. Lovely team, in those days we had good numbers of police officers. You had your people in plain clothes, your CID, your response, people out on bicycles – a large team.

‘The good old days when you had time….’

Every morning, the cleaner, Brenda, would always come in with a loaf of bread, make everyone tea and toast, while we sorted out the jobs and intelligence, who needed to be interviewed, who were in the cells. A lot of the time we were just out targeting different people. That was the good old days when you had time to go out and deal with people and you can get it all done in one shift.

Commuting from Norwich, and the eight-hour shift system

I’d never wanted to commit to buying a house until I knew I’d got into the police full time, so I commuted.

At the time, I was living in Norwich, so that was a long commute. The southern by-pass had been built, so that helped speed things up. I had to allow for any diversions on the Acle Straight, depending on weather conditions and accidents, so, yeah, it was an hour commute.

We were doing the old eight-hour system then, earlies, lates and nights. An early would start at seven in the morning, finish at three in the afternoon, a late shift would be three in the afternoon until 11 at night, and a night shift would be 11 at night until seven in the morning. The nights weren’t so bad, but the late shifts I always had to allow for Breydon Bridge lifting, traffic accidents, school runs, all that kind of stuff.

I commuted during my two-year probation period. Once you’d done your fifteen weeks training you then get given a tutor constable who would take you under their wing and teach you everything they could. Once you’d been ‘rubber-stamped’ by the superintendent after two years then you knew you had been accepted.

Renting in Yarmouth, and briefings from the cleaning staff!

We had another cleaner, Grace, at Great Yarmouth police station, she used to rent out some of her bedrooms to new probationers like me. Once I found out about that I ended up moving into Great Yarmouth for a short time and lived with Grace the cleaner. Really cheap rent, and she did a massive pack-up lunch for me every day, which was very nice. The cleaners would know all the ins and outs about all the secrets so I was getting my own briefing by the cleaner!

A beat manager in Gorleston: ‘little snippets of information’

I started doing day-to-day policing, so, foot beat, basically, that you progressed. You had to do a driving course before you got on to the old-style Pandas, response cars. Within a year, if you were competent, you would move up quite quickly. So, I was driving police cars within a year, but I actually liked foot beat and going round on the old bicycle. People could hear you, speak to you, flag you down, give you that little snippet of information, bit of intelligence that we’d follow up.

I then became a beat manager, first on the Gorleston High Street, all the shopkeepers, the public, and the pubs. Then I was given what they call ‘the Baywatch Patrol’ which was Gorleston Beach. The holiday season was always busy with missing children, various parking issues and drunk people all the time, but very, very good.

Magdalen Estate, Gorleston: the early days of partnership

In the late ’90s I moved onto the Magdalen Estate in Gorleston which I wasn’t looking forward to initially. I think at the time it was Europe’s largest housing estate. When we got told that, I thought, ‘Bloomin’ ’eck!’ but actually, really good, thoroughly enjoyed that.

The Magdalen Estate is away from the seafront, more inland, very urban. Basically, all council houses at the time, though now a lot of them have been privately bought out. Really nice people, though.

It was just a short walk up from the police station. I was on my patch, I had a big school, got to know all the parents. I used to know who my disqualified drivers were, who my druggies were, who my domestic offenders were etc. I had my little boxes with different people. That’s the early days of partnership working with the councils and the schools and so on, we could share information, get things nipped in the bud quite quickly. I really enjoyed that.

A whole range of experiences within the police force, including royal protection duties at Sandringham

You could apply for different specialist roles within the police. Within two years, once I’d been accepted, I also did a proactive attachment over at Yarmouth in CID. I did that for a couple of years, just to expand the knowledge and meet different officers and know how they work. Took up some quite complex cases with CID. A lot of fraud enquiries, and murders. I’d also joined the search team, so I was getting called away to other jobs and murders anywhere in the county, searching through suspects’ addresses, or vehicle searches etc.

I was also in the Police Support Unit, which is riot gear, riot shields. You could be deployed anywhere in the country for that, on mutual aid, but mainly for raves, travellers’ sites, you know. There was quite a lot of issues, people with mental health problems barricading themselves in their rooms, for example, so we’d have to force entry.

Then after three years I could apply for firearms, so I got that under my belt. I’m an authorised firearms officer as well, and have been now for the past 28 years. Again, that opens more doors, a lot of mutual aid to different parts of the country, but also Sandringham. Big commitment up there, throughout the year, but mainly at Christmas, when we all get drafted up to Sandringham to do royalty protection. Thoroughly enjoyed that, still do.

‘Traffic not quite my thing’

It was quite varied, but the firearms was taking me further down a line when the armed response vehicles were being introduced. The ARVs, as they’re known, one group were being based at Acle, which was on my doorstep. Knew the area well, but I had to do a traffic attachment first. You couldn’t just go onto the armed response vehicle without being a traffic officer. Traffic was not my thing, but I had to go and do an attachment.

I had a couple of tutor constables just teach me the basic road police craft skills clicked a lot of fatal accidents, I think I had five during my attachment. We didn’t have what we have, a team now called S.K.I.T. who, once you go to the initial scene, you hand all the investigation over to this team, who do all the statement-taking etc.

At the time, when I was based at Acle, this would have been in the year 2000, I was just inundated with fatal inquiries, so I wasn’t getting out there doing all the other bits and pieces that I needed to do. The days I did go out it was mainly speeding, felt like we were going to the same place, and I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of it. I remember this college girl, she was doing, I dunno, ten miles over the speed limit through Filby, which, yes, too fast, but, in her case, a verbal warning. She’d only recently passed her test, and, you know, she did a long commute to Norwich every day. At the time, when you’re on probation as such doing the traffic attachment, there is no discretion. You have to issue a ticket!

No, I thought, I don’t enjoy this, this isn’t me, making young girls cry. That might have been their first impression of a police officer, and that’ll be their lasting impression. We’ll all get tarred with the same brush with that experience, so, yeah, I didn’t enjoy that.

Then we started doing a lot of construction use, where people are towing trailers, agricultural vehicles, with the orange flashing lights, tachographs on lorries. That’s something I just couldn’t get excited about, waking up in the morning thinking, ‘Right, what shall I do today? Go and stop a lorry and check their driving hours!’ I mean, I know it was an important thing to do, but there are officers who relish that, and other traffic offences, that wasn’t for me.

So, at the time I couldn’t go on the armed response vehicle because traffic was 99% of your work, 1% of your time was firearms callouts. Now it seems to be the other way round, but in the year 2000 that wasn’t for me.

A move to the rural crime team

Instead of being upstairs in traffic I went downstairs to the rural crime team, based at Acle. I had a huge area to cover, but loved it. It was all country villages, predominantly Broadland, Broadland District Council. I had the River Bure on one side, River Yare on the other side, so I spent a lot of time at all the boat yards, the marinas, going round in a car. We used to park up and walk out around the villages.

Acle was on our doorstep, I’d always walk around Acle, drive to Upton. Brundall was a big area, big riverside estate so just parked my car nearby and get out and walk about and meet people. A lot of it was crime inquiries. There’s usually a reason to go to somewhere as well, so you combine the two. Really enjoyed that.

I got to know the opposites who were on the Broads Beat team at Acle (that’s where they were based initially). That was only a seasonal role then, just a summer season when there were people there for tourism. In the wintertime, before I went up to do my few weeks up at Sandringham, we would then pick up a lot of the marine crime that would come in on those areas. Really got the taste of that, got to know people, so that was a really nice opportunity.

Getting on the boats: ‘Right time, right place’

One of the guys on the Broads Beat marine team, when it came to the end of the season he had some other family commitments, so he needed to change his role. He moved off to Yarmouth, so they had to do interviews. They wanted one seasonal and one normal, full-time officer. The seasonal at the time would dip in every now and then, they would do their normal role, but they would cover sickness or holidays.

I thought, well, with all my other commitments, with firearms, and Search, the PSU, that side of things, that I would probably best just go for the old seasonal role, and leave someone who had more time to do the full-time, although I really wanted to do the full-time.

I hummed and ha’d about it, saw the Inspector on the closing date. The application had to be in at five o’clock, the applications. I spoke to him that morning and just said, ‘Cor, I bet you’ve been inundated, Sir, with all the applications for this job!’

He said, ‘I can’t believe,’ he said, ‘I’ve just got off the phone from human resources: there’s only three people put their names in.’

‘Three people, for this dream job?’

‘I know. Can’t understand it.’

‘Well, even with all my roles,’ I said, ‘should I put my hat in the ring?’

He said, ‘You’ve got nothing to lose!’

He didn’t tell me I couldn’t, so I thought, well, that’s a good sign, so I quickly filled out a form. My sergeant was day off, I quickly drove to his home address, got him to read, sign and authorise it, drove to headquarters, quickly got it in before the five o’clock deadline.

Got a phone call the next day, congratulations, you’ve got an interview, can you be up at the police station next week? I was actually on holiday that week, but I came in especially, suited and booted, and had a really good interview.

When that finished, I spoke to the sergeant, and the inspector phoned me up and said, ‘Can we just clarify, were you going for the full-time or the seasonal role?’

‘Oh, definitely the full-time.’

‘Oh. Congratulations!’

So, I got the full-time role!

RYA training starts right away

Within weeks I had been given a 4×4 driver trailer-towing course. You have to do RYA Level 1 and 2, Royal Yachting Association, just to drive a powerboat. I got put on an RYA course, we had a ripping time. Courses were coming on leaps and bounds.

A huge area to cover, in unique circumstances

I got moved straight away, seconded to Broads Beat at the beginning of the season to work for an old colleague, and that was how it was. It was only two police officers and one reserve. Myself and my old colleague were the two on Broads Beat, and we were covering a huge area. Huge. I still am. It’s evolved now, but we were really stretched, you know, we had such a big area.

They wanted the police boat out, having that visible presence all the time. You know, it’s quite a quirky thing to see a police boat on the waterways. You see ’em around the waterways, but we are the only police unit on inland waters. You’d think, like, the Lake District would have a police unit. They haven’t, they’ve gone.

The Environment Agency and the police officers’ beat managers, they will jump on a boat and go to an incident and come off, but they haven’t got their own boats or anything. We are quite unique!

Links with the Broads Authority: ‘a lovely partnership’

Literally I’m on the phone to the Broads Authority control room probably more than our own police control room. We’re really good, lovely partnership working. We work with a lot of different partners. Broads Authority, their rangers are in uniform, in patrol launches, their boats stay in the water all the year round, whereas ours we keep on a trailer and we tow it to different slipways to launch it. They deal with all the by-law offences, we’ll deal with all the crime offences, but sometimes the two overlap and we end up doing joint interviews etc.

We’ve got access to all the Broads Authority launches. We have keys for them so, if need be, we can take them out. Doesn’t really happen. If we do, we normally call them out, and one of them will come and join us anyway. They’re more familiar with their boats, there’s a big locking-up process and where they all are, where they’re all securely fitted, that just helps to have one of their rangers with us.

The daily routine: shifts, but flexible

We do predominantly ten-hour shifts, which is good because we can get more done in those ten hours. We basically do either an early or a late shift. A lot of the time, we work here with what the Broads Authority rangers do, and also what the hire industry do.

The hire boats don’t have any navigation lights fitted, so they can be out, on the water, navigating around the Broads between sunrise and sunset. Come sunset, they have to be moored up somewhere, whether that’s a wild mooring on a broad somewhere, on a 24-hours Broads Authority mooring or outside a pub, or outside another marina. That’s when our role needs to be seen, to be going out.

Obviously, there’s boats moving around at night, so if you’re a private boat owner you’ve got navigation lights fitted. We’ve also got boats coming in at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft port to come onto the Broads, so there’s people coming and going all the time. Long as they’ve got lights fitted they can move around during the hours of darkness.

Depending what particular crimes are going on, we went onto our shifts, we’re pretty flexible. If we’ve got a load of outboard engines being nicked that’s happening at night, we will move our shift to do night shifts and cover that particular part of the river.

Norwich City Police Launch N999 with diving squad

Links with the old dive unit, and looking after equipment

We’ve got three boats now. We’ve got an RIB [Rigid Inflatable Boat] that used to be what we had in the old diving unit.

Going back a bit, Norfolk Police used to have a dive unit, that’s all now disbanded, it has been now nearly 20 years. We inherited all their equipment, their life jackets, the RIB itself, the trailer, and the Land Rover. Land Rover changed to a Land Rover Discovery. The Discovery then changed to a Ranger, and we’ve just changed again to another Ford Ranger. They’re all fit-for-purpose trucks that can carry the weight and drive around and go to all the different slipways.

So, we had the RIB that we’d inherited. Because that hadn’t really been very well looked after by the diving unit, we had to change that quite quickly, and the engine as well. I think it’s because the team used to come on every Thursday and train. Had there been say, like, an armed robbery in Kings Lynn and a weapon had been chucked into the river up there, they’d move their training day up to Kings Lynn, go searching as a dive unit to find the weapon and deal with it that way.

I think by the time they’d finished they were all cold, wet, hung up their dry suits, we had to get rid of all them, they’d all perished, all the rubber. Also, the engine, that needs flushing out if the salt water got in it, and I don’t think that kind of maintenance got done as well as it should have been, so things had deteriorated a little bit.

We really had to revamp how the marine section worked. Looking after your equipment, it’s not just the police car, you know. We do daily checks to make sure all the lights are working, ’cos we can hardly go out and stop cars with no lights if our own lights aren’t working. Similar to a boat, but there’s a little bit more to it, ’cos you are putting it on a trailer and driving it around over loads of potholes, and some of these marinas aren’t in the best condition!

The marine unit continues to expand….

We were a summer unit, and we put a business case forward to be full time some years back. At the time that didn’t get through, ’cos of commitments at Sandringham and various other things. They didn’t see that there was a need to have a marine unit during the winter months.

But one year we got hit by an organised crime group that’d come over, and we got absolutely spanked with outboard engine thefts. There were so many, both on the coast and in the Broads, that, once all those totals had been added up, what all that was costing, that went over the million-pound mark.

The Chief Constable at the time, that lands on his desk to say what we’re doing about the problem. There was a lot of people writing in to him saying, you know, ‘We need, you know, an officer to look after all this and take ownership, and solve it, you know.’

We put another business case forward, and this time that got accepted ’cos of the numbers involved. Again, we were lucky. Just before I joined, that used to be a two-year secondment. Officers used to come on, and that was mainly made up from the old dive unit. To keep it fair, those officers rotated. They used to do two years on Broads Beat and then they’d have to reapply for their job again.

When I came on, because of cost and for the training implications, all the stuff that we have to do (and we’ve developed it even more so now), that’s just not cost-effective to keep having a rotation every two years.

So, getting very lucky, I came in at the right time and here I am now, still here. The training that it involves is costly, and you have to keep doing development days to keep on top, keep doing refreshers. Lots of stuff involved with the boat, you have to know your boats, and all the skills, you know, you just don’t pick up like that.

‘Technology is forever changing’: use of sonar

We’ve just recently had a new Raymarine chartplotter put in, which for us is like the old Satnav in a car. People use them as fish-finders, the anglers in particular, looking to see where the fish are at the bottom of the river-beds. We use it for sonar, for body recovery and people that are missing or anything like that. We do a lot of searches up and down the rivers using the sonar scanner. We find all the safes, we’ve had abandoned cars that have been driven off the road, been hidden amongst all the mud and everything at the bottom. We’ve recovered loads of stuff over the years. We had an eel fisherman that lost his nets, that had been dragged by a hire boat, he couldn’t find them. We came along and saw them on the sonar so he was very pleased. Yeah, it’s been used for all sorts of things!

The history of policing in the Broads: issues with breweries

Going right back to the 18th Century, speaking to our police historians, and they’ve got a lot of old photographs of the old boats that are there, there was an outcry. The tourist business was really booming, the peats (the Broads basically are peat diggings that flooded) and rising sea levels, there was a policing need.

At the time there was a lot of old breweries along the water, especially in Norwich and at Great Yarmouth. There isn’t like what you see nowadays with proper walkways and barriers and everything, and the pubs and the restaurants, the shops along there. It was all old breweries. A lot of people, from what I’m told, used to come with their little brown bottles, drink them all, and they’d be drunk, and they’d slide on the muddy banks. Cold-water shock would kill you in the water and they’d drown. So, their main role was body recovery at the time.

Police launch early days

The first police boats bring problems of their own

This is something like the 1820s, going all the way through. When you look at the boats, they were all old wooden ones. The police officers, there’s quite a lot of them, all in their heavy, woollen, thick tunics, no life jackets in sight.

They started off with rowing boats, but they then developed the engines, little old engines, and they looked very big and cumbersome. I don’t think anyone really looked after the boats. They were made of wood. They were kept in the water, and they only had two at the time. One was where Zak’s restaurant is now, near Cow Tower, that was the old mortuary. That’s where the police boat was kept, one of them. Then there was another one that sort of flitted between Great Yarmouth Borough and at Horning, there was another place there where they used to keep them.

The first Norfolk police launch A2 launching ceremony

Seven years with no policing on the Broads

Again, with a succession of different chief constables, who all had to work out where their money was best spent, the boats would get rotten, not maintained properly. Cost the job a lot of money, so the marine unit was kind of disbanded as we knew it then. I think there was a period of seven years where there was no policing of the Broads or the waterways at all.

The growth of tourism leads to demands for a police presence; but who’s to pay?

Because the tourist industry, Hoseasons, Blakes Holidays, were bringing people in from far and wide, the trains on the coastal routes were bringing people in, there was this massive influx of people. All the pubs along the Broads, all the restaurants, all the, not campsites then but hotels as such, were bringing all these people in, and with it, statistics. You still have your sudden deaths, you still have your thefts and crimes as you normally would, but just on a bigger volume.

There was an outcry to say, we need our policing presence on the Broads. The Chief Constable at the time said, ‘Well, we can’t do it alone, we can’t afford it.’

These people then said, ‘Well, how can we help you?’

The Chief Constable spoke to some of the big operators on the Broads. Your big players like Richardsons, Barnes Brinkcraft, Norfolk Broads Direct, Herbert Woods, they were your main, big companies that were bringing tourists in.

Just like you see a police car, everyone slows down at roundabout, checks their speed, their seatbelt, drops their mobile phone, that’s exactly what happens on the Broads, you know. You see the boats, they see a police boat, they slow down, they start behaving, they get down from climbing on the roof and swaying around and all behave themselves. That does have, definitely, an impact.

The UK’s longest-running police and public sponsorship scheme

So, the Chief Constable at the time negotiated with these different companies, and insurance companies, people who make boats and look after the engines, and that’s when our sponsorship was formed. Apparently, according to Natural England, we are the UK’s longest-running police and public sponsorship scheme, which we didn’t know about until Natural England got in touch with us. Well, there must be others around the country, but not police-wise, as we get other police forces phone us to ask how we do it.

Policing the coastline around the country

There is a police presence around the coast, you know, but only in certain areas of the country. All your southern coasts are pretty much covered. You’ve obviously got the Met police that covers central London. Essex police do the Thames estuary and all around the Thames coastline. Kent police, Dorset, Hampshire’s got a very large one with the Isle of Wight as well, and the ports of Southampton. They’ve got Portsmouth, the naval base. You’ve now got MoD police that patrol on boats as well, all the way round up to Scotland, so all our coastline is covered.

We all work closely with Border Force who patrol the waterways, coastguard, lifeboats, the RNLI, you’ve got the IFCA, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities. There is a lot of people out there on boats that are all helping each other, all talking to each other. Lots of activity.

The extent of Norfolk Police’s responsibilities

We have 125 miles of navigational waterways, just on inland waters, then another 92 miles of coastline around the Norfolk coast. Because Suffolk police don’t have a marine unit, between us and Essex police we monitor and patrol Suffolk as well. We take the upper half, between Lowestoft and Southwold. Essex will do the bottom part, Woodbridge, Ipswich area as well, but we liaise with Suffolk officers who cover those areas, and they do a lot of stuff on the land for us.

‘The public are our eyes and ears’

When we come in in the mornings, we always look to see what’s happened overnight. People from other departments will email us about certain things. We have a rough idea. We plan for yearly. We’ve got a calendar, we know what events are coming on, what regattas are happening, if there’s boat shows etc going on. We’ll always try and attend them. That’s where the biggest public concentration is, and that’s being seen again, and building, developing that partnership with different companies and agencies, as well as members of the public.

It’s our members of the public that are the eyes and ears for us really, that’s who we want to encourage. If they’ve got a gut feeling, or something doesn’t look right, they think it’s suspicious, we want them to call in and report it, as that could be the missing part of the jigsaw.

A hard-working team

Our make-up, at the moment, is myself and another PC. We’re the two full-time beat managers for the whole of the Norfolk and North Suffolk Broads. We tend to work alternate shifts. When I’m days off, my colleague is in, so people know that they can contact us pretty much round the clock. The days that we overlap, we try to do interviews, we try and arrest people on those days so there’s always two of us.

It’s a huge area to cover, and the chief wants that police boat out pretty much on a daily basis being seen. There is a lot of paperwork and a lot of stuff we have to do on the computers now. We have to have some time in the office to play catch-up and get all the paperwork submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service to get the people to court. We just can’t get out on the boat every day.

So, in recent years we’ve managed to get other beat managers in both North Norfolk and Broadland trained up as reserve officers. We’ve now got a pool of police officers that are all trained to our level. They come out perhaps once or twice a month to either crew with my colleague or with myself, or with each other, depending on what their skill set is.

We’ve got a team of special constables. We’ve also got a team of what we call police support volunteers. Those volunteers are people that are mainly from a boating background, either got their own boats or have got the knowledge. They’ve been in the navy, merchant navy, and a lot of them are retired police officers. It’s such a lovely job within the job that they don’t want to let that go. You still want to keep your connections with the police family when you retire, so we’ve got a lot of retired officers, and ex-PCSOs, the police community support officers.

When the Chief Constable at the time said, ‘We’re not having PCSOs any more’, we had quite a few of them working with us on the team. We didn’t want to relinquish them. The constabulary have spent a lot of money in getting them trained up to a certain skill. They enjoyed what they were doing, coming out as a break from the routine of their daily life, so we’ve just kept that going. So, we’ve actually got a nice pool of people to get that boat out pretty much still on a daily basis. Certainly, the weather we had all last summer, the heatwave, we were out every day patrolling different parts of the waterways.

Out in all weathers

Every day is a good day. I look forward to coming to work, the people you meet, the people you work with, the scenery, the sights, just that in itself is good.

We go out in all weathers, daylight and night. We obviously take a look at weather conditions.

When we had the ‘Beast from the East’ a few years ago, you know, the Broads were pretty much iced up. The main rivers were free, but we were thinking, ‘Do we really need to be going out, is there anyone out there, who’s going to be seeing us?’

So, we did a lot of land patrols in the 4×4 truck, and spent most of the time pulling cars out of ditches.

A tragic incident that underlined the need for the marine unit

There was a catalyst going for us to become a full-time unit.

We had an incident on a boat where…. there was a boat that just looked odd. It was a hire boat. It was moored up on the main River Bure, just up from the police station here at Hoveton. We passed it on quite regular occasions. The Broads Rangers also flagged it up to us, they said, ‘It’s an odd one there. It’s just how it’s moored, it’s not a normal mooring.’

It was quite a wild mooring with loads of overgrown shrubbery and reeds and everything all nearby. No path, no shops, nowhere to go. One rope was tied in one tree, one was tied in another branch of a tree, so no mooring posts or anything. It had a mud weight down at the bow and a mud weight down at the stern, so it wasn’t going anywhere. All the curtains were all shut.

All we thought at the time was that they’re night fishermen on it, because that was a good little fishing spot where they were moored up, and it was just odd. It was between Salhouse Broad and Wroxham Broad, on a bit of a bend, so that wasn’t disturbing any other navigation. Boats could go past, a lot of day boats and private boats, the wherries, they’re going past, everyone was seeing it. It was in a prominent, busy stretch. We call that part of the River Bure between Ranworth and Wroxham the M25 of the Norfolk Broads, it’s that busy.

Anyway, this boat was there, and we all just logged it, didn’t see anyone on it at all, but we thought, ‘Well, that’s just….’

Suspicions are raised

We were actually at the Yarmouth Maritime Festival, that was in September. We’d got a call from the boatyard on changeover day saying, ‘We’re missing this boat. It was due back at nine o’clock this morning. We’re meant to be cleaning it. We’ve got the new people arriving, they’re here now. We’re having to give them another boat to go out on. Have you seen it? Do you know where it is?’

Straight away we said, ‘Yeah, we know, we’ve seen it all week, that’s not moved. This is where it is.’

I called up the Broads Authority ranger to say, ‘Can you go and knock on the doors, just to see what’s going on. Have they just abandoned it, decided it’s not for them and left the boat in situ and they’ve got a lift back to the land?’

The ranger went down, and he said, ‘Actually, there’s a young girl sitting on the back, waving a book at me. She’s not talking, she’s just got a book. She’s given me this book.’

I said, ‘Right, that sounds a bit bad. Can you get her on your boat? Go on the boat, have a walk through just to make sure we haven’t got anyone deceased or anyone injured.’

He walked through the boat, and he said, ‘Very odd, hardly anything on it.’

I think there were 62 loaves of bread. Lots of cables, but televisions were all missing. Loads of weights, as people bring free weights, you know, for building your muscles up, which was odd, people don’t do that normally. Lots of sex toys, lots of underwear and things like that. And you think, ‘Oh dear.’

I said, ‘Right, can you grab that girl, with that book, and go to the Hotel Wroxham. I’ll get a police car to come and meet you there.’

We’re doing all this on the phone from Great Yarmouth.

A pre-meditated crime

Later on, the police met up, took the girl away to a police station where she got privacy. They started flicking through this journal, and it became, like, a diary. Sellotaped to the back was a passport, and an American driving licence of this guy, and that was him who had written all this stuff out.

Basically, the first night he’d arrived with his girlfriend and her daughter for their boating holiday. It had obviously been pre-planned, pre-meditated. When the daughter had gone to bed, he’d got rid of his girlfriend, by whatever means. I’m just trying to remember what happened at the inquest now, but she was murdered.

He kept going every day until it got right to the end of their week when the holiday was up. He decided to kill himself, let the young girl stay alive and present this journal. At the back it said, ‘Flag down anyone in uniform, tell ’em what’s happened.’

We then had another body to look for. When you look at the boat, it had a lot of tarpaulin from the roof down to the side. Later on, he’d weighted his wrists and his legs down, had a cocktail of drink and drugs, sat on the roof and just slid down in the middle of the night, and that was what happened.

A tragic outcome, the national press, and a huge impact on the river

Once we’d towed the boat, seized the boat, we went for a walk-through and found all the other bits and pieces we needed, but we had to close the river because we had two bodies, basically, we had to look for. This was in the middle of September. It was coming to the end of the high season, but that was an Indian summer we had that year. Really warm, lot of day boats out every day. We couldn’t just make that decision lightly, but this was a crime scene.

It made the national press. We had helicopters flying over. We had journalists trying to take hire boats out to get a picture of the scene, get any information for a story.

We took over Wroxham Broads Yacht Club, closed that down. That was the secure compound. We had all the emergency services there: coastguard, lowland search and rescue, fire. Fire had all their dive team at the time, coming out looking for the bodies.

There was quite clear water, but that was quite shallow. It was the mud, all the silt at the bottom they had to go through, but both bodies were found quite close. I was on the night shift patrolling that river to make sure no one came in or the bodies didn’t float to the surface, you know, and get found by somebody else.

There was the logistics of turning all these boats round. All the day boats and all the hire boats had to go to Coltishall in one direction and Horning out towards Ranworth in the other direction. We used Wroxham Broad and Salhouse Broad as the turning point, but all the holiday-makers that did changeover days, we had to get minibuses organised to get the holidaymakers and their suitcases off of one boat, take them up to their boatyards and vice versa, it was a huge operation!

The importance of the marine unit, and the growth of sponsorship

Because we knew the key people in every organisation that just went to plan. Had there not been a marine unit that could coordinate all this…. we’re not bigging ourselves up, but that really worked well. Everyone came together and we got a lot of praise and thanks for how that all well went. Tragic outcome, tragic circumstances, but because it made the national papers that really propelled us up. More people in the boating industry noticed our boat had logos, and our police truck had logos on, and they said, ‘How can we get involved? How can we get our logos on your truck?’

Sponsorship and Supporters: vital for success

We’ve got a brilliant sponsorship team now, we call them Sponsorship and Supporters. Whereas most slipways we put our boat in there’s a charge for launching and recovering, we now don’t pay any of that. That’s a big saving on the constabulary from all the different slipways we use.

Then you’ve got your boatyards, like us today. I’ve just taken our boat to a company at South Walsham, Marine Tech, who’ve been a long-running sponsor, always maintain our outboard engines. I mean, people know in the boating industry that costs a lot of money to look after outboard engines. So, we do that with them. Broom Boats over at Brundall do all our maintenance on our boats, We’re forever banging and crashing into sides and quay headings, it’s in the nature of our work. We have to go quickly to some events and, you know, in all weathers, and accidents happen. We get things broken, just like police cars, you know, that’s the nature of the job. So, they do all our repair work for us, and that’s just come back from them, for a couple of weeks to get all those jobs sorted out.

We’ve got other companies that will provide cash donations, other companies that will service all our life jackets, other companies that will give us discount on some of the wet weather clothing we have to wear, and the boots. RYA and various training courses that we do are all either free or else heavily subsidised.

So, we’re self-sufficient, we don’t have to draw on Norfolk Constabulary. That’s how we’ve been successful, really. Going out there, the generosity, you know, we go and see the different sponsors. I think we’ve got 14 at the moment, who are all key in different ways to us. That is how we survive, and we’ve got this brilliant partnership with them.

The impact of Covid

Covid was an interesting time, you know, that was a whole other story. We were out patrolling because we still had a lot of people travelling around the country, coming to check on their boats. They’re not all local people who own boats on the Broads. When they started relaxing some of the guidelines and restrictions, but you couldn’t go abroad, we had people from all over the country suddenly discover the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, and they’ve re-booked and come back again. Last year was really busy as well.

The population of the Broads

The Broads have increased their population. I don’t know who stands there with a ticker counting everyone in and out but, just knowing about how many beds are filled in the camping and the leisure places, and the footfall and everything, it’s always mentioned between 8 and 10 million people that visit the Broads, so, when you look at our little unit, we do pretty well, you know!

Not saying everyone’s troublemakers, but accidents happen. People slip, trip and fall, there’s a lot of crushing injuries and things like that, but, yeah, definitely the population’s increased. That’s why we’ve had to increase our team, that’s the reason we’re full time, we are busy, busy, busy.

Norwich City Police launch Y455

Policing the population of the Broads

Summer is heavily focused on the tourist industry and everything that comes with it. Winter time, we’re just as busy. We’ve got things that we’ve left on the back burner, lots of intelligence coming through to us, and we work on that intel. We have got registered sex offenders. We don’t really promote that, we want to keep it a family-friendly place, but fact of life is we’ve got a lot of registered sex offenders here either living on boats or coming here on holiday all year round. We have to monitor them.

All our boats now tend to have wi-fi in. They can go to a pub and moor outside with a wi-fi, and a lot of their bail conditions are not to have access to gadgets, not to upload, download certain things. We have to do a lot of spot-checks on these people to check they are compliant with their bail conditions on behalf of other force areas that know they’re coming here.

We have theft of boats, we have theft of trailers, we have theft of fuel at the moment going on, diesel, some of the boats get syphoned. Live-aboards, huge increase of people living on boats nowadays, and they’re two different scales. We always say 99 per cent of the people living on boats are fine, one per cent are under the radar for various reasons.

That one per cent, I think we’re monitoring 62 live-aboards at the moment that have come to our attention through our patrols, who are drug or drink dependent or got mental health problems. A lot of boats have got domestics. They’re kicked out of the house, mainly the dads. Mums keep the house with the kids, dad has to find an old wreck, a cheap and cheerful ex-hire boat or a fishing boat or a rowing boat, a bit of tarpaulin and that is home.

And these people are destitute. They don’t have life jackets, that’s not a priority for them. The weather in winter, slips, trips and falls, we had a cold snap before Christmas, you know, we’re checking on these people to make sure they’re alive. The heating costs, the gas bottles they use, the hoses that they use are all perished. They beg, borrow and steal all sorts of stuff. The wood burners, we’ve had to take a cheapy thing off one of these boats, up at Womack Staithe, ’cos he’d kill himself, you know. That’s carbon monoxide, the silent killer. He’d be keeping warm and cook on this gas but they have leaks. Once you fall asleep in a drunken stupor you’re not going to wake up from it.

A life lived amongst nature

I’m also a wildlife crime officer. We get a lot of wildlife crime reported to us, or things of interest. It could be something like a salt surge we have, or the deaths of all the thousands of fish. There’s a lot up at Potter Heigham with the salt barrier, pros and cons.

We have the seals that come in, stuff happening on the coastline. We have an issue with jet skis that come up on the coast and plough through all the new baby seal pups etc.

I mean, when you look at the windmills, when you look at the pubs we’ve got, some of the settings…. When we’re out early in the morning, the mist and the sunrises, the sunsets…. We often do over our ten hours because we might be out on Breydon Water. No-one else is around, we’ve got all this wildlife with that massive estuary, and all the iconic buildings and the skyline, and the sun is setting, and, you know, thinking, ‘Crikey, we’re getting paid to do this!’ It’s lovely.

So, there’s all sorts of roles we have now. Every day is different!

Paul Bassham (b. 1968) talking to WISEArchive on 11th January 2023 in Little Plumstead.

© 2023 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.