|The Runaway Horse
A Story In English, By An Englishman
Douglas (Spike) Sharp
© Copyright 2002 by Douglas Sharp
the early 70's I was a PC in central London. My division had the somewhat
dubious benefit of a Special
Constable, whose altruistic vocation did not extend to patrolling the
streets, preferring to annoy the 'reserve' officer by his
presence in the communications room operating the old 'Dolls Eye' switchboard
on a Saturday night, the telephonist's
The Special threw all his effort into his duty and frequently took messages,
or more truthfully parts of messages,
with addresses, informants, and other critical details omitted, passing
scribbled notes to the Reserve (the Met parlance
for radio controller at that time).
A colleague and I proposed a scheme designed to persuade the Special not
to get involved with message taking.
Attending a friendly security post with a telephone, a call was made
to the switchboard shortly before 4am.
The special was regaled by a story of how the informant was out walking
with his girlfriend and had seen a stray
horse on Milbank, by the Tate Gallery.
So enthralled was the Special in the story that he started asking questions
instead on transferring the call. Having
given much information on the stray horse the informant said 'I'll
leave it with you officer' just as the Special started the
sentence 'And you are…?.'
Informantless the Special looked across the table to the Reserve Officer and told him of the stray horse on Milbank. An instruction to put the caller through was met by an admission that he had rung off without having details taken.
Suitable advice, the exact words of which are unprintable here, followed.
The necessity to ask for informants
details was uppermost in the Special's mind when an apparently drunken
well spoken man telephoned, admitting that he was (and sounded) very drunk
but complaining that an "F*ing great horse was eating the roses in his
The Special was particularly keen to get a name and address and the informant
was equally keen not to divulge such
information fearing the attendance of hoards of police at 4am to further
annoy his wife (he confided in the officer that his
return home drunk had already created an element of marital discord).
He did, however, indicate that any front garden in Grosvenor Road containing
a large horse was worthy of further
police investigation and described the beast as "Huge, with a leg on
each corner and a big head" and suggested that it would
not be beyond even the detective abilities of even the Metropolitan
Police to find it if they looked hard enough.
The details were recounted to a now sceptical reserve officer who declined
to take any action, no doubt sensing the
dubious nature of the call.
Some time later another call came, frequently interspersed with guttural
'mates', 'guvs' and other terms of working
class endearment interspersed with the crude expletives much beloved
of those of cockney origin.
The details were duly taken from 'Fred' allegedly the head stableman at
Watney's Brewery, Mortlake, informing
police that he had been exercising the dray horses earlier and that
one of the B*ds had bolted over the bridge to the
north side of the Thames.
At this point knowledge of London geography by the Special would have ended
the scam, Mortlake being some
considerable distance upstream from our division but then the Special
seldom emerged from the warm and comfort of the
Police Station to pay much attention to where the division was actually
In a triumphant manner the Special announced to the reserve, who had never
been convinced of the existence
of the stray horse, that it wasn't a hoax 'It belongs to Watneys you
A gentle little scam rapidly went downhill thereafter. It was clear that
the Reserve proposed to take no action. The
Special, frustrated that the incident that he was effectively controlling,
was not being taken seriously, took it on himself to dial
CO77 and tell those nice people at Information Room at New Scotland
Yard - they would take him seriously. And so they
did not realising the lowly status of their informant and the attendant
As we drove away from the security post, the police car radio bust into life after a considerable period of inaction
"All Cars Inner, All Cars Inner, Millbank towards Grosvenor Road attention
is called to a stray horse. Message ends IR 0435hrs".
It was a very quiet and pleasant summer Sunday Morning with RT cars taking
any call to alleviate the boredom.
The car in which I was a passenger was called in to pick up the section
sergeant who announced that he believed it to be
a hoax but wastreating it as real (an attitude apparently conditioned
by his proximity to retirement).
We tried to show enthusiasm in a search we knew to be a futile. By the
time we joined the search I was amazed
at the number of cars from all over the centre of London that had joined
in the search, a veritable traffic jam of police cars
so early inthe morning aimlessly circling a small area in more hope
than expectation. The Divisional Duty Inspector and a worldly-wise
acting sergeant also took part in the search.
Unknown to us 'Brillo' one of the panda drivers had written himself a walk-on part in our little piece of theatre.
Returning to the Station, which had a contingent of Mounted Branch,
he entered the stables armed with a shovel and an up turned dustbin lid.
A few shovelfuls from the floor of the stalls and back to the search area
where the contents were up-ended from the dustbinlid onto the roadway in Tachbrook Street.
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