Sunday, May 01, 2011

Madder than a box of mental

Back in 1985, I was a young police officer of 24 and I'd just been transferred against my will from the sleepy West London suburbs of Ruislip and Uxbridge to Vine Street Police Station in the heart of the West End. Back in those days, cops were moved every five years. It was called IDT - inter-district transfer - and was the Commissioner's attempt to root out corruption by breaking up long-standing teams. However, what he actually did was break up a lot of very good non-corrupt teams and lose a lot of goodwill and specialist knowledge into the bargain. So the scheme was quickly packed away and better methods were found to identify wrong-doers rather than punish us all. It was all too late for me though.

I'd just about learned all I needed to know about the London Borough of Hillingdon - the streetmaps, the premises of note, the villains etc. - when I was forced to up-stumps and start from scratch in Westminster. When told I had to IDT, I was asked to choose my first, second and third choice of boroughs to move to. So I suggested Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow or Ealing as they would involve the least amount of daily commuting. I got Westminster and the reason was Yvonne Fletcher.

You may recall, she was the female officer shot dead during a demonstration outside the Libyan People's Bureau - their embassy - in St Jamess Square in April 1984. The shots had been fired from inside the embassy and, just a few weeks later, the entire staff were required to leave the UK, claiming diplomatic immunity and taking the guns with them in their diplomatic bags. It turned out that Yvonne's boyfriend, also a police officer, had decided that he couldn't work in the area any more and sought a transfer to Hillingdon where he lived. I was re-directed to Westminster in a personnel swap with him. That might have been the end of my dealings with the Libyans had it not been for a curious event that happened in the Winter of 1985.

I had been posted on the Security Patrol. This was a roving patrol that covered a great deal of Vine Street Station's tiny division. The Security patrol consisted of a constantly updated list of premises considered as vulnerable. This could be for political reasons (Airline showrooms, diplomatic building etc.) or because the premises were targets for protestors (i.e. Fur shops in Bond Street) or potential terrorist targets. The Libyan People's Bureau, empty ever since the expulsion of the diplomats, was one of the premises on that list. All I had to do was look around the outside of the building for anything suspicious, check the ground floor doors and windows were locked and tick it off my list.


On this particular early morning patrol, I did the usual things and then went to check the front door ... and it pushed open to my touch. I called it in immediately and was told to wait until back up arrived. It soon did in the form of a couple of colleague, my inspector, and one of the conspicuous red police cars used by the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department (RDPD). They were all armed. And so, we moved into the building and made a search for intruders.

It was spooky to say the least. It was around 8am on a cold Winter morning and still gloomy and there was no power for any lights. It was like the Marie Celeste; the rooms all looked as if someone had just left for a few minutes even though, in reality, the place had been empty for a year. There was a smell of old smoke and musty dampness throughout. There had been a fire at the rear of the building just a few weeks after Yvonne's murder, believed started deliberately though no one had ever been caught for it and the damage had been minimal. We'd started at the top floor and worked our way down to the ground and at the back of the premises we found a small printing studio with a mechanical press and hundreds of copies of leaflets and of Colonel Qathafi's (how he spelled it on the cover) Green Book - his somewhat strange book of political philosophy. Modelled strongly on sections of Hitler's Mein Kampf and borrowing from Mao Zedong's Little Red Book, Qathafi's Green Book was (and maybe still is) required reading for all Libyan citizens and children would spent up to two hours per day becoming conversant with the content. The printing press had been churning out hundreds of English language hardback copies for distribution within the UK and there were boxes and boxes of them here, all slightly fire damaged as this room was where the fire had been set.


Satisfied that the building was empty, everyone else disappeared leaving me to wait for a keyholder from the United Arab Emirates to come and secure the building with the aid of a locksmith. It transpired that the lock was faulty and had been made good with some folded cardboard that had since succumbed to damp. I was still reading a copy of the Green Book when the keyholder arrived and we chatted while the locksmith replaced the door locks. The very nice Arab gentleman who, in my mind's eye, I seem to remember looked just like Omid Djalili but probably didn't, told me that he considered Qathafi to be a 'loose cannon' and expressed his sadness at Yvonne Fletcher's death. he told me to keep the copy of the Green Book that I was reading as a memento. I've had it ever since.

With Libya back in the news recently, I've reached it down from the shelf and had a read. 'Loose cannon' is kind, belive me. 'Fruitloop' is far more appropriate. Here's Qathafi on the subject of genetics via clothing:

'If one group of people wears white clothes in mourning and another group puts on black, the sentiment of each group will be adjusted according to these two colours, i.e., one group rejects the black colour on such an occasion while the other one prefers it, and vice versa. Such a sentiment leaves its physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body. This adaptation, will be transmitted by inheritance. The inheritors automatically reject the colour rejected by the legator as a result of inheriting the sentiment of their legator. Consequently, people are only harmonious with their own arts and heritage. They are not harmonious with the arts of others because of heredity, even though those people, who differ in heritage, speak a single common language.'

It doesn't get any saner or clearer than that. One paragraph in the section entitled 'The social basis of the third universal theory' sums Qathafi's Green Book up beautifully:

'While it is democratically not permissible for an individual to own any information or publishing medium, all individuals have a natural right to self-expression by any means, even if such means were insane and meant to prove a person's insanity.'

Hmm.

Qathafi's Green Book is, amazingly, available on Amazon here.

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