A Force To Be Reckoned With’ My Time In The Met’s TSG & Firearms Unit

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Chris Donaldson, who retired from the Met in 2013 as an inspector, reflects on what made him proud to be a police officer.

One day I was sitting in the sixth form common room pondering what I would do with my less than average A levels.

The next day, I was at Hendon police training school. At least that’s how it seemed.

A chance post-match beer with a first-team player at my rugby club, Eton Manor had led me to consider the police as a career.

I had never considered it before; I had no boyhood dream of becoming a police officer or yearning to make a difference for my community.

I just had never considered it. But I thought, why not? It wasn’t an office job; it was mainly outside.

Apparently, I could continue my love of sport, and they would pay me to do it on duty. More than anything, it sounded exciting.

So a few months after I applied, I had my interview and medical at Paddington Green, and I was in.

I have to say I hated training school.

It was militaristic, and it was unrelenting—hours and hours learning word perfect passages of law.

And even more hours of bulling your boots and pressing your uniform until it was spotless—a far cry from my carefree sixth form life.

However, I really needed training school.It picked me up, slapped me and shook me out of my teenage malaise.

It threw me out the other end with a framework for life. Some badly needed discipline and some knowledge that would hold me in good stead for over 30 years.

I landed at Bow st in Covent Garden.

The original Bow street runners – Londons first professional police force – had launched from here back in 1749.

Back then, they consisted of six men.This station was now bustling and attached to the magistrates.

Smack bang in the middle of the theatre world with its countless pubs and restaurants. It was an exciting place to be posted for my first station.

We were taken into the station made to dump our brand new kit in the canteen and taken to see the chief superintendent, the head of the station.

By some quirk of fate, the Chief Superintendent was Bryan West (affectionately called Bryan with a y west) he had actually interviewed me to join the job back in Paddington Green.

He gave me a stern warning: “I will be watching you Donaldson I interviewed you so don’t show me up!” No pressure there!!

After our introduction, we were taken back to the canteen to collect what was left of our brand new kit.

A lot of it had been gladly received by the older officers who clearly hadn’t seen new kit in some time.

After a few choice words from some of the vets, we were chucked out and shown to the locker room-a rookies welcome.

We were assigned street duties instructors, and I had one PC/Lord Charlie Redwood( he would assume the title upon he’s fathers death), PCSO’s John Murray a canny Scotsman with years of street wisdom, and the diminutive WPC Yvonne Fletcher.

Yvonne was a lovely lady who had refused to be rejected by the job because of her height.

She kept banging the Mets door until they let her in, and they were right to do so.

She was an excellent police officer with patience and a wicked sense of humour.

On 17th April 1984 Yvonne along with her fiancé, and PC John Murray were sent with some junior officers – mostly just out of Hendon – to supervise an anti and pro-Gaddafi demonstration outside the Libyan embassy in St James square.

Whilst facing the demonstrators that numbered about 75 -Automatic gunfire rang out from the windows of the embassy.

One round hit Yvonne in the back and travelled through her body.Her colleagues, including her fiancé, aided her but she sadly died later in Westminster hospital.

PC Yvonne Fletchers killer was amongst 30 embassy staff who were allowed to leave the embassy and flown out of the country.

The then Prime minister Margeret Thatcher had taken this decision in order to save the lives of British embassy staff and workers who had been rounded up shortly after Yvonne’s murder.

So a few months after joining, I was on a coach with everyone who worked a Bow St going to a force funeral at Salisbury cathedral.

There was a lot of bad feeling at the station about the way the killer had been allowed to walk away.

PC John Murray put his career on the line; against orders he walked through the police cordon and picked Yvonne’s hat up from the crime scene so he could place it on her coffin.

The killer has never been caught; John Murray has led the campaign since her death to put pressure on subsequent governments to find her killer and bring them to justice.

I finished my probation and was posted to the District Support unit.

The unit consisted mainly of officers young in service and age, supervised by a senior sergeant and a couple of senior PC’s.

We trained hard every day for about two hours, led by our fitness fanatic sergeant.

We worked hard volunteering for any crime task in the West End that happened to be on offer, and we partied hard-sometimes I even went home!

I was fully immersed in police life.I played representative rugby for C district(winning the Met cup two years in a row) I played football for Bow St.

I was young, posted in the west end, living at the section house Trenchard house in Soho and as the youngsters would say now -I was living my best life.

I remember one evening in October 1985 when we sat on the Carrier monitoring the main channel.

We were urging IR (information room) to assign us to a large public order disturbance happening on Tottenham’s ground-They put us on standby.

We sat in silence as we heard that awful call for urgent assistance from one of Keith Blakelock’s colleagues, we heard the panic and terror in his voice as he described his injuries.

PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death on the Broadwater estate whilst trying to assist the fire brigade who were trying to put out fires that had been deliberately set by the rioters to lure officers in.

The jacket he wore that night can still be seen at the crime museum.

Little did I know that 26 years later I would be leading a level 2 team at the 2011 Tottenham riots, sparked by the lawful shooting of Mark Duggan.

So from the DSU, I was selected for a new unit formed from the ashes of the DSU and the SPG (Special Patrol Group).

We started in January 1987.Again we were young, very fit, and with a seemingly endless budget.

Most of us had worked together in the DSU.

The met needed a more professional bespoke riot unit which also had the capacity to deal with the crime needs of various districts with 8 area.

Before long we were embroiled in the News international dispute which often erupted in violence, the poll tax riots, anti Apartheid demonstrations, Clapham rail disaster the IRA and more.

One one of many occasions the IRA had attacked London we were sent to the Carlton club in St James where a member of the IRA had walked up to the reception and dropped a hold-all at the desk.

It contained 15lb of Semtex.The explosion caused the ground floor to collapse in the basement.

Miraculously only 20 people were injured but sadly one of those injured at the time, Lord Kaberry of Adel, died a year later of his injuries.

We were tasked to get on our hands and knees and sift through the rubble to try and find parts of the bomb.

It was a messy- hot -exhausting job, and the force was under the pump due to other terrorist investigations and had clearly run out of detectives and forensic officers.

I remember the two special branch officers sitting in their car for the duration ‘supervising us’.

But we knew we were doing something important and as ever we were at the business end of the action.

But like a lot of specialist posts, there were times of sheer boredom -which is where your characters come to the rescue.

There were many on our team.We had the zipper twins who were obsessed with their appearance and bodybuilding, John ‘the mad Scotsmen’ who had come to us from shield training; he would run everywhere-to and from work.

But his greatest asset was his singing voice; he would serenade shoppers via the PA from the carrier in Oxford street as we drove along.

He was the best Elvis impersonator I have to this day ever heard.

We also had a creature; an ex-bootneck, who would eat things not fit for human consumption, often for money.

Our carrier was full of characters.In those days of the TSG, you were posted with a partner who you worked with daily.

I had Michelle, who was a tall Irish girl who was uncompromising with a great sense of humour -she was also taller than me, which was handy.

We stayed partners on the TSG for over three years.We stood out which often got us into trouble.

One day we were travelling across London late on a Friday night when we heard a call on the radio from a local Pinner PC who needed assistance with a large pub fight that had erupted in the Victory public house.

Way off our ground travelling through we offered our assistance.

There was silence on the radio when our inspector said we had one inspector, three sergeants and 21 PC’s willing to assist.

He gladly accepted out help.We burst into the pub -faced with a sight similar to a western bar brawl.

We arrested a lot of people that night and deposited them at the little-used, tiny Pinner Nick.

The custody officer looked shell shocked as we kept bringing prisoners into his quiet world. We had clearly ruined his night.

But me and Michelle, a tall, dark-haired Irish lady accompanied by a stocky black bloke copped most of the complaints that emerged from that night.

This was common.After four and a half happy years on the TSG, I wanted to fill my knowledge gap.

I had only ever worked in central London, and I knew there was a more challenging world out there.

So I volunteered to work at Tottenham – a borough I loved and returned to as an Inspector some years later.

But now I was a very experienced PC, after a few months on the relief I opted to go to the Broadwater farm team.

It was 1991 and relations were still strained after the riots. But I found it a great place to work.

I could easily handle being singled out by the black criminals who dominated the estate.

It was a close-knit team who worked well together. We had to look after each other. There were intense highs and lows on this ground.

You dealt with the most desperate of humanity and the most affluent too.

One incident stuck in my mind February 1992; I was working in plainclothes as I did on occasion when a call came over the radio that a woman had gone mad and was smashing up her own house on an estate just off Ferry Lane in Tottenham.

I joined the area car and raced to the scene.When we arrived, we were greeted by the mother of the suspect.

She told me her daughter was having a breakdown and had locked herself and her kids in the back room of the house with a collection of knives.

The first officer went in with a shield and assessed the situation; he quickly withdrew.

More units were on the way, but what he described made me fear for the kids.

I was in plainclothes and was aware I didn’t look like a police officer.

I approached the backroom on my own. My plan was to pose as a member of the public trying to save her from the police.

I saw the saliva dripping from her mouth, and the two kids she was gripping on her lap and the collection of knives at her feet, and the two knives she had clasped in her hands.

I spoke to her calmly and edged closer aware that my team with shields were just outside the door but out of view.

I got nearer I could see the terror in the small kid’s faces. I got closer and decided now or never.

I lunged at her and grabbed both wrists.

I prized the knives away from the throats of the kids, and my team rushed in behind me.

After a short, violent fight, we eventual restrained the female and rescued the kids.

She was made the subject of a mental health act hospital order and was convicted of assault and affray.

I was not happy with that.The kids were put into the care of the grandmother who lived nearby-it was an informal agreement.

But the kids were spending more and more time back at home with their mother.

On 23rd August Sharon Dalson killed her six-year-old son. First trying to hang him then smothering him. She went on to smother her five-year-old daughter.

She said, “The voices -they made me-it was not me.”

That incident has never left me. I along with the team, received a commendation for bravery.

After my time at Tottenham, I was promoted and went to Hackney as a sergeant.

Another buzzing ground. I spent three enjoyable but intense years there before applying for and being selected for SO19.

The course to get into SO19 back then was physically and emotionally demanding.

The instructors pushed and pulled you in every way, challenging you to lose it under pressure, which is absolutely necessary.

To handle a firearm in a policing environment, you have to be calm and professional and be able to make accurate split-second decisions.

On top of that, when you are a supervisor, you are planning firearms ops and potentially putting your officer’s lives on the line.

I failed my first course, by one mark.Which basically means they thought that with three years in as a skipper, I was not ready.I was gutted.

I returned to borough devastated, after jumping all those hurdles and falling just short at the last one.

But my opinion is after failure you either give up and say I wasn’t good enough, or you find an excuse why you didn’t pass by shifting the blame.

Or you look yourself in the mirror, dust yourself off and see how you can improve and return stronger. I chose the last option.

I returned the next year and passed.

I spent eight and a half years as a Sergeant and Inspector on the ARV’s and enjoyed it immensely.

The hardest of environments for a supervising officer when you first get there as everyone knows more than you do and you are in charge.

I leant on senior PCs and friendly supervisors. I learnt quickly I had to.

Based at Old St then Leman St we dealt with all the spontaneous firearms incidents all over the met.

I became and advanced driver, a shot, and a tactical advisor in a few years.

I was dealing with between 5 to 10 incidents a day.

Those were very enjoyable days.My job was made easier working with some of the most competent and professional officers in the Met.

Sometimes working with our uber specialist wing the Specialist firearms officer( very well trained and super motivated) and sometimes brushing up with the special forces.

I really enjoyed my time there.I left there to become a duty officer who specialised in level 2 public order and running a borough team.

I was seconded to the Olympic command team in 2012 and retired at Haringey in 2013.

It saddens me how the Met is depicted in the media by some people with a vested interest in talking down the service.

I always thought that if you did the job, got on with people and looked after your colleagues, you had very few problems.

That’s the general rule, and it worked for me.I loved my time in the Met police.

To say the Police is racist is simply not true.

Like every large organisation, there are people who don’t adhere to the high standards required to wear the uniform.

But these are few and far between and don’t represent the hard-working honourable men and women who carry out their daily duties with courage and dignity.

To describe the Met police as racist is simply not true.

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Tuesday, 26 January 2021

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