Reporter shadows 999 shift with Barking and Dagenham police - and sees her first dead body
- Credit: Archant
Hurtling along a residential side street, it’s easy to imagine I’m on a rollercoaster ride rather than shadowing a 999 shift with Barking and Dagenham police.
Thrown from side to side as we race over 20mph speed bumps at something like 55mph, blue lights flashing and sirens wailing, the adrenaline kicks in as we’re onto our first emergency.
I’ve already signed my life away via a disclaimer back at the police base and constables Bobbie Barthram and Gary Jones do little to calm my nerves when they explain some of things they have dealt with on previous shifts.
Gary, 37, casually tells me that he was stabbed in the shoulder by a teenager during a chase on foot while he was working on 999 callouts in Newham.
Soon we’re rushing to a property in Woodshire Road, Dagenham, where a neighbour has reported smoke coming from a nearby roof.
As we head into the quiet cul-de-sac, two fire engines are already on the scene and firefighters are trying to gain entry to the balcony of the first-floor flat.
No smoke is visible and the firefighters retreat after deciding it must have been a hoax call – which Gary says isn’t uncommon.
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“It looks like someone who doesn’t like their neighbours has called us up to annoy them,” he said. There’s no answer at the address given by the caller, fuelling further suspicion.
Next we’re asked to provide backup to two PCSOs in Station Parade, Barking, where it is said a Year 10 student has been punched on the nose outside a shop.
There’s a surprising amount of blood all over the floor and the boy is in tears.
Bobbie, 27, and Gary interview witnesses while the PCSOs prevent more customers from entering the shop – but passers-by remain transfixed by what is going on.
The boy’s sister soon arrives and one of his teachers spots the drama and tries to help, offering the use of the school database to track down the alleged culprit.
We are told there’s been an altercation in a fast-food shop a few doors along before the assault outside the shop. An ambulance has been called but the victim’s dad decides to take him home instead.
Crackling over the police radio, our next call involves finding a suicidal man who has cut his wrists at home and is threatening to throw himself under a bus.
His partner has called, worried about his safety as he has wandered off and he is thought to be waiting for a bus near Dagenham Road.
Bobbie recognises the man’s name and says she has been called out to look for him before.
Armed with a description – black fleece, blue jeans and white trainers, and his age – we keep our eyes peeled.
We see a match but the man has a different name to the person we are looking for so Bobbie suggests heading to Eastbrookend Country Park, where he has previously hidden after threatening to take his life.
A call on the police radio says new intelligence suggests the man we initially stopped was the suicidal man after all – so we head back to where we found him.
Two other officers are already on the scene but Bobbie and Gary provide assistance, with all four putting on plastic gloves to assess his injuries before bandaging the wound.
The man is crying and it’s uncomfortable to watch, even from the car, but they seem to talk him round.
Gary joins us in the car as the man has “taken a disliking to him”. Though he is not bleeding, the cut is quite deep and they are hoping to persuade him to get in the ambulance when it turns up.
Luckily, he agrees and we’re able to provide backup for an unexplained death at The Clarksons, Barking – and I come face-to-face with a dead body for the first time.
We first have to wait for the family members and CID to give approval. Had the death been suspicious I wouldn’t have been allowed access in case I messed things up for the forensic team.
Hesitantly stepping over the threshold and slowly pushing the bedroom door ajar, I see the 47-year-old man lying on the floor – without any trousers on.
I’m surprisingly calm but it’s eerie and strange at the same time, with the stillness and quiet making it almost seem fake. It is an odd end to my time spent with the officers.
Though I only saw a three-hour snapshot of what their work involves, it’s left me impressed at their ability to take in their stride such a range of situations and emotions.