Notes From the Frontline: A Breach of the Queen's Peace

By Matt Delito on at

I hear a kicking sound from the back of the caged van parked in the yard, near the custody cage, outside the station mess.

"Hey Pete," I call from across the yard, to the familiar outline of the hulking Pete, walking in my direction. I knew he had just made an arrest, and assumed the man in the van was his catch of the day. "You gonna let him break off a piece of the van?"

"Go talk to him," Pete said, making a welcoming gesture to the van. "By all means. You might enjoy it actually."

I raised an eyebrow whilst making a clicking sound with the handcuffs in my cuff holder.

"What's he in for?"

"Breach of the peace"

"Seriously?" I asked, unable to prevent myself from smiling.

"Yup." Pete said, before running his warrant card through the card reader and vanishing into the custody suites, presumably to talk to the custody skipper about the new arrival.

Breach of the peace is a funny old piece of legislation, dating back to the dawn of the legal system in this country; In fact, it used to be the case that all crimes were breaches 'against the peace of our Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity'. These days, we are often dispatched to 'prevent a breach of the peace', usually when Bailiffs are out and about doing their job; we're sometimes asked along if there is a risk that evictions, repossessions and similar types of acts are going to get hairy. It's interesting: If you've ever been at the receiving end of the Bailiff, you'll have noticed that these are generally quite stout fellows - they often work as 'close protection' details (i.e. body guards) or as high-end bouncers, and often wouldn't shy away from a bit of a scuffle, if it came to it. However; there's often a thin line between a scuffle and an all-out fight, and that is where we come in: We'll usually just lounge about until something bad happens, and then jump in to ensure people don't just start beating seven bells out of each other.

What is very rare, however, is actually arresting someone for a breach of the peace; I've only done it once in my entire policing career. Normally, you would make the arrest for something more serious; a public order act offence (swearing or making threats), or - in the above example - an assault of some sort.

The one exception is when you know something bad is about to happen; The one time I arrested someone for breach of the peace was when a young lad - absolutely pilled off his happy little face - tried to blag his way into a club. He wasn't swearing, he wasn't pushing anyone, but he was absolutely relentless in trying to get into this pub. The bouncer was getting more and more annoyed with him, and I could tell that it wouldn't be long until the bouncer would lash out at him. Now; there's several ways of looking at this one: Either, I could have waited until the bouncer finally punched the kid, but then I'd have to arrest the bouncer, not the drug-happy teenager. Obviously, on a busy Saturday night, the club is going to need their bouncer to make sure other things don't kick off. So; instead of letting it get to that, I made the executive decision of telling the kid to shove off, or get done for breach of the peace. He sauntered off, but I knew what he was going to do, so I walked over to the other end of the street. Sure enough, he had walked around the entire sizeable block, and was merrily singing to himself, on his way back to the club. Which was when I nicked him: He was going to be a victim of assault if he kept it up (to be fair, I kind of wanted to smack him as well; there aren't enough words in the language for how incredibly, deeply annoying this drugged-up kid was). After I arrested him, I searched him in the hope that he might have some drugs on him; then, I could arrest him for drugs possession instead; a much more tangible arrest, and one that nobody would have had any problems with. I couldn't find anything on him, though. I flagged down a panda with a couple of colleagues, loaded the (incessantly singing and inexplicably shrieking) handcuffed youngster into the rear seat. We drove him about ten blocks, to the nearest train station that would take him home, where I de-arrested him and we dropped him off.

The kid bounced (quite literally, he was jumping, feet together; hopping into the train station) off, and we left him to it. Did I have a great reason to arrest him? Not really. Were we supposed to take him to a train station instead of the police station? Probably not. Was it the best possible solution on a busy saturday night, when we would almost certainly fill the custody suites to the bursting point, and we were facing a crazy busy night anyway? Undoubtedly.

All of this is to say that I really couldn't figure out how Pete had ended up making an arrest for a breach of the peace; and his idea that I might get a kick out of this particular prisoner was simply too much. Pete knew me too well; I fell for his bait; I had to go speak to him.

I pulled the door open, and was facing a young man - perhaps 25-26 years old - wearing what I can only describe as a steampunk outfit. He looked like the bastard lovechild between a hipster, a duke, and a mad professor.

"Er... Hello?" I started.

"That! Is! No! Way! To! Address! A! Gentleman!" He shouted, in a staccato, broken-up way. I was immediately reminded of my uncle's appalling impression of a German accent, where every syllable is barked in a commanding, manic kind of way.

"Are you a gentleman?" I asked.

"I suppose. I am. Not. How well observed, my good sir, and who might you be?" he asked.

I started to answer, but he immediately interrupted me.

"WHOOOOOMMMMM".

I thought he was trying to imitate some sort of a jet engine.

"WHOOOOOOOOMMMMM" he said again. "WHOM MIGHT YOU BE?"

"Er, I am Matt. Pleased to meet you."

"I am not pleased to meet you. If I were pleased to meet you, my fingernails would be razorblades, and I would have scratched my way out of this tuna-can a long time ago."

"What is your name?"

"My name is Tom! I kill cats with a stare! I cure cancer with my farts! When I urinate, there is a power-failure in the Ukraine! The last time I masturbated, virgins in a fifteen-block radius had orgasms so strong they turned to religion, but the church didn't want them!"

"Hello Tom..." I said, and completely failed to say anything else; I am rarely tongue-tied, but I just really didn't know what to make of any of the things he said.

"Do you think they will let me have a computer in my jail cell?"

"I... I doubt it." I replied.

"Oh. I don't want to go then." Tom said, looking sullen all of a sudden.

"Did you want to go in the first place?"

"Of course!" he exclaimed. "You don't think these shackles could hold me if I didn't want to be held, do you? I could will open these handcuff, kick down this door, and walk straight through that brick wall if I didn't want to be here."

"Tom, are you going to be trouble?" I asked. In reply, I received a look of utter bafflement, as if he didn't understand the question.

"Trouble? My good man, if I wanted to be trouble, I would have made your guts turn to a breach-birth straight out of your arse. I would have made your brain boil and seep out of your ears. I would have make you suffer from erectile dysf..." he interrupted himself mid-flow. "Matt, do you ever have a problem? You know? With it?"

"I don't follow, Tom."

"When there is a lovely lady taking your testicles into her mouth, how does your penis react?"

"I... Don't think I am going to answer that, Tom."

"Oh. There's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to most people. Never to me, of course."

"Why are you asking me that?"

"Well, there's not much point in threatening you with erectile dysfunction if you can already not get a stiffy!"

I heard a sniggering sound from behind the opened van-door, and took a step back. About half a dozen of my colleague had gathered to listen to the exchange between Tom and myself.

Pete came out of custody, and said that the sergeant was ready for Tom, and so Pete led him off towards the custody suites.

"Children in pre-school will sing songs about me!" Tom proclaimed. "I know they will! How could they not, I am a magnificent man in the shape of a human being. It's only because I've chosen that shape; if I wanted to be a bear, I could be a bear. Or a poodle. But who the fuck wants to be a poodle."

As Pete and Tom went into custody, Tom's rant continued - something about radioactive squirrels - and I was left staring at my colleagues. I half expected everyone to burst out laughing, but there was something so incredibly sad about Tom - he spoke completely clearly, and with full conviction, things that he seemed to have completely believed himself. Without flinching, without even doubting himself in the slightest. It was funny, but somehow I just couldn't find laughter inside me anywhere.

"So", Pete told me over a pint later that day. "Tom decided he didn't want to get locked up."

"I'm sure he didn't. No computer? Is that why?"

"Ha. No. He asked to see one of the cells, so we showed it to him. He asked whether he would be offered a seat and a lid for the toilet. When I explained to him that no, the stainless steel toilet was as-is, and wouldn't come with any toilet seat and lid, he stood up straight, and completely changed his demeanor."

"What do you mean?"

"He became completely, 100% normal. It was absolutely astonishing."

"So... He stopped saying crazy shit?"

"Yeah. He introduced himself as Thomas MacAllan, said he worked in a Boots the Chemist in West London, and that he might have had a momentary lapse of judgement. After that, he was nice as pie, answered all the custody sargeant's questions, and then the sarge just decided to send him on his way."

"So... Do you think he was faking?"

"Dude, I'm completely convinced he was faking," said Pete, taking a swig of his pint. "I just can't tell if he was faking when he went in, or when he came out."

***

Matt Delito is a pseudonym for a policeman working for the Metropolitan Police. All Notes from the Frontline are not entirely “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” due to the sensitive nature of the business, but are all based on actual events. These days, he’s on Facebook and Twitter as well.

If you missed his previous columns on Giz UK, check them out over here.

Image Credit: Police image from Shutterstock.