Boys in green make their mark

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The Independent Online
THE BLUE serge uniform look is strictly out of order for the squad of town wardens who occasionally find themselves on the front line in Stockport.

Sadly for any aspiring coppers among them, green jackets and caps go with ties in a strident yellow, designed to make the wardens as far removed from Dixon of Dock Green as you can get. Their large walkie-talkies - also standard issue - set them apart as they strolled in shirt sleeves through the stalls of Stockport market yesterday.

If the chance to brandish a truncheon is what you fancy, this isn't the outfit for you. The council has been anxious not to ruffle the feathers of the Cheshire constabulary since it set up Britain's first squad of town wardens, with European money, 18 months ago. Would-be vigilantes are screened out.

The force of 16 people is taken from the ranks of the long-term unemployed on 12-month contracts. They have no more powers than any member of the public. Most of the time they restore lost children to anxious parents and point the way to Stockport's heritage, such as the air raid shelters.

Michael Ashford has had a piece of the action, though - a factory fire drama. "I'd been patrolling near the church when I saw the flames at the old cotton mill," he said. "I was told to go and see what was going on and ended up helping with crowd control."

The 51-year-old from nearby Rowley spent 14 years with a scrap metal firm and another eight on the buses. He was unemployed for seven years before securing a warden's job.

Between directing a woman to a shop and telling a motorcyclist the best route out of town, Mr Ashford said a warden's life is like the old days keeping control on the buses. "It's about being fair. Being objective, but able to get your point across to people who are not nice."

Jeremy Wood, 38, stumbled into his job as a warden after five years in textile factories. He tells how a Sainsbury's store detective chasing a thief through the streets was running out of steam as he neared the wardens. They tailed the chase, radioed for police help and the thief was caught. Six shoppers' purses were recovered.

"We are told that with any crime the subject, not the perpetrator, should be most important," said Mr Wood. But there is no feeling quite as good as nailing a crook.