Eye witness: Nice cap, Brian. But why are you here?

London's new 'Red Cap' patrol seems ineffective ? except against children

Brian is a Red Cap. He's not a policeman or a soldier, although his team has chosen the same nickname as the military police. He's not a traffic warden, a security guard, or even a member of the Salvation Army, although he looks like any one of those in his uniform: shiny black shoes, black trousers, a tailored black jacket with epaulettes, and the inevitable peaked cap.

We're walking down Oxford Street, where Brian and 24 former soldiers, guards, and bouncers are the new "street wardens" – the latest recruits to the growing regiment of uniformed operatives hired by companies and councils across Britain to provide the sense of security formerly offered by bobbies on the beat.

The one thing all these not-really-policemen have in common is the peaked cap, as worn by proper authority figures in the armed forces and law enforcement. It fits snugly over cropped hair and casts a shadow over the eyes, making the most placid of ticket collectors seem like a bit of a fascist, frankly. A mini-Hitler, if you prefer.

"Some people think we're the lowest of the low," says Brian, a 45-year-old Scot who has heard all the names before. "They don't realise we're there for their own good." But as we walk slowly through crowds of shoppers and office workers, I wonder exactly what Brian is here for. People don't recognise the uniform, they can't quite work out why its red flashes are emblazoned with – yes, you did see it right, madam, in dark glasses with heavy John Lewis bag – a large white flower.

The Red Caps are employed by Chubb Security on behalf of the New West End Company, a consortium of property owners and retailers. They promise to "identify potential crime, deter anti-social behaviour, monitor the appearance of the street environment and act as ambassadors for the area".

The last two amount to telling street cleaners where the rubbish is and pointing tourists on their way to Marble Arch, which is why Red Caps wear flowers and are ordered to smile. But what good can their "strong visual presence" do against lawbreakers in a city where street crime is up by a third?

Not much, seems the answer, as I patrol two paces behind Brian and Hannah, a 25-year-old former bouncer.

An Asian man offering to twist silvered wire into names has been asked to move on eight times already, but keeps coming back, brandishing a piece of paper that he mistakenly believes gives him the right to trade on the pavement. It's from the West Midlands police.

"That's one of the grey areas, whether we can really move people like him on," admits Brian.

The Red Caps have no power to disturb the beggar sat with his head slumped. "That's one for the council." The blind fiddler applying resin to his bow outside Debenhams is also ignored, because he has to be playing before they can ask him not to. They do not wait for him to start. The police have been told about the man throwing little sticky people on to the window of Selfridges, who has threatened to stab a Red Cap.

"Here's one," shouts Hannah, ducking into a telephone box to clear away prostitutes' cards. This, at last, is something they can do to make the streets more pleasant, if only for a short while. "Our boss filled a bag with cards this morning. Ten minutes later, they were back again."

Back in the radio room in Regent Street we hear Red Caps rushing to a protest outside Marks & Spencer. "Whisky Six on way to deal with the aggravation," says a voice. "Keep your distance," warns Charlie, the controller. The Red Caps want to provide "eyes and ears" for the police, but have been told to do no more than watch.

"Demonstration is not violent," reports the mustard-keen Whisky Six in clipped language familiar from The Bill. "Middle-aged people decrying Israel, over."

"Expert on diplomacy, too, are you?" mutters Charlie.

Brian can't get through to Marylebone police station on the telephone. The Red Caps have no hotline, so use the public number. Senior police officers were at their launch, but reaction to them in the ranks is mixed. The security manager in Marks asks some of the Red Caps themselves to move along, but a few stand about with their hats off – "it looks less aggressive" – and seem put out when a police constable arrives to say he can do nothing.

The Red Caps have the same rights as anyone else to make a citizen's arrest if they see a crime being committed, and just as the end of the day's work approaches they do manage to apprehend three pickpockets, outside Benetton. Within moments, eight uniformed men and women are on the scene, surrounding the thieves.

These turn out to be young boys, aged no more than seven. Again, the police take half an hour to arrive, during which time the children cry so loudly that shoppers harangue the patrol. The Red Caps look embarrassed to be standing around with boys no taller than their waists. Forbidden from restraining them, they can only hope their presence is intimidating enough to stop the children running off.

A telephone stolen in McDonald's rings inside one of the boys' underpants. "I'm not touching it," says Darren, one of the younger Red Caps, glad to see the police.

"At least we got them for something," says Brian. "This can work, see? Mind you, they'll be back again tomorrow."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game