Fishing lines; This barbel bungle joins a regal history

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The Independent Online

Things are not looking good for PC Tom Onions. A royal cop with a double-0 prefix has a clear remit: guard the monarch. Being caught on the riverbank with a fishing rod instead of your SA80, when you're supposed to be protecting the Queen from undesirables, is not easy to explain away.

It seems that the errant policeman was part of a two-man team on night duty at Windsor Castle. But instead of watching out for intruders at the castle's Shaw Farm gate, he was trying to catch barbel instead of villains.

PC Onions was copped when his superior toured the castle perimeter and found only one man on duty. According to the account I read, PC Onions has had his gun confiscated and been switched to non-armed duties.

I'm just guessing that he was fishing for barbel. But the castle grounds embrace a fine stretch of the Thames that holds big barbel, and this is a good time of year for them. Equally, PC Onions may have been carp-fishing one of the Windsor Great Park ponds.

As someone who made regular night visits to the ponds and the royal river in my youth, I can vouch for the fishing. It's ultra-private, unfortunately, and I was "guesting", a polite term for angling without permission or permit. Thank goodness it was just an occasional police car that patrolled in those days, rather than a camouflaged cop with an assault rifle and night sights.

I have some sympathy for PC Onions, though, having been caught out for a similar dereliction of duty. It happened during my first job as a junior reporter. I too suffered from barbel fever, and snuck out of the Maidenhead office at every opportunity, telling my news editor I was following up some hot story that never materialised.

But one time, I nearly lost my job. The barbel were feeding well. I had already caught two when I glanced up and saw, to my horror, my deputy editor walking along the bank. What could I do? I pulled my parka around me, my fishing hat over my face and hoped he might not notice me. But there was little hope. He was going to pass right behind me, and he had surely spotted my car.

It should have meant the sack, the end to a glorious career before it had even begun. But one thing saved me. He was walking hand-in-hand with the glamorous blonde reporter who had only started a few weeks ago.

Nobody knew of their clandestine relationship. And so they walked past looking one way while I looked the other. As soon as they had disappeared further down the towpath, I packed up and shot back to the office. You can't stretch luck too far.

Nothing was ever said. The deal was clear: keep your mouth shut, and I'll pretend I never saw you fishing when you should have been getting results from Dorney Flower Show. I never risked it again. I suspect PC Onions won't, either.