Police nuclear strike force throws caution to the wind

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The Independent Online
IT'S NOT often you hear a policeman reciting Shakespeare. At least, that's what I thought it was at first. I had gone for a stroll in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh as a rest from continual Fringe-going and the strain of trying to match colleagues drink for drink, and thought I had found a quiet, deserted spot. But there are no quiet, deserted spots in Edinburgh now - even at dawn the top of Arthur's Seat is barnacled with the dotted shapes of people - so I wasn't entirely surprised to hear someone behind the next tree declaiming what sounded like blank verse.

'You do not have to say anything,

But if you do not mention now

Something which you later use in your defence

The court may then decide . . .'

The voice broke off. There was a sigh. Then it started again.

'You do not have to . . .'

I peered round the tree. It was a young policeman. He saw me. He shot to his feet.

'Are you in a show?' I said.

'Pardon?' he said.

'You were learning some lines,' I said. 'I thought perhaps you were in the Fringe. Almost everyone in the world except the police has brought shows to the Fringe, so why not the police?'

'Why not, indeed?' he said. 'But it's not nearly as interesting as that. I'm just trying to learn the new caution.'

I didn't know what he was talking about. Up here I haven't been reading many papers.

'You know the old caution? The one about 'You do not have to say anything', etc? The Home Secretary is replacing it with a new one. It's very controversial.'

'Why?' I asked. 'Is it taking away the right to silence?'

'I wouldn't know about that,' he said. 'All I know is it's controversial with the police because it's three times as long as the old one and three times harder to learn. Such a waste of time, too, when I could be out working on some incentive scheme.'

'Incentive scheme?' I said.

'Aye. You know the police force is short of money these days?'

'Not all the police,' I said. 'I read the occasional report of members of the police force being found with large sums of money on their person. Is there not an accountant with Scotland Yard who has recently been suspended from duty after having enough money to buy a whole Highland village?

'Is not a senior police officer actually suing one of his own subordinates for the return of pounds 10,000, which has gone missing in mysterious circumstances?'

I could have sworn the young man blushed faintly.

'While having no knowledge of these particular cases,' he said, much in the manner of a cabinet minister on the Today programme, 'I do think it sounds like the kind of incentive scheme I am talking about, in which police officers are encouraged to come up with money- making plans for their own force. Sometimes officers are tempted to keep some of the proceeds. It is all very sad.'

'I'm sorry,' I said. 'But what kind of scheme are we talking about?'

'From time to time,' he said, staring into the distance at Calton Hill, 'large quantities of drugs, and arms, and pornography, are confiscated by the police. These are not things that can be sold openly, so we have to seize them. They do, however, fetch very large sums of money on the open market, so it is very tempting for a poverty-stricken police force to raise money by realising these seized assets.'

'Are you saying that . . .?'

'Recently a new and even more deadly merchandise has begun to be seized by us,' he said, turning his innocent blue eyes on me. 'Plutonium. You'd be surprised how much we have seized recently and what a good price it fetches.'

'The police are buying and selling plutonium?'

'I never said so, sir. Nor does it follow from what I said. It might as easily happen that the police force decides to keep the plutonium it has and develop its own nuclear deterrent. Just imagine how much easier it would be for us to negotiate with Michael Howard if he knew that we had our own nuclear strike force to back us up.'

'But . . .'

It was too late. I had lost his attention. He was off again.

'You do not have to say

anything . . .'