by Steve Favill
During my time as an officer in the West Midlands Police, no vehicle tugged at my heartstrings quite like the Ford Transit van.
Easy and car-like to drive, with a commanding view of the road and, in its dual-wheeled V-6 configuration, very respectable performance the humble Transit was a wonderful vehicle.
When I received authorization to drive these, I wasn’t over-impressed, however the mere fact that most of my colleagues did not have that authorization meant that I was somewhat in demand as the designated driver, something that I never objected to.
The version that I drove most often looked very much like the photo above, but without the windows along the sides. A plain van with the red stripe and blue light with seats along each side of the van was always useful as people could never know how many officers the van contained. We were able to quiet a rowdy gathering merely by parking close to them, even though there were only two of us. It was the element of the unknown.
A frequent occurrence was that a dozen or so officers would work overtime on a Friday and Saturday night from 9pm until 1am by which time the hooligan element had pretty much dispersed, this being in the good old days of reasonable licensing hours, of course. I didn’t always volunteer for this duty, but on occasions when they needed a driver for the van I’d give in.
Most of these patrols would be uneventful, as mentioned before, the mere presence of the van which, on a weekend the yobs recognized would be full of coppers, was enough we would sometimes have our bluff called and would need to turn out and correct some attitudes or give a select few a ride to the nearest nick for an unplanned bed for the night. The beauty of being the driver was that you would be the last one out of the van, thereby missing out on a prisoner and the ensuing paperwork. There was a method to my madness.
I remember one occasion very well. It had been an unusually quiet Saturday night, no one wanted to fight and so I parked the van on the empty car park of a pub that had closed an hour before, and we sat watching the traffic negotiate the large traffic island right there, in case there were any drunk drivers to nab. Not our prime consideration, but you take what you can get…
A call came across the radio, asking units to look out for a blue Ford Escort estate, stolen within the past ten minutes from a home nearby. As soon as the broadcast finished, what should come around the island right next to us, but that Ford Escort estate, occupied by a handful of young skinheads.
I threw the van into gear, activated the blue lights and took off after the car like a greyhound released from the gate. The sergeant seated next to me had been dozing off, as had the officers in the back, and so they were none too pleased to be stirred from their slumbers in such a rude manner. Amid cries of “What the @#*&” I explained that we were after a stolen car, at which point the cries of dismay were replaced by shouts of encouragement. Did I mention that these big vans were fast? They were!
In third gear I pulled alongside the Escort, straddling the white line and forcing oncoming traffic to give way, at which point the Sergeant instructed me to ram the car. Having already mentioned the fact that I was averse to paperwork, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I was having none of that, plus I wanted to get some poor bloke’s car back to him in one piece.
It was then that I developed my strategy. Seeing parked cars ahead, I simply kept pace with the Escort, matching every change in speed. With my greater size and power the car thief was stuck, and he knew it. Gradually he slowed, and came to a stop behind the nearest parked vehicle, at which point the van emptied and a number of very eager coppers bailed out, surrounding the car and pulling the occupants out to throw them in the back of the van. One particularly large colleague offered me the driver as my prisoner since he said that I’d earned it. I declined, saying that he had grabbed him therefore he deserved the arrest. Besides, I was so pumped full of adrenaline I needed to calm down for a while…
He was ecstatic, and afterwards wrote a glowing duty report, endorsed by the Sergeant, in which he sang my praises as a driver. That gained me a lot of Brownie points!
Thanks to the power and versatility of the Ford Transit van my friend and three other officers had arrests, we had a good end result for the night’s work, I was awarded a more advanced-level driving course as a direct result of that report and avoided several hours’ worth of paperwork, the Escort’s owner got his car back - undamaged – so everyone was happy. Except for the car thieves, of course, but since when did a car thief ever merit sympathy?