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One morning in October 2018, on the advice of an overly cautious friend, I phoned the police non-emergency number to ask what I should do with an ancient, rusty, inoperative revolver that I'd found in my late dad's garden shed. I added that I would have taken it to Upminster Police Station, had that not sadly been demolished. With some urgency in her voice, the London Met operator gave me a reference number and said an officer would call round "within the hour".
Two hours later, officer-less, I phoned again; they were sorry for the delay which was because my Borough had been "busy". I told them I was unable to hang around into the afternoon and, after another hour, left home to see to some other business. Mid-afternoon they called me on my mobile, apologised again, and said there were 7 calls still outstanding, so their visit would now likely be "tomorrow". They agreed to phone first to make sure I was in.
At 16:30 the next day, instead of the expected phone call, there was a pounding of fists on my front door (this despite a clearly visible, working bell-push). There, side by side, stood two serious-looking officers; one of those big police people-carriers (room for 10?) was parked at the gate. I let them in and showed them the gun; they immediately saw that it couldn't be fired (the striker was filed down) and in any case there was no ammunition.
However, Messrs. Plods' Rules said that (1) they couldn't leave me alone with the "weapon", and (2) they weren't allowed to take it away. Instead, they had to (a) arrange for a "Ballistics Bag" (a bag full of sand) to be sent to my house, then - and only then - (b) contact a special "SOC" officer, who would be very busy but, when he had time, would come along, verify that the "weapon" was safe, put it in the sandbag, and then all 3 could go away. They cheerfully told me this procedure had been known to take up to 6 hours.
Ballistics Bags turned out to be as rare as hens' teeth (maybe that's why they hadn't thought to bring one with them?). In between their radio enquiries to increasingly far-flung police stations, we entertained each other with stories of our past careers. Then we started browsing through some of the less controversial relics I'd found in the shed. After an hour or so of this, they'd established that Romford Police Station didn't have a Bag, and - despite an exhaustive search - the staff at Ilford couldn't find theirs. But BINGO! there was one available at Tower Hamlets, some 15 miles away as the crow flies (and they don't fly very fast through East London streets at peak rush-hour).
So now our cosy chat was interrupted by the call of duty; Plod 1 set out to go alone, in their people-carrier, to fetch The Bag, while Plod 2 stayed to guard me and The Gun. At this point, we were starting to run short of small talk ("I'd like to move out here [from inner London]" said Plod 2, "it's so lovely and quiet!"). My head was filling with nightmare thoughts about the hours ahead; was I expected to offer meals and/or overnight accommodation to these unforeseen guests? To my surprise and relief, twenty minutes later Plod 1 reappeared at the door. He'd evidently spent that time on the radio, and managed to negotiate an exception to the rules. Together, we re-wrapped the gun in the old pair of my dad's pyjamas in which I'd found it, and my new friends left me in peace, with an odd-looking bundle of rags added to the array of gadgets distributed around Plod 1's person.
So it was that I lost a family heirloom - and was saddled with several days of explanations to friends and neighbours in the street, who must have thought there'd been a drugs raid or something in progress. The Plods' parting shot was that if I wanted the gun back I'd need to get a fire-arms licence. I later showed a photo to someone who collects such things, and he said he thought it might be worth a bit. I wish he hadn't told me that.
Meanwhile, there were crimes being committed all over London and Essex. Sadly, two months later I became the victim of one - an attempted break-in at my late parents' house. Paying a routine check-up visit there, I was greeted by the sight of glass all over the kitchen floor, from an external door which had been comprehensively wrecked. Outside, I found evidence of someone having vaulted a boundary fence, and further damage to a set of patio doors which they'd evidently tried to lever off their runners.
Naturally, the first phone call I made was to the Police, who gave me a crime number and some words of sympathy, but didn't offer to visit the scene. Instead, they called me back (the following day) to offer more sympathetic words, and to enquire about my ethnicity, whether I was disabled, and several more personal details. But when I dragged the conversation back to the crime and offered to send photos of the damage, they politely declined. I had to confess I didn't have any CCTV evidence (I had this vague idea that it was the Police's job to maintain surveillance of the area and look out for trouble - now that shows my age and naïvety!). When I mentioned forensic work, they instantly dismissed the idea on the grounds that too much time had elapsed since the crime took place.
I did call them one more time, to provide further information. When I quoted the number they'd previously given me, they curtly stated that it was not a valid crime number; that was the point at which I just gave up in despair. Clearly this outfit, upon whose services I'd called for only the second time in about a decade, had more important things to do with their limited resources than investigate a crime. See above.