Thursday, 18 August 2022

Police sweat in heat but crowds keep their cool

Police sweat in heat but crowds keep their cool

ANYBODY who struggled in the heat during this year’s Henley Royal Regatta should spare a thought for the police.

About 150 officers were patrolling in eight-hour shifts, mostly on foot and in full uniform while carrying up to 21lb of equipment including protective vests, batons, handcuffs, Taser guns, body cameras and radios.

With temperatures peaking at 32C, those walking along the towpath on the Berkshire bank had little refuge from the heat until they reached Temple Island Meadows, where they could collect bottled water from colleagues.

However, their job was made easier by this year’s crowds who were largely calm, respectful and good-natured even after England’s victory over Sweden in the World Cup quarter-final on Saturday.

The Henley Standard spent the evening with the police and saw revellers stopping to chat with officers and praising them for working in such tough conditions. Many offered food and water while those caught misbehaving were quick to apologise.

Our patrol began at 6pm, when we met acting sergeant Sharon Giddens, from Reading, and Pc Ryan Manville, from Maidenhead, at the force’s temporary base in the Leander Club car park.

Here, a briefing room was set up beneath a marquee also housing a temporary custody area and makeshift lounge and kitchen. A storage chiller outside was packed with water bottles, sandwiches and tubes of sun cream.

As the officers geared up for their shift, they remarked on how orderly the regatta had been. By that stage there had been only eight arrests, most on the previous night and for minor offences involving alcohol.

One said: “It’s very refreshing how people are behaving. It’s low-key and peaceful and there hasn’t been much sign of trouble.”

Sgt Giddens said: “It’s not the kind of event where things kick off because the weather’s so nice, the surroundings are pretty and there’s very little litter. People want to keep it pleasant and don’t want to be the one that spoils it.

“This is a good chance to inspire confidence among the community and show we’re not here to stop anyone having a good time. We just don’t want a good night to turn bad and want everyone to get home safely.”

Our first stop was a group of young American women who were picnicking at the water’s edge.

Sgt Giddens politely asked them: “You’re not thinking of going for a swim, are you?”

They said they weren’t but complained that a passer-by had run off with a bag containing their food. They didn’t want to formally report it but the officers told them to check they had all their valuables, which they did.

Further along the towpath, beyond Upper Thames Rowing Club, the officers were stopped by a security guard who had seen two young men and a female companion paddling in an inlet.

Realising they had been spotted, the trio grinned back sheepishly while Sgt Giddens explained it was fine provided they went no further.

They encountered a young woman in a red dress who had been fished out of the river by the lifeguard. Grinning from ear to ear and dripping wet, she smiled at the pair and said: “You know when you’re so hot that you’ve just got to cool down?”

The officers nodded sympathetically and pressed on.

As they approached Remenham Farm, two men were having a loud argument and swearing at one another.

Sgt Giddens waded straight in to reprimand them and they immediately backed down and apologised.

The officers were frequently asked to pose for photographs and received a lot of supportive comments.

One young woman told them: “Thanks for everything you guys do — I know it’s a real cliché but it’s really appreciated.”

Another said: “Aren’t you absolutely baking in those uniforms? They should give you shorts!” and offered them a bottle of water.

Sgt Giddens said: “You can see what I mean by building links with the community.

“It’s hard work and it’s hot but there’s no point sitting in your van all day — you’ve got to get out there and meet the public.

“The first thing people notice about a police officer is the uniform but this humanises you and hopefully gets people on your side. We always want to resolve any situations that arise as peacefully as we can.

“I have to admit I’m not used to getting so much support. When you’re at a large-scale public event you’re often the one being sworn at so it makes a change!

“Everyone seems to be in a good mood and it’s a real pleasure to be involved when people are being so friendly and appreciative.

“People are happy with the World Cup result and it has been hot for a few days so we’ve all had a chance to acclimatise.

“It’s worse when there’s a sudden heatwave and people try to make the most of it by going out and drinking loads.”

We rode back to Leander Club with a group of officers on their inflatable speedboat, which was borrowed from the Hampshire Constabulary. The 8m vessel can carry about 10 people and travel at up to 55mph.

Most people cheered and waved as we passed and one group of women tried to follow it along the towpath while singing the theme tune from Mission Impossible.

On the way back to Henley the officers boarded a boat whose occupants were spotted swimming in the Thames, which is illegal during the regatta.

They explained the law and told the couple they could cool off in the river immediately behind their vessel.

After a short break back at the base we were paired up with Sgt Neil Anns, of Henley’s neighbourhood policing team, and his colleague Pc Alex Norrish for a patrol of the town centre.

As soon as we crossed the river and passed the Angel on the Bridge, the atmosphere became noticeably livelier but there was no sign of serious trouble.

The streets were packed with revellers in rowing blazers or skirts and heels, many of whom staggered along the pavement while singing snippets from Three Lions, some more coherently than others.

Young men approached excitedly shouting “it’s coming home!” while a gaggle of lively young women urged Sgt Anns to accept their gift of a half-eaten box of cheese straws.

“It’s okay guys, they’re not poisoned or anything,” slurred one before tottering off towards the nearest pub.

The officers led us along Hart Street, where they moved on a taxi driver who was blocking traffic, and around into Thames Side and Friday Street, where the crowds in the Angel and the Anchor seemed to be enjoying themselves sensibly. Sgt Anns said: “We’ve already been into all the licensed premises and swabbed all their toilets for drugs. We don’t yet know the results but we’ll be passing them on in due course and advising accordingly.

“On the whole it has been very good this year. Visitor numbers are a bit higher so we’ve had a few more call-outs but it’s still very low for the volume of people that we attract.

“Things settled down early on yesterday, possibly because people were peaking too early with their celebrations.

“The pubs have been busy today because of the football but they’ve managed quite well as they don’t advertise it and therefore don’t get as much traffic as you might expect.

“The licensees are very co-operative and share information with us so if things settle early we can stand a few officers down and don’t all have to work late.

“The big rush comes at midnight, when everyone flocks from the riverbank enclosures in one go. It’s like a swarm of wasps and it’s intimidating to think you’re responsible for such a large crowd but they usually just wander over and go straight home. The biggest premises are the Catherine Wheel in Hart Street, which has a capacity of 1,000 people, and the Angel, which can take 400, so we work closely with them and that partnership has been very effective.

“The pubs in Bell Street like the Old Bell and the Bull typically attract a more ‘local’ crowd so they tend to look after themselves.”

As the pair turned in to Duke Street they were accosted by a young man who was struggling to remain upright.

Pausing to gather his thoughts, he blurted out: “Mate, your horses have done an absolutely massive s*** just around the corner.”

We turned back into Hart Street to find two mounted officers, one of whose charges had indeed left a sizeable deposit on the pavement.

Pc Norrish fetched a broom from his van and swept it up, muttering: “I can’t believe this is going in the Henley Standard.”

The officers stopped to survey the scene and posed for selfies with two young women before spotting a young man swigging beer from an open bottle. They let him down it in one gulp and ensured he put it in the bin before returning to the station in Greys Road for refreshments.

Sgt Anns said: “It’s so hot and we’re getting through case upon case of water, which is never ideal when you’re carrying one-and-a-half stone of equipment. I’ve just taken my hat off and my head is soaked.

“It has been pretty excruciating but the force looks after us and makes sure we’re getting enough water and sun protection. The heat also makes it harder to sleep at the end of a shift but I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

Insp Andrew Deane, one of several inspectors overseeing the operation, said: “It’s important to resolve things by talking and we’re extremely tolerant of people who’ve had too much to drink.

“We encourage them to find ways of getting home, with help from friends or family if necessary, and only make arrests as a last resort if we’re concerned for their safety or the impact they may have on others.

“We try to avoid that because then we have to ‘babysit’ them as there’s a real health risk when people have consumed too much. If we can get them into a taxi or otherwise out of the way it’s helpful.

“There has been a great atmosphere and we were hoping that would not be affected by the football because this is largely a family event and that should temper any problems.

“We haven’t even seen much opportunistic crime associated with the regatta.

“Pick-pocketing can be one of the risks at events like this but we haven’t had any reports of that.”

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