An Island Beat by R.H. Peters

In November 1950 as a very young constable I was sent to the _Isles of Scilly to become the junior half of the entire police force. Constable George Goodman (later a Chief Inspector) was the officer in charge and he lived with his wife and family in the private house which also served as the police station. I was to lodge with a Mr. and Mrs. L. White in the centre of Hughtown the main area of St. Mary’s. I had previously been stationed at Wadebridge, a most pleasant market town, and found that whilst the pace of life was similar in both areas there were many new facets to the style of policing. When the chief constable had told me of my posting he had indi-cated that whilst he did not expect too much evidence of the Nelson touch, he would understand a mild form of myopia. Thus I accepted that cars found parked, perhaps almost abandoned in the shopping centre would have the occasional balding tyre, dodgy brakes, and as there was no taxing authority responsible for the islands there would be no road fund licence displayed. Tourism is the lifeboat of the Scillies, and one of our duties was to ensure that the pleasure boats were not overloaded, espe-cially those licensed to carry no more than 12 passengers which were thus exempt from many of the regulations relating to crew numbers and safety equipment. Normally when the boats left the quay in the morning the skippers had the correct complement with each boat making two or three trips to the off islands. but on their return in the afternoon it was difficult for them to ensure that their fares kept to the correct timetable, for in bad weather everyone wanted to be on the first boat back. It was then that dis-cretion had to be exercised and we adopted the “baker’s dozen” method of counting, with one for luck, so that up to 14 passen-gers “looked” like 12! It was a game which both sides enjoyed, and in the main was fairly observed; deliberate breaches were reported to the Board of Trade with occasional prosecutions. Crime was minimal; after all anyone found guilty of theft or indecency had to face not only the courts but also the rest of the close-knit community, and as there were no cells at the police sta-tion, remands in custody posed a major problem. This arose when we arrested four young boys from Truro who had been camping on St. Mary’s. They had run out of funds and had broken into a couple of shops to obtain food and drink and were soon linked to the crime. We arrested them in late afternoon when the last visu-ally navigated plane had flown, and with the island vessel the Scillonian not sailing until the next morning. Here was an exam-ple of improvisation for we took away all their clothes except underpants and kept the boys in the front room of the station until we could escort them to Penzance the following morning. Cells were constructed some years later, but there have not been many incumbents. A Mr. Stevenson was Clerk to the Council and H.M. Coroner for the Isles, and one evening we were called to his home where his manservant had been found with gunshot wounds to his head. It was clearly suicide, but as Mr. Stevenson was the last person to see him alive it was obvious that he could not conduct the inquest. This posed a legal problem, and there were numerous phone calls to the Home Office where it was decided that Mr. Bennett, the Penzance Coroner should deal with the unfortunate affair. One winter afternoon we were informed that a middle-aged lady had been found dead lying with her face in a small puddle on St. Martin’s, one of the off islands.

The sea was rough and as our motorboat could not get close to the quay there, we had to be taken in a rowing boat. A postmortem examination revealed that the poor soul had had an epileptic fit and by a million to one chance had fallen face down into the puddle and drowned. On September 10th, 1951, the R.M.S. Scillonian ran aground on her approach to the islands in late afternoon. There had been one of the worst fogs experienced for many years, and despite the best endeavours of the crew the ship became wedged not far from shore. A fleet of small boats brought the passengers ashore, many of whom were on a day trip, and as there was no way for them to return to Penzance that day, accommodation was required. The police station phone was almost red-hot for a couple of hours, but the islanders proved to be ambassadors for their aptly named “Friendly Isles” and every passenger was found welcoming lodg-ings. One of the glamorous TV. announcers in those days was Sylvia Peters and she and her husband were on the ship that day as part of their honeymoon. To conclude on a humorous note. I enjoyed a lot of tennis on the Garrison Courts and would often play at about 4pm. with some of the teachers when they finished school. One of them, Kathleen Sagar, was a most attractive blonde and one day when I met her outside the teachers’ hostel she appeared with blushing cheeks. She had rushed to her room to change into her sports clothes and it wasn’t until she had finished that she saw a tele-phone engineer working at the top of a pole outside her window. -Can’t you do something about that?” she asked. “I could ask to borrow his climbing irons,” I replied.

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