Remembering Vanessa

The last conversation I had with Vanessa I was stood outside the cell block in Chelmsley Wood about eight months pregnant with my second child. She said “Right I’m off to Bosnia now but keep in touch – write and tell me what you have.”

As it turned out she wasn’t to be there long enough to write.

Vanessa as a cadet

Vanessa as a cadet

Vanessa Carroll started her career with West Midlands Police in 1977 as a 16 year old cadet.

It was when she joined the regulars that we first met at Chelmsley Wood Police station. I arrived fresh out of police training school and joined the same shift.

Vanessa was the first one to welcome me. She was a few months ahead of me in service and in those days ‘the new girl’ made the tea for the shift before parading for duty. I fully expected Vanessa to simply hand over the tea making job to me, but instead she showed me where all the stuff was and got stuck in and helped me at the start of each shift.

We hit it off right from the start. Vanessa was simply the nicest, most polite young lady I could ever have hoped to meet. We soon became the best of friends. She looked after me and we walked the beat together around Chelmsley Wood and Kingshurst. We were glad we had each other – we girls got a bit of stick from the men – we worked hard to get accepted , aided by the fact we loved being out on the beat fighting crime.

I can clearly remember a snowy night in January 1982 when we were working a night shift. It was beyond freezing at minus 20c. All the men on the shift were in Panda cars but because Vanessa and I were the youngest on the shift we were posted to walk the Kingshust area. We were glad we had been issued with police capes as at least that gave us a bit of warmth, but we were frozen, we even had frost in our hair, and could hardly stand or walk on the dreadful ice on the ground.

We were sent to check all the shops in the shopping area were ok. We found a smashed window, looked through it and found a young burglar walking towards us and the broken glass with a sack full of cigarettes. That arrest gave us a few warm minutes back at the station before we were back out again to the frost and ice.

Vanessa was incredibly proud to be a police officer and didn’t like anyone doing anything wrong.  She really was ‘fearless’ and we ended up in lots of difficult situations. She could take on any man and was never afraid to arrest them even without back up, which at times she probably needed.

Vanessa captaining the football team

Vanessa captaining the football team

We both loved sports, Vanessa was captain of the Force Netball team, and was a very fit cross country runner. I lost count of the amount of times she out ran offenders, chasing them through streams without a second thought then forcing them to give up when they couldn’t run any further.

On one occasion Vanessa was commended by a High Court judge for her bravery in chasing and detaining a convicted rapist and violent offender responsible for an offence of affray whereby two police officers were seriously injured.

In those days, after two years on the beat in Chelmsley Wood, everyone had to do six months at the airport. When Vanessa’s time to go came she was heartbroken, thinking she wouldn’t get to chase criminals anymore. I can remember the day she was summonsed into the gaffer’s office to be given the news she would be starting at the airport the following Monday.  The next day I was sent to go with her and look after her. She needn’t have worried because we spent plenty of time chasing car criminals on foot down the A45 Coventry Road.

Being a well brought up Catholic girl she had a strong sense of right and wrong that helped make her an outstanding officer. A real bobby’s bobby she was a workaholic. She never liked taking time off and always looked immaculate. I tried to polish my shoes and box iron my skirts like Vanessa did, but never seemed to manage to get them to look as good.

Deb Menzel and Vanessa Carroll meeting Worzel Gummage at Birmingham Airport

Deb Menzel and Vanessa Carroll meeting Worzel Gummage at Birmingham Airport

Vanessa was a really kind person, she would go out of her way to help anyone who needed help. We shared a love of music and sport. As well as working together, we socialised closely. When I got married in 1984 she came to my wedding, as did her sister and mother and family, we were all so close.

In 1985 Vanessa passed her sergeant exam and for the first time we got split up.  She went to be a sergeant at Queen’s Road Police station in Aston and I stayed at Chelmsley Wood. She later moved into CID and spent some time as a Detective Sergeant on various squads. Wherever she went she was successful and incredibly well liked and respected by all of her colleagues.

In 1994 she was promoted to inspector and came back to Chelmsley Wood. She phoned me the night before she came back, excited to be coming ‘home’.

Vanessa soon settled into the role of ‘Gaffer’ on her new shift and did what she always did, motivating the shift to become serious thief-takers. She was always out with them bagging her fair share of prisoners and really did lead from the front. Her shift loved her, she was strict and fair demanding a high work load from every member of her team, they worked hard and played hard and always got good results.

When in 1996 she told me she was going out to Bosnia I was really surprised, she was a proper home girl, close to her Mum and sister and new nephew who she adored and I couldn’t imagine her wanting to be away from them. She thought it was the sort of challenge that might help her earn her next promotion though, so I guess it was that that motivated her in the end.

Vanessa was no stranger to hard wortk

Vanessa was no stranger to hard work

The last conversation I had with her I was stood outside the cell block in Chelmsley Wood about eight months pregnant with my second child. She said “Right I’m off to Bosnia now but keep in touch – write and tell me what you have.”

As it turned out she wasn’t to be there long enough to write.

It’s one of those moments you never forget.  My daughter was three weeks old, my husband was getting up to go to work when he noticed there was a message on the answerphone. He listened to it then ran upstairs saying: “Vanessa’s been killed over in Bosnia”.

I was in absolute shock. I couldn’t believe it. The phone rang off the hook after that, with everyone calling saying ‘have you heard the news?’ She was all over the TV.

It was 28 April 1996 and Vanessa was 35 years old.

I really wish I’d been at work that day. Her shift walked in to work that morning to the news and after the shock and the tears they decided that day would be a good day to execute some warrants. They arrested loads of people in her name – they knew that that would have been what she had wanted.

We had lost officers before but it felt different when it was Vanessa, particularly since she was a girl and one of the gaffers.

Peter Fahy, the Chief Superintendent at Solihull at the time, now Chief Constable at Greater Manchester Police, pulled out all the stops to get her brought back in a military plane. Her shift made sure they were there on the tarmac when she landed at Brize Norton.

The funeral at Olton Friary was packed with colleagues past and current. The force drape and her hat and gloves sat on the coffin. Members of her shift carried her in and Angie, one of Vanessa’s closest friends and the senior policewomen on the shift, walked in front of them, watching what was almost unbearable  to so many of us .  Her friends and colleagues stood shoulder to shoulder, friends she had made in the cadets, on her first shift and throughout her police career and of course friends from the netball team, basketball team, athletics and cross country team.

Vanessa plaqueShe was a good friend to a lot of people, especially her team mates in sport and those she had worked with on her various shifts and squads. She is still missed by so many people, she impacted upon so many lives, I think about her often.

When I retired I thought about how she should have been retiring at the same time.  I often wonder what rank she would have reached, she was certainly destined to be high ranking.

She has left so many people with the most wonderful, fun memories and is fondly remembered as a wonderful colleague, friend and sportswoman.

I consider it a privilege to have known her. Vanessa was a very talented lady. There was nothing she could not achieve. She was an outstanding officer and a friend in a million who was an inspiration to me and so many others.

Lloyd House

Lloyd House has served as the police headquarters for West Midlands Police for all of its 40 year history. However the building was never intended for that purpose and started out life as something completely different.

Back in the 70s Lloyd House was open plan.

Back in the 70s Lloyd House was open plan. Photo courtesy of Maurice Bruton

Lloyd House was built between 1960 and 1961 to be the headquarters for steel stockholders Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd.  The story goes that the building has an ‘L’ shape to represent the Lloyd half of the company and the name to match.

History doesn’t record what Andrew Stewart thought of this but presumably he accepted it was difficult to build an ‘S’ shaped building in the 1960s…

In 1972 the prospect of a new, larger metropolitan force starting in just two years set off a search for a headquarters to replace the previous accommodation used by Birmingham Police at Newton Street.

City engineers proposed a new building in the area of the legal precincts of Steelhouse Lane and a budget of £1,700,000 was allocated for work to start the same year.

Unfortunately, the favoured site in Newton Street at Dale End became earmarked for a new magistrates’ court, and in fact this site is now occupied by the Queen Elizabeth Crown Court.

The Watch Committee of the date decided that a central site was important and decided in favour of renting Lloyd House at a cost of £140,000 a year from Messrs Stewart and Lloyd.

The first officers, from the City of Birmingham Police, moved into the building in the early part of 1973. However the move was not a welcome one, with staff complaining about poor heating conditions on some floors and the ‘lack of character’ of the building.

Lloyd House bearing the letters of it's origiinal owners - Stewart and Lloyd. Photo courtesy of Maurice Bruton

Lloyd House bearing the letters of it’s origiinal owners – Stewart and Lloyd. Photo courtesy of Maurice Bruton

These complaints appear to have continued, with Chief Constable Phillip Knights commenting in his 1977 annual report:  ‘Whilst it can never provide all the facilities required of a modern purpose-built police headquarters, and little if anything can be done about its deficiencies so far as heating and air conditioning are concerned, it is essential that we do all we can to provide the staff with working conditions that are as pleasant and attractive as we can make them within these limitations.’

Forty years on the heating and air conditioning problems are set to be finally resolved as part of a multi-million pound refurbishment of Lloyd House, which will eventually see members of staff moving out of satellite city centre sites in favour of headquarters.

Plans for the building include returning it back to more of its former open plan state, with internal office walls being removed to help accommodate the extended working population.

Lloyd House looks set to remain West Midlands Police headquarters for several years to come although internally it will hopefully start to look and feel very different.

Clipboards – Use them!

Crime fighters have always had gadgets. James Bond had his talcum powder tin filled with tear gas, his mini-rocket cigarette and his Union Jack emblazoned pen gun.

Beacon article from 1979

Beacon article from 1979

Back in 1979 West Midlands Police issued officers with their very own crime-fighting, life saving device – in the form of a clipboard!

‘Bullet-proof’ clipboards were issued for use in all police vehicles. Our internal magazine, The Beacon, boasted that ‘They have been extensively tested and are effective against virtually any weapon the criminal is likely to use’.

The Chief Constable of the time, Lord Philip Knights, had one simple thing to say about them. ‘Use them. They may save your life’.

Alarmingly 70s officers seemed somewhat unaware of the life-saving abilities of their clipboards and the Beacon bemoans that ‘Some officers have not been using the boards, or have been carrying them in the boot of the car’.

The article was so keen to point out that ‘they must be carried inside the car to be of any use’, that it featured a ‘storyboard’ of three photographs showing how an officer could first use the clipboard in defence against a gunman before disarming him with it.

It turns out the clipboards were not a West Midlands Police invention, but were an idea imported from America, where they had been used by police there back in the 60s.

How to use your clipboard to disarm a gunman

How to use your clipboard to disarm a gunman

In scenes reminiscent of ‘Q’s workshop, officers are pictured testing the boards by firing at both a conventional wooden clipboard and the bullet-proof one. Proving that the clipboards resisted a 9mm browning Semi-automatic pistol, a .357 Magnum revolver and a 12 bore shotgun.

The bullet-proof boards were marked but intact, while bullets unsurprisingly sailed through the wooden board – and the two telephone directories propped behind it to represent an officer!

A spokesman for the force’s Firearms team encouraged officers to be confident using their boards, stating: “These boards do work and officers can have confidence in them. If they stop the villain’s first shot, it is unlikely he will have another go. All he will be interested in is getting away.”

firearms officers shooting the board

firearms officers shooting the board

Bullet-proof boards, now dubbed ‘ballistic clipboards’ are not issued to every patrol car anymore but are still used today by Firearms trained officers when knocking on the door of a suspect where there is an outside possibility they may have a gun.

One of today’s Firearms officers said: “When they were in the back of every car people didn’t use them because they didn’t know how to. They were almost laughable; we knew they were there but not what to do with them.

“Now we have them in every armed response vehicle as a useful tool when we are in a low-key situation. It’s reassuring to have them in front of you when you knock on a door not knowing whether someone inside has a gun or not.”

No one remembers the clip boards actually saving anyone’s life but they will perhaps be best remembered by our 70s and 80s officers as ‘that heavy thing in the boot’.