Ever been arrested on the basis of undisclosed ‘intelligence’? I have. Listen and learn. Good luck.
Stuff happens. I was arrested for a criminal offence and was on bail for three years before the case against me was dropped in a UK Crown Court. I was confused, angry, in fact, mad as hell, so I tried to be creative and ending up writing two books about it. I intend to include abridged extracts here on Medium. It might be of use or interest to someone some day. Here’s how it all started, the day I was arrested based on ‘intelligence’ never ever disclosed:
I had never been arrested before. It wasn’t so bad. In fact if I were to recommend a team of four police officers to conduct a ‘raid’ on your home, there is a good chance I would recommend DC Hopkins and her three colleagues. That is not to say it wasn’t a crazy day. Of my then 14,225 days (spread evenly over nearly 39 years) each one had started fairly innocuously, so I was due a crazy day. It would be the start of a journey that would end two years, eleven months and four days later. Twenty-four days short of three years. 1,080 days in total. I say ‘end’, it was the end in the eyes of the criminal justice system when a judge formally brought legal proceedings to a conclusion in a Crown Court.
I was awake at 7.40 a.m. and looking for a reason to roll out of bed. The arrival of four plain-clothed police officers at my bedroom door was as good a reason as any. A minute or so earlier, I had heard the doorbell ring and my mother open the front door downstairs. There was a pause before I heard her climb the stairs at some speed.
‘David, there are four police officers downstairs wanting to talk to you,’ she said appearing at my door somewhat breathless and confused.
On my feet and totally flummoxed, I was unable to process her words when my deliberations were overtaken by the sight of a young, blonde woman clutching a file and peering at me from behind my mother. That’s odd, I thought, the woman has followed my mother up the stairs.
‘David?’ the woman enquired politely, ‘I’m DC Lauren Hopkins. Can we speak to you downstairs for a minute?’
Moments later, and somewhat bewildered, I pottered down the stairs in a T-Shirt, trousers and bare feet encountering three other plain-clothed officers along the way. The only thing that established their status as police officers were the ID badges that were attached to their belts.
Downstairs in the sitting room I took a seat on the sofa. DC Hopkins sat on an armchair in front of me. Her three colleagues remained standing. My mother took a seat in the corner of the room.
‘We need to talk to David on his own,’ the detective said to my mother.
‘This is my home, I’m not going anywhere,’ my mother replied.
I was not fussed. I wondered whether my mother was doing it for my benefit, or for her own. I didn’t see any problem and shrugged.
‘I don’t mind,’ I mumbled.
Detective Constable Hopkins turned to me and began.
‘David, we have intelligence that you have downloaded indecent images of children while you lived at Meadow Road.’
Meadow Road had been my previous rented accommodation on the other side of town. Twelve months earlier I had down-sized my life to pursue various career opportunities and creative projects. I had packed in my job, sold stuff, gave stuff away, put a bunch of stuff in storage and moved back to my parents to manage this next career (life) step.
‘Says who?’ I replied wholly stunned suddenly realising this was serious business.
‘We are not at liberty to divulge,’ replied DC Hopkins.
Her words immediately struck me as odd, but, in my stunned state, I didn’t argue.
‘We have a warrant to search the house and remove any equipment or devices which can store images,’ she continued.
I nodded in acknowledgement and, with a sigh, muttered, ‘Okay’.
I was struggling to keep up with developments. One hundred and eighty seconds had passed and my world had changed.
‘So, we’re going to go upstairs and remove your computer belongings. We will then go down to the police station and have a talk.’
In a daze I walked with the four officers back up the stairs to my room. Was this a ‘police raid’? It all seemed very civilised. They were all perfectly polite, so the only course of action was to be polite and reasonable in return. I had nothing to hide, but I was wracking my brains. As an adult of the Internet generation I had seen what most women would be aghast to hear described as ‘regular porn’, but nothing was shouting from the depths of my memory that should make me panic.
Was this related to the use of my credit card? A case of identity theft? Was my email address on some email distribution list? Had some link or other popped up on my computer and I had clicked it out of ignorance or curiosity? I was struggling to place the source of the problem, but my instinct was throwing nothing up. Halfway up the stairs I asked the detective again what had prompted the police visit.
‘We have intelligence,’ she repeated.
Again, I thought her choice of words was peculiar. Police officers on TV programmes referred to ‘evidence’ or would say things like ‘we know that …’, but ‘intelligence’ in a non-military setting sounded bizarre.
‘What is this intelligence?’ I asked.
‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, but all I can say is that it relates to Meadow Road in 2007’ [two years earlier].
I pressed, but the detective declined again. I turned to my mother beside us.
‘I don’t know what this is about. No idea,’ I said. ‘I have sometimes looked at adult porn on websites. No idea what this is about. I might have had pop-ups and maybe I clicked something,’ I speculated in the absence of any information, ‘but it’s all adult stuff.’
We entered my room. I leant over my computer and unplugged the screen from the back of the Apple computer tower. I was keen that the dismantling of my prized machine was carefully managed, but no, one of the younger officers stepped forward saying he would do it. I stood back.
‘We’ll have to take everything,’ said Lauren.
Of all the items in my possession to take — the computer, seriously? I had packed in the job to complete the editing of two full-length low-budget movies. Shot on digital video a few years earlier I had completed one film to the point where it had been screened at various venues in Oxford and London. I was now editing it down and colour-correcting the latest (and, I hoped) final version whereupon I could continue editing the second film. Both movies were sitting on the computer and the accompanying external hard drives. I had hundreds of DVD and CD back-up files and film versions on spindles lying about the room. It was, quite simply, my life’s work.
‘What else is there?’ DC Hopkins asked.
Pointing, I mumbled something about there being three computers in the adjacent study room: an Apple eMac, a PC Toshiba laptop and an Apple Powerbook from work.
‘What will you take?’ I asked.
‘Is there anything else?’
‘Well, I have stuff in a lock-up across the road. All stuff from my house move, but there’s nothing of interest there. I can happily take you over if you want.’
I was at ease being completely open. I had no intention of shadow-boxing around her questions. Moving back into my room the two officers started to pack up my computers. One officer dismantled the equipment and passed it to the other officer who logged and bagged it. What was wholly bizarre was seeing my belongings being handled by two strangers wearing white plastic gloves in my bedroom at ten minutes to eight o’clock on a midweek morning. What is this, I thought to myself, a crime scene? Were the gloves to prevent their DNA getting on the DVD, CDs and paperwork? How did DNA come into it? It was crazy. A small bookcase loaded with spindles of DVDs and CDs (used and unused) stood next to my desk. All were being picked through, examined, their contents discussed between officers and then logged on official pads.
It was suggested that I leave them to it.
I left my bedroom and suddenly found myself in a small study room next door. On the desk sat three computers: the eMac, the Toshiba laptop belonging to my mother and the Apple laptop. The detective, as ever, was by my side.
‘I need to give you these,’ she said searching through her papers. ‘It’s a copy of the warrant to search the premises.’
I took the one-page document of densely-packed text and started to read. No sooner had I read the first three words when I realised I had not absorbed their meaning. I re-read them, but then struggled to join the meaning of the fourth word to the previous word. I started again and the same happened. I worked with documents on a daily basis and with all my effort I could not make head or tail of the first line of text. I almost surprised myself at my ineptitude.
‘I don’t think I can read this now,’ I said, wondering if there was some important information on the document that I was overlooking and thereby disadvantaging myself.
I heard stirrings in my parents’ room next door. My father was up, no doubt alerted by my mother. God knows what he was going to make of four police officers in his house searching for evidence of indecent images of children, but a job had to be done. I needed to deal with it head-on, so I advised DC Hopkins that I needed to explain to my father. She understood but as I moved to the bedroom door, I found the detective on my shoulder. Why was she following me? Surely this was a private interaction? Was she afraid that I would impart some information to my seventy-six year old father? Ask him to dispose of material lurking somewhere in the house? Opening the door I saw my father adjusting his clothes and looking bewildered. He wasn’t usually up at this time. I cut to the chase and gave him the details and advised that that I might have looked at some dirty-mag type porn in the vain hope he might have done the same in the 1950s before he met my mother, but knowing deep down that it was unlikely.
‘Oh, oh,’ he said shaking his head as if to shake free the words that were bouncing about his head. I had no intention of hanging around and left him to it.
As my services were not required for the time being, I thought it best to wash and dress. I stepped back in to my room to retrieve a T-shirt and socks and washing gear, by which time officers had loaded CD and DVD spindles into clear plastic bags. I pointed to a black case of one hundred plus DVDs under the bed.
‘That case is full of DVDs — back-ups,’ I said helpfully, shaking my head in disbelief. ‘It’s all film stuff.’
The officer pulled storage boxes from under my bed and began to sort through its contents — just files of correspondence, film paperwork, my travel folder. I almost wanted to help them and speed up the collection of material.
Having moved back temporarily the previous year, all my clothes were in cardboard boxes and bin liners under my bed, but this didn’t prevent the officers taking a step towards me and observing from where I was retrieving my clothing and presumably checking to make sure I wasn’t interfering with potential evidence. I headed into the bathroom and locked the door. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock, but I welcomed the peace and quiet. Immediately there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find DC Hopkins asking me to keep the door open. I nodded and pushed the door to, leaving it ajar by six inches allowing a male officer to keep an eye on me.
Having washed and changed, I was asked for the keys to my VW Golf. It needed to be searched. They hadn’t asked about my car, yet they knew the make and model. This wasn’t an arbitrary search, I realised. These guys had done their homework.
I headed downstairs and sat in the living room with DC Hopkins. Now alone, she advised me what was going to happen. Once the search had been completed — perhaps within an hour or so — we would drive down to the police station where I would be questioned. I asked whether a solicitor was needed.
‘I couldn’t advise,’ she replied.
I didn’t watch too many crime shows on TV, but the ‘suspect’ in the shows I did watch (CSI, for instance) only ever asked for a solicitor when he or she had something to hide. So, I found myself thinking: if I ask for a solicitor then that implies guilt?
I asked the detective again, but she repeated that it was not her position to advise me. However, seeing that I was struggling with the predicament, she continued (albeit hesitatingly).
‘If I had been arrested then I might want a solicitor in case I said something I later regretted,’ she said quietly.
Her words took me by surprise. If she, a police detective, was indirectly suggesting that a solicitor wouldn’t be such a bad idea, there was no ’effing way I was going to be interviewed without one. On one level it was also a little encouraging. She was almost looking out for me having been in my company for only twenty minutes.
‘Sure, okay, yes, I’d like a solicitor.’
‘Do you know any?’ she asked.
‘No, no-one at all. How would I go about getting one?’
‘We can appoint one for you.’
‘How much does it cost?’
‘There would be no charge.’
‘Well, yes, I’d like one please,’ I said, relieved. ‘How long would this take?’
‘Depends how long it takes to pack up here and we have to wait for the solicitor.’
‘Well, you can book one now as far as I am concerned.’
Allowing for a few hours for the interview, I was hoping it would all be over by the early afternoon.
For all the hubbub, DC Lauren Hopkins was professional and seemed personable, even sympathetic. But what information had led her to this place? What did she know? What was her view? If she had apparent evidence of ‘wrong-doing’, then was she thinking that she was looking at a suspect in denial? Or did she genuinely have no or little evidence and was largely sympathetic with the man sitting opposite and at the harsh business end of her investigations?
A police officer began bringing down bagged items of my computer stuff — external hard drives, DVDs burned with various versions of the film, blank DVDs, my iPod, my spare mobile phone, an invoice of a past holiday (which, DC Hopkins explained, acted as evidence that I had lived at Meadow Road), and all my memory sticks backing up documents. It rammed home that I wouldn’t be able to do any film work at all once this had all walked out the door. My iPod was going with nearly 4GB of music and now that my G4 computer was also going, my whole music collection would be unavailable. I had LPs tucked up in storage, but no proper means to play the records. I had gone digital years before.
I was invited to review the contents of the bags and sign away the forms detailing their seizure. I was glancing at the items listed on the papers, but once again, I was having difficulty focusing on the words and details. I recognised the odd word, ‘Lacie’, but signed them all anyway. I was signing away my life. Somewhere deep inside, I knew that if I protested at a later date, then the police would just wave my signature around saying everything was done with my full knowledge. Nevertheless, for the time being at least everything was polite and completed in a measured manner.
At some point I was told it might be a long day and invited to get some breakfast. I hadn’t eaten much in the previous few days and had been intending to treat myself to a cooked breakfast in a local café that morning. In the circumstances I was not particularity hungry, but realised I ought to eat something. I moved to the kitchen, discreetly followed by DC Hopkins, and paced back and forth while making a couple of slices of toast and tea.
The immediate shock of their arrival having passed, my mother slipped into normal hosting mode.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ she asked DC Hopkins.
‘Oh, I don’t know. No,’ the detective replied weakly.
‘What about your friends?’ my mother asked chirpily.
The detective stepped into the hallway and called up to her colleagues — would they like a drink? Tea? Coffee?
‘No,’ came the firm replies. No doubt they’re busy, I thought, poking through my stuff, stripping my room of my livelihood.
‘Are you sure you don’t want one?’ my mother asked again.
‘Oh, no, no, thank you. I’m fine.’
I almost thought my mother would insist, I almost felt like jumping in and insisting myself saying enough of the police raid protocol. My mother let it go and started to chat.
‘If I’d known you were coming, I’d have tidied up.’
I almost looked forward to going to the police station.
My parents had mellowed and started chatting to DC Hopkins about her background. As I paced back and forth in silence and increasing irritation, I felt I ought to appreciate the easy-going chat as it lessened the seriousness of the situation in my parents’ eyes and became just another rubbish day in the life of one of their five offspring. Besides, the conversation might also give to the police an indication of the accused’s background. Speaking of which, my mother turned to me and asked:
‘David, you didn’t let others use your computer in Meadow Road, did you?’
‘Of course,’ I replied, vexed the conversation had turned to matters of interest to the police. It could open a can of worms — I was thinking of friends and family members; there was no way I wanted to drag others into this. The time of the alleged offence was a time before smartphones: emails, train times, calendars, maps, news, social media, the Internet all had to be checked on a full-sized computer.
‘But not Ian?’ my mother continued.
‘Why not? I never turned anyone down.’
‘Oh, you are stupid,’ my mother muttered.
Ian had been a housemate and, on the whole, a reasonable person. The reference to Ian was overheard by my father as he entered the kitchen.
‘Oh no, not that oddball,’ he spat.
Ian wasn’t quite the ‘odd ball’ but I didn’t want a conversation in front of the police. Besides, it was most probably a coincidence. My initial thought was that one of my twelve credit cards (used to fund the film-making over the years) had somehow been compromised.
Managing to move the conversation away from housemates, my mother asked the detective, who was now comfortably seated at the kitchen table, how long the computers would be gone. The police detective wouldn’t commit herself to a date for the equipment’s return.
My mother turned to me, ‘So how am I going to access my email?’
Being a learner-silver-surfer meant that my mother had a handful of emailing duties with sons (one in Australia), a daughter (in Shropshire) and old friends.
‘I can introduce you to Internet cafés,’ I mumbled, at which my mother replied she wouldn’t be visiting any Internet café. I realised she was trying to show her indignation at the inconvenience of the removal of all the computers, but I was unsure whether it was helpful.
It did, however, prompt a remark from DC Hopkins — there was to be a change of plan. The police wouldn’t be taking all the computers after all. The detective advised us that they would not now be seizing the eMac and Toshiba laptop (both of which the police knew I used). This was a change of tack from earlier in the morning. Was this a good sign? Was I now being taken less seriously as a potential offender? It was no secret that there had been other tenants in the Meadow Road property — it was a matter of public record. Perhaps the ‘intelligence’ was indeed based on a credit card; it was common knowledge that identity theft had caused problems for all sorts of people. Or perhaps the intelligence was not specific to me? After all, there had been a number of co-tenants.
The other officers brought down more bagged-and-tagged computer equipment, piling it all up in the sitting room. The large, plain transparent bags were no different to those seen in dozens of films, documentaries and news items over the years. An awful thought occurred to me. I looked out the kitchen window overlooking the drive and parking spaces in the street. There were no patrol cars, which was a relief, only a couple of small, unmarked hatchbacks (which I assumed were the police vehicles) in the parking spaces on the far side of the street. My mother’s car was parked right up close to the house’s front door. I turned to her.
‘Is it possible to move your car so that one of their cars can be reversed up to the front door?’ I asked (and implying it would allow the police to load up their vehicles discreetly).
‘Fine, no problem,’ my mother replied understanding exactly what I meant rising from her seat, grabbing her keys and leaving.
DC Hopkins explained that she had to sketch a layout of the house. I led her first to the door off the hallway that opened into the garage. It housed my father’s car and the usual junk to be found in any garage — toolboxes, shelves of knick-knacks and more. As I opened the door my heart sank. Were the police going to pull this place apart? Isn’t that what they do? Search every possible hiding place for evidence?
‘Oh right, okay,’ said DC Hopkins scribbling a few notes and drawing a diagram. She didn’t step forward into the garage, but took a step back into the hall seemingly content. Another good sign, I thought, I hoped.
I showed her the remaining rooms downstairs then moved upstairs and showed her a guest bedroom; she just poked her head into it. Next my parents’ room and then a small adjacent room used for boxed storage (some of which was mine). Lauren just scribbled and she seemed content. There was no request to look in the attic, the garden shed or in the storage unit across the road (which I had mentioned earlier in the morning). As my mother (and I) later noted, the search warrant allowed the police to search all the rooms in the house and outbuildings. The search warrant in full read:
Dated: 10 February For the issue of a warrant under: Sec. 4 Protection of Children Act 1978: To enter: [Address] … and search any persons therein, including any outbuildings within the curtilage of the premise and any vehicles that can be positively identified as being under the control of the occupants in the premise linked with offences of Possessing and Making Indecent Photographs of Children … and search for: Abusive images and pseudo images of children, equipment used for storing and viewing such images and any relevant materials, including electronically stored written data. …. Authority is hereby given for any constable of the Thames Valley Police (accompanied by other person or persons as necessary for the purposes of the search) to enter said premises within three months from the date of issue of this warrant, on one occasion only, to search for material in respect of which the application is made and any persons therein. Signed Deputy District Judge (Magistrates Court) 14: 09 hrs.
DC Hopkins and her colleagues were quite relaxed about not searching other rooms or outbuildings. Perhaps the ‘intelligence’ was weak and indeterminate and they were just following up as a matter of obligation. Whichever it was, I was inclined to take it as a good sign.
Returning downstairs, DC Hopkins and I sat alone in the sitting room. She continued to complete paperwork relating to the items being removed. Her mobile rang and she answered.
‘All fine, we’ll be back in an hour or so,’ she said.
Up until that point this police experience had been limited to four plain-clothes officers and confined to a small, familiar house. It hadn’t occurred to me that it had a whole other dimension — other people wanting updates, people who had contributed to discussions about ‘the case’; people who knew my name, housing arrangements, my vehicle details. When I reviewed the search warrant a day or so later, I noted the Magistrate authorising the house search had signed the document on 10 February — a full week before the police visit. Seven days in which I had been in absolute ignorance of what would happen.
Her call completed and alone together once again, DC Hopkins turned to me and said she was obliged to read me my rights and make the formal arrest. Okay, I nodded and sighed, grateful for the warning of what was to follow. She began slowly and spoke with a clear and consistent tone:
‘David Anderson, I am arresting you on the suspicion of downloading indecent images of children. You have the right to remain silent, but anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence against you…’.
I appreciated her sensitivity when carrying out the task and wondered whether this was the result of her training or part of her personality. Or was it even influenced by thoughts that the police might be barking up the wrong tree?
More equipment was brought downstairs and more forms completed. Realising that their search would soon be concluded and I might be preoccupied for much of the rest of the day I raised the issue of going to the lavatory. DC Hopkins asked one of colleagues to accompany me. Once again the lavatory door could not be closed. I advised the twenty-something Detective Constable, who himself looked uncomfortable, that I ‘would not be standing up’ and might be a few minutes. And so it was that I had a few more moments to myself, nevertheless it was surreal glimpsing a stranger (a police detective, no less) standing to attention and watching me through the gap in the door.
A police vehicle was reversed up to the front door to allow the seized computer equipment to be loaded up relatively discreetly. As the police officers gathered in the hall ready for departure I bounded up the stairs to retrieve a fleece, my spectacles and a Walkman radio for the long walk back home at the end of the day. Entering my bedroom I found a breathless DC Hopkins right behind me. Again, it was a reminder that I was now being watched and followed wherever I went.
Needing a bag for the items, I emptied a small, khaki canvas shoulder bag of wooden martial arts weapons onto the bed. For a moment I wondered whether she felt uneasy thinking that the ‘suspect’ might suddenly turn violent, but the thought was replaced by another: might she even be inclined to question me on the legality of the possession of such items? I loaded the bag with my belongings, a hat and scarf and headed back downstairs. Now ready to go, DC Hopkins turned to me for a final time before we exited the house.
‘I’m not going to cuff you,’ she said, looking grave.
It took a moment for me to process her words. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was a ‘cuff-able’ situation. I processed a mental image of myself being walked to the unmarked police vehicle in handcuffs. Did they think I’d run off? Get agitated, even violent, in the car? Probably all procedural, but still ….. Right, okay, I thought. Maybe I nodded a ‘thank you’, but it was another surreal moment amongst many that were coming thick and fast.
Leaving the house at shortly after 9.00 a.m. it was an uneventful half dozen steps to the car.
I turned to see a fraught mother standing in the doorway.
‘Don’t worry, I’m fine,’ I said.
It was a fifteen-minute drive to the town centre police station. I sat in the allocated seat — behind the front passenger seat with Lauren by my side. I was becoming resigned to the unfolding events. As DC Hopkins advised the officer driving of the quickest route into town I noted both detectives in the car were younger than me. Where and how was the law of the land being upheld by people in their twenties? It might well have looked like I was pootling down to the pub with a few younger work colleagues.
DC Hopkins asked a handful of polite questions about the film and writing projects. I squeezed out a simple summary of the completed film and others in the pipeline. I didn’t know her motivation for making such enquiries — to try to establish my professional background and how it related to the typical offender profile, or a genuine curiosity in the projects, or a roundabout way of soliciting more information before the solicitor advised me to shut up. Perhaps it was a way to relax me, to establish a rapport that might be more productive in interview? Or maybe she could even empathise with the shock an early morning visit from the police. Who knew?
Allowing me to sit ‘uncuffed’ in the car did not go unnoticed, but, then again, what did I know? My only experience of travelling in police vehicles came from television. As we approached the town centre, my thoughts turned to the fall-out of the day’s events. Would my name be released to the Press? I asked. Would my name appear in the local papers? It filled me with horror that I was hours away from being thrust into such a maelstrom. Would I have to start alerting people (friends and former work colleagues) about my predicament before they saw it in the papers?
DC Hopkins suggested that the news would not be released at this stage. I did wonder whether the police would use the threat of releasing the news of my arrest as a lever for me to be ‘cooperative’. We skipped through the traffic-restricted High Street and turned into the police station’s drive.
MAD AS HELL (Parts 1 and 2) available on Amazon and in bookstores. Further extracts and articles to follow on the law, mental health, court appearances, in fact, the whole three-year, life-defining episode.