The uniform, Mobile Docks Sections were set up in 1951, to combat crime on the length of the Liverpool Docks, from North to South. The docks were covered by the City Police. Each division adjoining the docks was responsible for policing that particular area. The line of docks were divided into two areas; North – ‘E’ and ‘D’ Divs. South – ‘A’ Div and remainder. The line of docks stretched for a distance of about eight miles.
‘E’ Division was responsible for the north-end docks. This line of docks was the biggest and busiest of the Liverpool dock system. A lot of cruise liners would discharge their passengers at the landing stage, ‘A’ Division, and then move to the north-end to discharge their cargos. The largest cargo boats were berthed in the north docks to discharge and load their cargoes. The dock sheds would be ‘bulging at the ‘seams’ with inward and outward bound cargo
At times, all the berths in the north-end line of docks would be full of vessels. There would be ships, at anchor, waiting out in the Mersey for permission to enter the docks.
The traffic waiting to enter the docks, to collect or discharge their loads, caused heavy congestion in the dock avenues. At times, vehicles would be double banked along the dock road, for distances of about half a mile. Sometimes they could not get in the docks the same day and would have to stay parked on the road until the next day. Vehicles were not allowed into the docks; from about 1 hour before ending of loading/unloading for the day.
There were thirteen thousand Dockers employed to load and unload the wagons and ships. Small mobile cranes and electric bogies were used to manoeuvre the cargos around inside the sheds, in readiness for loading into the ships, or onto motor vehicles.
The cargoes contained a wide variety of items from large machinery, to household items and foodstuffs. Canned fruit and salmon, packed in cardboard cartons, were easy to get at.
On occasions American ships would come in, laden with P.X. stores. These were for issue to their armed forces and for sale to the families in the camps. The wide variety of the goods, cigarettes, canned beer, and ladies nylons etc, was an attraction for thieves.
The docks; in those days were a hive of industry. In view of the variety and nature of the cargos it is not surprising that petty theft was prevalent. The police officers were fully engaged with keeping the traffic moving and in orderly queues. There a lot of traffic/ personal accidents to deal with.
‘E’ Division docks were split into three sections with a Sgt i/c each section. One Constable would be posted at each dock gate. Inside the docks, the areas were divided into beats; with officers posted to each beat. At each dock gate there was a hut for use, amongst other things, to search and detain offenders and phone for transport.
It was against this background that the police set up mobile squads of uniform police officers to deal with the problem: in 1951. The Chief Constable at the time was Charles Martin, later to be knighted.
I was in ‘E’ Division in 1951; when the Squad was set up. The Squad consisted of three sections. A Sergeant and four Constables to each section. ‘M’ duty 6-15am to 3-0pm and ‘A’ duty 3-0pm until 11-30pm on the docks and E.Ps 6-0pm until 2-0 am in the City part of the division.
On the dock estate, the sections had the use of a private car supplied and maintained by the M.D& H.B. The vehicle was a green and cream Ford V8 Pilot fitted with a radio. They used the refreshment room at Huskisson Dock for meals and had lockers in the room. In the lockers they would keep scruffy clothes, for use when they went out in plain clothes, to saunter around the docks and for observation purposes. This was always with knowledge of the sergeant and the area you would work, in case of trouble
Walking around the docks in plain clothes they could wander up and down the dock avenues and through the dock sheds. As well as noting the behavior of the dockers, they could identify the vulnerable cargoes. They would always be in pairs when in plain clothes or uniform.
The Chief Constable in his annual report, later that year, year stated: ’In the light of the large quantity of merchandise which is loaded and unloaded in the port, and which amounts to many millions of pounds sterling, and having regard to the many opportunities for stealing which exist in the docks the figures might have considerably higher but for the new system of providing additional police protection to the docks by means of mobile patrols which was introduced during the year. The system has given every satisfaction and contributed towards the increased number of detections recorded.’
In 1956 I was posted to one of the sections. By this time, the private car had been replaced by a ‘Jeep’ painted in Dock Board colours, green and cream
When working in plain clothes, if a person was seen to be stealing property inside the sheds during working hours, it was often better to wait. If he walked out of the shed into the avenue, you could walk out with him tell him he was being arrested and take him to the hut at the dock gate. Sometimes they would hide the property, for collection later, would be arrested immediately. Sometimes he would stand by the shed gate and as an empty lorry came out, he would speak to the driver and then either get in the cab or jump on the back to hitch a lift. You could then go to the vehicle, arrest him and ask the driver to take you and the prisoner to the dock gate. It was always safer to act quietly and quickly, if possible.
Sometimes, particularly on afternoons we could make arrangements with the approval of the sergeant to keep observations on a particular gate, whilst the sergeant and the other colleagues would go there in readiness for the dockers finishing work, at 5-0pm. They would then start searching the dockers leaving the dock estate. The plain clothes officers, would wait a short distance away, and watch the dockers approaching the gate. Their behavior would often give themselves away, trying to dispose of property or adjusting their clothing. Sometimes they would turn away and go in a different direction. The dockers often carried stolen property, tucked down their shirts, or, in the winter their jacket pockets, covered by overcoats
The arrested person could then be taken to the dock gate, from where their colleagues would then take them into the hut at the gate; ostensibly to be searched. Then being taken to Derby Road Bridewell, for charging.
During the summer it was nice to be in plain clothes and go to the river side of the dock wall and sit there for observations, ostensibly reading a newspaper. The dock sheds and avenues running alongside the river were at the west side of the dock. The dock wall ran the length of the docks, north to south, except when crossing the main river/dock entrances (Gladstone, Canada etc.) for shipping entering/leaving the line of docks. At these points there were footbridges giving foot traffic access, through the line of docks. This allowed dockers to walk from dock to dock.
Dockers with stolen property would often walk across the foot bridges to where they thought they may be able to leave by a dock gate where they thought it less likely to be stopped and searched. They could then be stopped and searched if you thought they had stolen property. At times, it would bring good results.
On ‘A’ duty, after dockers had finished work for the day, and knowing where vulnerable cargoes were stored and tugs were tying up for the night, a good place for keeping observations was within the dock shed, either lying on top of cargo or sitting in the cab of a mobile crane. At times a crew member would look around for cartons of foodstuff, tinned salmon, fruit etc. He would then take a carton and take it towards the tug. Would then be stopped and arrested. The property would have been consumed by the crew over the next few days.
About 6-30am, on ‘M’ duty the same procedure could be repeated and often would have the same result. Could only remain for an hour
During ‘A’ duty, when keeping observations, occasionally a crew member, from one of the ships berthed in the dock would start searching around the cargo for items to steal. On one occasion, a man was seen to take property from a carton and started to board his ship, he was stopped, searched and arrested. Found to be possession of bottles of perfume. He smelt strongly of perfume. Taken to his cabin where other bottles of perfume were found. It became clear he was mixing the bottles of perfume with spirits, and drinking the concoction.
As with other foreign seamen, he was kept in custody and appeared before Court the following day, pleaded Guilty and was fined. When foreign seamen were arrested the Captain of the ship or the agents for the shipping company were told and would send a representative to pay any fine imposed.
Occasionally, when in uniform you could gain some information. On one occasion two officers were told of an unladen lorry, details given, due to leave the dock estate carrying stolen property. They kept observation near to the dock gate. The vehicle seen and stopped. Vehicle found to have two bolts of cloth hidden beneath tarpaulins.
When the liners had discharged their passengers, they moved to the north-end docks, Gladstone, where they always berthed, as stated previously
Whilst loading/unloading cargos, the shipping company employed about 30 cleaners (ladies) to go on board the ships in order to give them a thorough clean; cabins, public areas etc, prior to the next voyage. The crew having gone home: on shore leave
One of the officers was told that some of the ladies were carrying property out of the dock.
Arrangements were made for two policewomen to attend at Gladstone Dock gate at 4-30pm one day. Gladstone had a large hut at the gate, divided into a room for refreshments and one for other purposes, searching etc. They remained in the refreshment room until the ladies were leaving the dock, then came out of the hut and stopped two of the women, taking them into the refreshment room for searching. Both found to be in possession of some of the following items, pillow cases, sheets, towels etc, hidden about their bodies. The officers at the gate stopped another two ladies until the others had been searched, then sent them in. They were in possession of stolen property.
I understand that there was a large turnaround of exiting women back to the dock shed. Later a large amount discarded property found in the shed.
The term ‘magpies’ was given to the sections: by the dockers. I believe it comes from the fact that the bird is considered to be a pest or nuisance. When on patrol in uniform in the jeep or on foot, we always wore a cap. I think the dockers thought we were a different breed of officers to those wearing helmets.
When you walked through dock sheds you would hear shouts of “Paddy Kelly” by dockers as a warning to their colleagues that you were around. On occasions dockers would use chalk to show the sign of a bird (magpie), on the outside of a shed wall to warn others that we were around.
It is possible to carry on for several more pages relating to the efforts made to ’beat’ the dockers. Suffice to say that you needed to spend a lot of time in observations; patience is a virtue. Using your knowledge about the behavior of the dockers, and other pointers gained over a period of time and passed on from colleagues was important.
It was very difficult to quantify the results of the sections, minor thefts were rarely reported. Although pilfering took place in the holds of some ships, the offences would not be detected until the ship berthed in a foreign Port. However, the arrest figures by the sections justified their retention
A good source of information as to shipping coming to the docks was the Shipping Journal. It was delivered to dock gates and Derby Road Bridewell daily. This gave information as to the date of arrival and movement of ships within the dock system. Knowledge of the ships and the type of cargo they often carried was a good source of information.
The first Liverpool dock was constructed and then opened on 31st August 1715 and gradually extended, over the years, for a distance of about eight miles.
M.D. & H.B. had their own set of Regulations because the docks were private property. The regulations gave police the power to stop, search and remove people on the dock estate. Smoking/urinating in dock sheds were some of the minor offences covered.
Although the docks were private property, the residents of the Borough of Bootle were allowed access to the West wall of Alexander dock, via Gladstone and Langton Dock Avenues. A number of people used this right to go fishing from the West wall, into the River Mersey.
In 1972, the M.D. & H.B. became a public company known as the M.D. & H.C. The reason was to rise funds for the building of the Container Base at Seaforth, at the north end of the docks.
In 1975 the M.D & H.C. formed their own Police Force and the City Police handed over policing duties to them.