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Liverpool City Police

Stranger Than Fiction By shaun rothwell retd.

STRANGER THAN FICTION


It is surprising how darkness can affect one's thoughts and feelings. The night is more complex than the day, and it can play tricks on anyone's imagination. At night sound always seem to travel further and the slightest noise is amplified many times. A rope lapping against a flagpole or those large lamp standards that sway ever so slightly in the breeze give off sounds that we don’t recognise because during the daylight hours the noise they make is lost in the cacophony of everyday living. In the middle of the night the cat’s cry can easily be mistaken for weeping of a young woman. All these sounds make you stop and think, even more so when you have to pass the night hours on your own.

It is now over 30 years since I spent many nights walking around a beat called Village and College in the Huyton Sub-Division of what was then the Lancashire Constabulary. In those days Bobbies still walked a beat and God help you if the Sergeant found you even sat in a Panda car, let anyone riding in one or if one of the shops on your beat was broken into. My Sergeant could be world’s worst and meticulous with it. Walking beat is a very lonely occupation at the best of times

I always hoped for a cloudy night, as it always felt warmer when the clouds filled the night sky. This event took place on what started as such a cloudy night. As the night wore on the fog started to drop. I walked up through the Village, milking the padlocks to make sure the doors were locked and rubbing my hand along the shop windows to make sure the glass had not been removed. These were the days when the presence of a police foot patrol 24 hours a day meant shopkeepers did not need metal shutters. Though foggy nights were a God given opportunities for those intent on “Smash and Grab”.

On this beat I knew the best place for me was at the top of the Village on Archway Road just across the road from the Rose and Crown and Huyton Parish Church. If I heard a window being broken I could run downhill into the Village. Archway Road was one of the main roads from Liverpool to Prescot and so I could take the opportunity to stop a few cars. I was a Probationary constable and as such I had to complete a number of traffic summonses each month. The fog was patchy and being whipped up by a very light wind. In the grounds of the Parish Church was the graveyard that faced onto Archway Road. The Church and its graveyard were built on a wall-enclosed mound, some 8 feet above the roadway.

The fog remained as the hours slowly ticked away. Not one vehicle passed me. I was becoming bored but I knew I could not move, as the shops were still vulnerable to thieves. I had never really looked at the graveyard before but on this night it was the only thing to do. I thought I saw someone walking around and then disappear and then someone else who again disappeared. I was fixed to the spot unable to move. I continued to watch the graveyard and saw figures appear and then disappear. I was now becoming a little edgy. What were they doing? As the fog started to lift and my nocturnal figures also departed. I now saw what I had seen many times before and yet never noticed. The odd shapes and sizes of the head stones on the graves combined with the swirling fog had given the impression that I was not alone that night.

Police Stations are unusual places at the best of times. If the walls could talk, many a tale they could tell.

About 4 years later I was now stationed at Prescot the next Police Station to Huyton. Prescot Police Station is Merseyside Police’s oldest “nick” built about 1840. Like most stations of that era, the building originally comprised of a few offices and cells with houses either side that was living accommodation for the Sergeant and his family or single police officers. As time went on the houses were converted into office space until finally no one lived at Prescot Police Station anymore.

We had all heard the tales about Prescot and things that went bump in the night. The Prescot “Bobbies” were all older than their Huyton Colleagues were. If a Section were short some young Huyton Bobby would be sent to cover the shortage. It was not unusual for the Huyton Officer to have some tricks be played on them and having already been told the “horrors” he might likely meet in the station itself.

At 7 o’clock on one summer’s morning I came on duty to find all the Night Section sat in the front office and refusing to go anywhere else in the building. During the night one of them had gone upstairs to the CID Sergeants Office that was situated in a part of the station that had previously been a bedroom in one of the houses. On the way back downstairs he felt something pass by him even though the stairs are only a few feet wide. As he was telling his Colleagues want had happened, the venetian blinds that covered the window in the Enquiry Office, started shaking even though it was a still, windless night.

I knew of three other people who had seen things that they could not explain. Two Bobbies had chased “someone” through the building and out onto the roof but only to find that their quarry had disappeared. Mrs G, who had the cleaner of the station for a number of years had seen a woman in a long night-clothes, in style of Victorian, walking along the landing on an upper floor of the premises into a bathroom. They had all kept their silence for fear of being ridiculed.

Prescot may have been an old station but it security was excellent; every door except the front one, was locked by a key and then padlocked. The front door was the only entrance and exit and was alarmed at night. The alarm would sound if anyone entered or left the station. I had done my fair share of Station Duty and had often been the only person on the premises. I regularly heard the sounds like someone walking in the room above. It was an old building and I put the sound down to floorboards contracting back after the heat of the day but you cannot use that argument in the depths of winter.

It was July and we were on Nights. It was someone's birthday and we had arranged with Huyton Section that they would look after “the patch” so that we could all have a meal together in the middle of the night. Strictly speaking we should not have all been in at the same time but the Bosses attitude it was all right providing our patch was covered. Though some of the Sergeants and Inspectors had their own opinions on such arrangements and so the alarm on the front door was switched on.

There were five of us on our Section and we were joined by two Motorway Officers. They were in the canteen behind the kitchen at the back of the station. Christine, a policewoman on the shift and I were stood in the kitchen. By the entrance to the kitchen is a flight of stairs that leads up onto the landing where Mrs G. had previously seen the women in the night-clothes. We had been in the back for a few minutes, when someone came downstairs and passed the kitchen door. Christine and I both went into the corridor thinking it might the Sergeant but no one was there. Everyone had been in the canteen there was no other people in the station. Christine and I both agreed that we had seen a “fleeting” glimpse of something but it happened so quickly that we could not say what we had seen. The other Officers being in the back of the canteen and were not in a position to see the corridor. We both took a bit of ribbing over what we had supposedly seen. Somehow the local newspaper found out and it appeared on the front page Ken Oxford, the Chief Constable, was not pleased with such publicity. Then one by one officers off other sections spoke to me and told me of things that had been happened to them in Prescot. Things that they could not explain either but would not reveal for fear of ridicule.

In 1995 I was a Patrol Inspector covering the South of Liverpool (Foxtrot One Sub-Division). The stations in the Sub-Division were Allerton, Belle Vale and Garston. Garston was the oldest of three built in 1890. Like Prescot it had, at one time, had included living accommodation. The last residents left in the early 1960’s when the final house was converted into offices. Foxtrot One Inspectors were normally based at Belle Vale but two Inspectors had decided to use Garston as a base. They were one of the bedrooms in what had been the last house to be converted as offices as the Inspectors Office. During the Night tours the Duty Inspector would visit our three stations and often visit Speke and Halewood stations that were on the next sub-Division. During the visit we would “hit the book” (sign the memorandum book) and check if any paperwork had been left in the office that needed our signature. I liked to visit Garston about 0300 hours as at that time Officers would be leaving the station who were on the 0200 hours Refreshment break (first refs.) and the 0300 hours (second refs.) Officers would be arriving at the station. So it meant I would see everyone who was working at Garston that night.

During a set of nights, two nights on the trot around midnight I heard over radio the same message the Station Keeper (The Constable on Station Duty) at Garston was asking for the Sergeant to return to Garston. On the second night I decided I would ask the Sergeant what the problem had been when I spoke to him later in the “watch”. A few hours later I called at Garston the atmosphere was rather subdued. Everyone appeared to be in a serious mood after much probing the story came out.

On first night the station keeper had been alone in the station when they heard the sound of a woman crying this had gone for about 10 minutes then stopped. He was sure that it was the sound of a woman and not anything else. This had unnerved him so much that it he asked for the Sergeant, who had only left the station a short time earlier, to return. The sergeant and the station keeper walked around the inside of the station checking rooms, stairs, corridors and passageways. They found nothing. The Sergeant came to the opinion that the station keeper had heard the sound of a cat. When the rest of the section came in for refreshments the station keeper suffered quite a bit of ribbing.

Around Midnight on the second night the station keeper again heard the sound of a woman crying. He knew it was coming from a stairway, in what had been one of the houses attached to the station that had been converted into offices. Again the sergeant was asked to return. Whilst the station keeper was explaining to the Sergeant what happened they both heard the sound of someone upstairs. By now other members of the section had come back to the station wanting to get in on the act. They also heard the sound of someone walking about in the room above them. A thorough search was made of the station but nothing was found. Around two o'clock that morning once again they heard the noise of someone upstairs, yet again a thorough search was made, though nothing was found.

The following night I made sure that I wasn't far away from Garston at midnight. It was a silent night with no radio messages. Around two o'clock I went into Garston, as I wanted to speak to station keeper. He told me of the events of the two previous nights. He was a man I knew to be thoroughly honest and not one to scare easily. He was adamant as to what he'd heard.

Garston’s canteen and kitchen were the living room and kitchen of one of was the last house to be converted into offices. I was sat in the canteen, with a Sergeant and three constables, when we heard footsteps in the room above us. We raced upstairs no-one was there and then from the canteen we heard the sound of something or someone moving about. Everyone who was in the nick at that time was with me. We went back downstairs, as we thought the room was empty. Yet again we heard someone upstairs we all rushed back again the place was empty. We noticed on the stairs and on the landing it was extremely cold. I asked one of the officers to check the windows were shut and the front door (of the former house) was not causing a draught.

The rest of the “night” week was quiet. One evening in the following week I went into the Inspectors Office, which was on 1st floor the former house and adjacent to the stairway. I had my back to the door when I thought someone had come in the room. I turned around and there was no one there. Later I was walking from the Inspector's office into the CID office, which had previously been a separate building. As I crossed the threshold into the CID office I realised how cold it was in the former house. I straddled the threshold and touched my Mini-Mag light, which was in the sleeve pocket of my jumper. That half of my body was in the CID office and was warm; whilst the other half was cold. I turned around so that Mag-light that was now in the House it was ice-cold. I did the same thing a number of times and got the same results. I checked the house as my Officers had done on the night week for any draughts from windows or doors but there were none. I could not explain the reason why it was so cold.

A week later I was sat in the canteen around lunchtime. I has spoken to one of the section and was watching the end of the lunchtime news. Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone or something come downstairs and walk through the wall into the kitchen. I don’t know who it was but it was a physical shape.

The following week one of the Garston Inspectors told me of two experiences he had. He had gone to the bathroom on the first floor, opposite his office. As he stood in the small toilet cubicle he was pushed in the back and fell forwards. No one else was in the immediate area. Later the same week the Expelair extraction fan dropped out of the window and was flung across the bathroom. The fan was switched off at the time and there was no wind outside to disturb it.

As had happened previously, at Prescot, after it became common knowledge what I had seen. Other colleagues approached me who told me about similar things that they had seen, at Garston that they could not explain. Similarly for fear of ridicule they asked that I kept their identity secret.

I continued to visit Garston and the Inspectors Office. I often felt that I was not alone; sound was not as resonance as it should be, as if others were in the room. I got to the stage that I would often say hello when I arrived and good-bye when I left. I felt a sense of calm rather than harm when I visited the Office.

The Officer to live at the house had been contacted earlier. He said he had never encountered anything untoward when he and his family lived at the premises.

The City of Liverpool extended its boundary a number of times since the early 1850’s. With each extension of the Borough and later City boundary the Liverpool Police would acquire stations that were formerly owned by the Lancashire Constabulary. Anfield, The Dog and Gun, Lark Lane, Walton, Wavertree, Woolton, Old Swan, Tuebrook and West Derby all had such antecedents. Like Garston all these stations originally include houses that were the living accommodation for the Officers and their families. Many of them, like Garston, have dark secrets or stories related to them. In respect of the former Woolton police station the events that took place have been recorded in an article in the Liverpool Echo.

Conclusion

The night can play tricks on us; we are people of the light. Fear of the unknown is a natural emotion. It is quite easy to let your emotion affect your powers of rational thinking. Fear of ridicule often puts many people off saying what they have seen and that they cannot explain.

There are events that we cannot explain. The events at Prescot and Garston fall into this category. I have to keep an “open mind”.

Our Grandparents could never imagine that a magnet, a mass of wires and a couple of sheet of plastic and copper plates could give us speech and pictures anywhere. Yet we take these things for granted, giving them names such as radio, television or computer.

Who knows what the future may bring. Who's to say that what we call “Ghosts” is not some form of electrical charge that remain in the “haunts” of those who have died or gone over to the next realm.

As the bard said
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Shakespeare, W. Hamlet (1601) act 1, sc. 5, l. 166

Shaun Rothwell
Inspector, Merseyside Police (Retd.)
May 2014

Click on a photo to enlarge

Huyton Parish Church
Garston Bridewell
Prescot Police Station

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