It was an innocuous moment really. I was being introduced to my new girlfriend’s family. Always a nerve jangling rite of passage at any time, but since a lot of them were either ex-military or serving police officers or a combination of both…well, I was on guard to say the least. Why? I haven’t got form or a connection to the mafia, but I am from West Belfast. Years of attitude conditioning about the “Brits” and the “Feds”, as they are referred to in my hometown, is a hard mindset to shake.
I needn’t have worried. They turned out to be a cracking bunch, and as the girlfriend is now my wife, I must have passed some kind of test of my own. The toughest of them all to crack was the bloke who would become my brother in law. Mark was polite, friendly but perhaps not one to award trust easily. Over time a love of football and real ale has bonded us very nicely, but luckily for me another factor helped. One day I noticed the tie he was wearing. It featured a swooping eagle motif.
“What’s the Eagle stand for?” “Flying Squad mate…”
I couldn’t get my questions out quick enough.
When I came to write Standstill, how could I not use this good fortune to weave authenticity into my tale of high stakes robbery in London? Mark opened all sorts of doors for me and, crucially, read every draft to put me right when my imagination overheated. I am 100% sure I wouldn’t have got anywhere near as much detail had I not had his stamp of approval.
All the serving and retired officers I met were supremely generous with their time, recollections and patience. What struck me most about them was their deep sense of brotherhood. Their work is dangerous. It takes patience, meticulous planning and the sharpest minds to get behind and then stay behind teams of blaggers. And in doing so, these cops know the only way to win out is teamwork and pride in the job.
Most of the stories they shared are in the book but a few didn’t make the cut. One detail that I love (and will probably use in a later work) illustrates their camaraderie. This tradition may have started in the Regional Crime Squad, but the Finchley Flying Squad really made it their own. They all carry a certain object with them wherever they go. I can’t say what that object is, but believe me, its funny. They even continue to carry them after re-assignment or retirement. The reason for doing so is this: if you encounter another squad member whilst out for a few drinks, you all have to produce this object. If anyone fails to do so, the consequence is simple…the drinks are on you. It usually turns out to be an expensive oversight, because those coppers can drink. I know…I’ve tried to keep up. Schoolboy error. So it has been an honour to talk with the members and write about the work of the Flying Squad. There is no doubt theirs is a forever bond built on pride in both the work and each other.