‘Anything you say may be given in evidence. Do you have anything to say?’
I looked at the baby-faced police officer and tried to think of an appropriate response.
I had been driving to Guildford station to meet a friend who every now and then comes from his nearby home on the train. I park in the station car park and together we walk to a kebab shop, order some food, eat it where we can perch, and cheer ourselves up.
Running low on diesel, I pulled into a filling station on the way. After pulling back out, I noticed a police car close behind. I turned into the railway station and its lights flashed.
Readying myself to explain the Covid-compliant kebab, I wound down my window. The officer, who looked like a young Tom Cruise, said: ‘Are you aware you just turned the wrong way out of a filling station?’
I said I wasn’t, and I was sorry. He went on: ‘That brought you to our attention. We ran your vehicle through our system and it seems your MOT expired last month.’
Darn it! I had given up nagging the builder boyfriend about it because he was so tired and snowed under with work.
I apologised again and asked if I could phone home because ‘my husband’ might have booked it in. He said I could. The BB said to tell the officer he would book it in the next morning and if they would allow me to drive straight home we would park it off road at the farm.
I repeated that word for word, but the officer suddenly snapped: ‘You think that makes it all right, do you?’
‘Er, yes? I mean, no? Oh dear. What would you like us to do?’ It was turning into one of those ‘Just tell me what to say and I’ll say it’ episodes that seem to be happening increasingly during lockdown as the police get more bored.
Young Tom Cruise grinned, and explained he was issuing a £100 fine. A second officer, just as young, appeared and added: ‘We could do you for a lot worse.’
When I said please, thank you, sorry, and all that, but it’s bad enough having to find £100, the second officer said: ‘We’re all in the same boat. He’s furloughed from his real job. He’s a special constable. He’s doing this for nothing!’
I thought: Oh no, a hobby bobby. He’s doing this because he enjoys it.
We got down to business. ‘What’s your ethnicity?’ Silently, I pointed to my face. ‘Are you saying you’re white British?’
‘I wish I wasn’t right now, but yes.’
‘Is your date of birth still 1/1/72?’
I stared back. ‘Ye-es. I haven’t been able to change it.’
‘Just answer the questions.’ ‘I am.’ ‘Stop interrupting!’ ‘I’m not.’ ‘Stop making a scene!’ ‘I’m not making a scene.’ ‘Yes, you are! You’re the worst person we’ve ever had to deal with!’
They had evidently not dealt with anybody. This was their biggest ever nick.
He read me my rights because having no MOT is criminal, then he looked around the car, pointing out dents and scrapes. A glued piece of trim on the bumper made him laugh a lot. All the while, he made me keep my lights on.
He told me one tail light was defective and my tyres were illegal. ‘Hang on, I just went to the tyre shop for a new one and they said the other three were fine.’ ‘Well, one’s nearly illegal,’ he said, which was an offence I had never heard of.
Nearly an hour had passed when my friend arrived to find me in a blaze of flashing squad car lights. My heart soared as he said: ‘Hello, officers, I’m a solicitor.’
The police boys stared. As my friend got into the passenger seat I whispered: ‘Of course! You’re a lawyer!’
Now things moved swiftly. PC Cruise explained the reason they had been keeping me so long was that their printer had broken.
He then handed me a two-foot long strip of what looked like till receipt and wished us well with our evening. I turned the key and the battery was drained. My friend called to the departing officers to help us, for they had pulled me up on a double yellow line.
They said they didn’t carry jump leads and drove off. Stranded, we looked down at the ticket and realised that the ink ran out halfway across the page, all the way down. I couldn’t see the offence number, or the number to call to pay the fine.
And so I sat on the phone to Surrey Police listening to endless recorded messages until I gave up and rang the press office. Only then did I get the ticket details reissued. ‘We’re sorry your experience with us has not been a good one,’ said the press officer.