In the first of a series of blogs, PC Steve Morgan talks about his work as a Police Diver for the Metropolitan Police’s Marine Policing Unit.
Prior to being a Police diver I held a PADI open water qualification. My diving generally consisted of ‘holiday diving’ in clear warm waters, surrounded by colourful coral and fish. I’d been a marine officer for three years driving police boats on the Thames and responding to water related incidents within London (you have to be a marine officer to join the dive team). An opportunity arose within the unit to join the dive team. I’d always enjoyed my diving and love new challenges. I was a PADI diver; how different could it be?! Having been successful in the application process I was soon to find how wrong I was to compare recreational diving with police diving.
I completed an eight-week police dive course (which is almost the same as a commercial dive course) in Scotland during winter time. Upon returning to the warmer waters (or so I thought) of London, I was welcomed onto the team to find a big ‘L’ sign on my locker.
My first dive was to search a pond for clothing connected to a murder enquiry. We were acting on information passed to the enquiry team suggesting clothing had been discarded in the pond. Visibility is almost always nil. We use a number of search methods, but most commonly a “Jack stay”, where we search along a rope with a heavy weight attached to each end. The weight gets moved an arms length and the process repeated, effectively zigzagging along the bottom of the search area. We search by touch due to the ‘nil’ visibility, and often elbow deep in thick silt.
As a new diver and keen to impress my new team mates, you’d be amazed how many pieces of clothing I found… or so I thought. Each time I surfaced I was holding either an old carrier bag, a clump of weed or a fishing net. I also had to contend with a discarded fishing line and hooks not getting tangled in my umbilical (we use surface supply wherever possible). We dive for approximately an hour at a time, but that first dive felt more like two. Nothing was found on that enquiry, despite the pond being thoroughly searched and cleared of its plastic bags by me!
We often dive at the request of HMRC for items being smuggled into the UK on the hulls of container ships. I recently experienced how scary it is searching the side of these huge ships and hearing the engine humming away as you approach the water inlet, hoping that the chief engineer has closed the valves that would almost certainly suck me through the engine if it was open.
Again on this occasion nothing was found, but we always respond to information submitted to our intelligence systems.
As well as searching for property, we also have the task of searching for bodies. My phone rang one Sunday afternoon (we work weekdays, but are available 24hrs a day, 7 days a week), calling me into work to search for a man who was seen to enter the water but not surface. After 40 minutes of searching, I discovered the man. Despite knowing what you are searching for, you still get a shock when bodies are found. A second diver joined me and the body was placed on a stretcher and covered underwater, prior to surfacing, to preserve dignity and evidence.
I completed over 70 dives in my first year, ranging from 2-18 metres. A year on, the sign on my locker has changed to a green ‘P’, so I guess I’m making progress!
Part 2 coming soon!
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