Celtic Illumination, part 239, You have the right to remain silent.
Vic and I had a good thing going as a side line business. We provided parties for people. Sometimes one of the local pubs, not the Bristol Arms, would ask us to provide a mobile bar, buffet and disco for functions that they had been offered. Vic got the food, cost price from his mess, and had his men prepare it. I had the booze and the disco from the club so everyone was happy with the set up. I had trebled the profits in the Families Club and the Americans were raving about it, so as it was quite successful, I was left alone and allowed to get on with it. I had a good relationship with the local publicans and was actually considering leaving the air force and buying my own pub.
But, as is normal in my life, things began to go pear shaped. Vic had been showing a young trainee how to use a pressure water boiler. Vic noticed that the young fellow hadn’t closed the front of the boiler correctly so went to correct the situation. The boiler exploded and covered him from head to toe in boiling water. I can’t remember what percentage of his body was scalded but basically it was the whole front of his body. Vic was out of the game for some time which meant that the air traffic Warrant Officer at Shotley took over as chairman. He too left me alone and allowed me to get on with running things, probably following the forces favourite maxim, if it aint broke why fix it?
Then one day I carried out my weekly stock check on the bar and discovered that the stock check the previous week has not been completed. Believe it or not there were six stock checks supposed to be carried out each month. One every week which would be carried out by the deputy bar manager, another by me the bar manager at the beginning of the month and a snap or surprise bar stock check at a time of my choosing. As you may expect I would merge some of these so that we would have four, no point in going overboard. So I arrive to carry out a weekly stock check which is also a snap inspection.
On noticing that the previous weeks stock check has not been carried out I split the figures as we go through the check and enter two records , suggesting that the previous weeks inspection has been carried out. It’s only when I come to count the money that I discover five hundred pounds missing. It was such an exact figure that I knew something had to be wrong somewhere. I checked and rechecked the figures but couldn’t find the mistake. I had no option but to call in the Warrant Officer. We were in the dining room of our house and he went through the books. I came clean about fixing the figures but explained that I couldn’t work out where the money had gone. I had already gone to my deputy bar manager and asked him if he knew what had happened and he shrugged the incident off.
The Warrant Officer asked if I wouldn’t mind him using my dining room and called the deputy bar manager over. I was asked to leave the room and they had a ‘chat.’ As my deputy left the house the Warrant thanked me and explained that he had no choice but to call in the police. This was a situation that no one wanted, the Special Investigation Branch, the SIB, of the military police would be called in and like the Ghurkha’s who say they cannot unsheathe their Kukri knife without drawing blood, the SIB do not get called out without taking a few heads back with them. The Families Club was closed with immediate effect and a notice put on the main door, explaining that it was closed. Now of course rumour control would take over and gossip would spread like wildfire. My worried bar staff were contacting me and I simply told them not to be afraid but to tell the truth.
As long as everyone told the truth then only two people would get into trouble. One would be the thief, if one existed, because there was an outside chance that there could be an accounting mistake somewhere along the line that would explain the missing money. The only other person who would get in trouble would be me. I had been giving credit to people, so that towards the end of the month, if they felt like coming out for a wee drink, then why not, they were happy, I was increasing sales and the messes on camp did it, except they called it mess bills, so why couldn’t I? Then there was the fact that I had made false entries in an official document. We learned that the SIB had arrived and were investigating the matter. My accounting books were seized as were the keys and anything else relevant to the matter.
One day I was asked to attend the police flight where I was to be interviewed by the SIB. It was a plain clothes guy who was to interview me but a local copper sat alongside him in uniform. We, the uniformed copper and I, knew each other by sight. They started asking me questions and I answered. Once they discovered that I had been extending a line of credit to various people the plain clothes copper turns to the one in uniform and tells him to place me under a police caution as I have admitted committing an offence. I couldn’t believe that having initiated an investigation into the possible theft of five hundred pounds, I was to be charged with giving people credit, but that’s the SIB for you. The copper read me my police caution, often referred to as miranda rights, you know the old, ‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence,’ jargon.
As he read me my caution, I could feel something drain from me, I can’t really explain it any better, but I knew that the only thing I could do was to say absolutely nothing. This incensed the plain clothes copper who then began to list the various other offences he was considering bringing against me. In fact he was so angry he asked his uniformed partner to ‘have a word’ with me as he left to cool down. The uniformed copper pleaded with me to speak, advising me it was the clever thing to do, thing is, he didn’t know that I didn’t do clever. Eventually they realised that no matter what they said, to me or threatened me with, I wasn’t going to speak to them so I was told to leave the police section.
I went back to air traffic and immediately went to the warrant officer. Once I explained what had happened to me, he understood that probably all of my bar staff would be given similar treatment, so went off to see the Station Commander. The longer the incident dragged on, the worse the gossips would react, plus the community was being robbed of its club. In what I believe was an intense meeting between the Warrant Officer and the Station Commander the situation was resolved. The SIB were asked to leave camp. I was given access to and control of the Families club again and my deputy bar manager stood down and agreed to repay the five hundred pounds that his son had needed for something or other.
Sadly though after the warrant officer had proved himself to be such an excellent bloke he was given a married quarter on camp and I was given a new chairman. All I knew is that he was an engineer on one of the squadrons, his name was Barry and he would come and meet me at the club on Friday night. Irene came over with me on the Friday night and was sitting on a stool behind the bar as I served drinks. It seemed to be a normal Friday evening and then Barry walked in to the club. The moment I had heard that he was on one of the squadrons, alarm bells should have sounded. He rounded the corner and stood, with his wife at his side, then pointed at me. “I challenge you to a drinking competition!” he roared. I laughed and hoped he was joking as Irene said. “He accepts.”
The rules were simple enough; we would each nominate the others drink and the last man standing was the winner. It was about five o clock on the Sunday morning that Barry keeled over and collapsed to the floor. I may have won but I feared for my future as the occasional session was fine but there was no way I needed or wanted the madness of squadron life to come to the Families Club.