Time for a helping hand: Police Intelligence

WHEN it came to cars, I was not very intelligent in my youth. Having spent a fortune on parts for my first car, an Austin Allegro that supposedly had a good engine, it finally succumbed to rust and collapsed outside the Convent gates as I was coming from saying mass.
I had no choice but to replace it and I decided that I was going to go upmarket this time and buy myself a brand new car. I purchased the latest model from the Citroen 2CV family, the Charleston. It was maroon and black and on the very odd occasion in Fermanagh that the sun shone, you could open the roof, not by an electric button but with a lot of manual labour, usually involving two people. I was very proud of my new car until I saw the pained expression on the parish priest’s face as I proudly parked it on Darling Street. “Please tell me that is not your car,” he said in horror. He didn’t manage to put me off and the car never gave me any bother for the three years that I was its proud owner, apart from when the weather was damp, which was a fairly regular occurrence in Enniskillen, then it wouldn’t start without a push. This car also contributed to me being under surveillance by police intelligence.
I was approached discreetly one day by one of the few Catholic members of the RUC who was also a member of our parish and a very decent man. These were troubled times in the mid-1980s when the conflict in Northern Ireland was at its height and the police had an intelligence unit in Enniskillen that produced a monthly intelligence report. My friendly sergeant told me that when he read the most recent intelligence report, he saw a description of me in it as a suspected drug pusher. He approached a senior officer and inquired about the reasons for their suspicions. He was informed with great authority that this hippy-looking guy with a beard was observed visiting houses of ill repute in a socially deprived area of the town and that he had recently purchased a brand new car that looked very unusual, “the sort of car that a drug pusher might drive”. “There could be no other explanation,” he said with great authority, “other than he is selling drugs”. My police friend informed him of another possible explanation, that I was the new curate in the parish and that I was doing home visits with my parishioners, as was the practice at that time.
That experience has left me a little skeptical whenever I hear about police intelligence but, on reflection, I suppose you could say that they were right from a Marxist perspective, religion being the opium of the people!
My only other experience with the police was not a good one. After three years of push-starting the 2CV and struggling to get up steep hills at 20 miles an hour in second gear, I concluded that I needed a bit more power. I bought myself a second-hand Mitsubishi Lancer and decided to test out how fast it could go on a good stretch of road outside of Omagh. There were a few slow drivers in front of me and I carried out an overtaking manoeuvre that still makes me blush. Unfortunately, one of the cars was an unmarked police car that did not take kindly to being overtaken at high speed. My experiment was concluded early by the sound of a police siren. and when it dawned on me that it was me that they were flashing at, I promptly pulled over to the side of the road. A stern-looking officer asked me to produce my driving licence and when he saw Rev. Michael Hand on it, he went and consulted with his colleagues. After a lengthy consultation, he returned and asked me what denomination I was. For one fleeting second, I considered saying Free Presbyterian but that would have been a step too far. “Roman Catholic” I mumbled whereupon I heard the words that I never want to hear for the rest of my life.
“You have the right to remain silent but anything you do say will be taken down and used in evidence against you in a court of law.”
I was charged with speeding, dangerous driving, reckless driving and a few other offences that I did not take in as I was already contemplating a period behind bars.
On my way home I called to visit my aforementioned friendly sergeant, not looking for him to get me off I hasten to add, but to find out what sort of a sentence I was facing. He told me that by a strange coincidence, he had a planned visit to Omagh that afternoon and he would see what he could do, but he stressed that this was serious and that he was not making any promises.
He phoned me two days later and said, “Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.” I cannot say with total honesty that I have never broken the speed limit since but I can say that I have never been caught and I do not have a penalty point to my name. These days with the bus pass, I am more inclined to travel by bus.

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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 28 Belmore Street, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, BT74 6AA