“We want to give ourselves up..”
Was what the officer heard over the phone along with the name.
“What? Speak up please sir.”
The voice continued slightly crackly over the line.
“Yeah. We’ve been thinking about it and we want to hand ourselves in.”
There was a mental reshuffle from the policeman sat behind his desk in Bradford as the name registered. He stared into the air slightly slack-jawed for a moment with the phone pressed to his ear, knuckles whitening as he realized who was on the other end.
“Right. Yes. Don’t move! I’ll send someone straight round!.”
“Wellllll. That might be a bit hard.”
“It will, will it? Running off again are we sir. Oh ho ho ho. Don’t make that mistake again my lad. Just stay put and I’ll have a unit come and collect you.”
“Ok. Er.. How long is it going to take?”
“How long. Not long at all. For you, we’ll have someone there in two shakes.”
“Only, well, have I got time to nip and have something to eat? I’m a bit hungry.”
“Now listen sir. This isn’t a bloody joke! You sit tight and don’t bugger off and I’ll have someone with you shortly.”
“You will? Have they got a boat?”
“A boat? A boat?? Think this is a laughing matter do you son?”
“Right then just sit still and wait. Don’t make this any worse than it already is. You’re already in a lot of trouble. Now. Where are you?”
Let me backtrack somewhat.
I met Liam very recently and I’m not even sure how his story became part of the conversation. There was a general unhappiness on the job I was working on over people’s working hours being knocked by the powers that be. During this discussion people began swapping tales of other jobs. How bad they had been, how it had been difficult to get paid.
I have to say, Liam’s tale topped everything.
What I am about to relate to you happened. I can only hope I relay it in a way that does it and Liam justice.
Liam is a very genial, unassuming lad. You really wouldn’t look twice at him. Until you get talking to him. Its only when you get into a conversation with him that you see the hint of shy determination in him that hides behind a very easy going nature.
He was laboring on this site, basically lumping materials around for the trades and tidying up after they create their mess. No complaints, just cracks on with what he has to do always with a half smile that broadens as he talks.
He had begun out of the blue to relate his own experience’s as we had all been moaning at the state of affairs on the current job – comparing hardships during our time on different building sites..
“I was actually living in a squat at one point it was that bad.”
All eyes turned to Liam. The half smile still there.
“Christ mate. A squat? Really?”
“Yeah. Me mum wasn’t at home, she was up in Scotland. Just me and my dad. The day I turned 16 I left my old fellas house to move in with a mate. Had enough. Had to get out.”
I can only assume on his circumstances at that point. For a 16 year old lad to leave home as soon as possible can only reflect on his living situation at his home.
“Yeah first chance. That was it. Boom. Gone.”
“What about work?”
“Odd jobs here and there. I stayed with different mates on and off until eventually I got a job in a bingo hall.”
“Really? Good for you lad. Own place then or still sharing? How did the squat come about?”
“Like I say, I was working and earning, but my mate wasn’t paying his bills. So that was it. Evicted.”
“So what did you do?”
“We broke back in. Got through a window each night and slept on the floor.”
“Jesus. What about heating? Water?”
“Nah. No heating, but yeah, water was still on. Just cold though. And I’m not kidding – it was a freezing winter.”
“Cold then. Christ no heating?”
“You get through it don’t you?”
That statement of the situation, the resignation that the living environment he was just in was the norm, a state of affairs to survive one day at a time. It was a bit sad really. What I mean is, for a person to be in that position and be resigned to it as part of normal life, well. Take a good look around your own home. Stripped of everything, just an empty shell. Can you imagine not having the luxury of heating? No hot water? No furniture? Sleeping on the floor?
And getting up and still trying to work in a job and survive? Get enough money together to make a difference to your existence and change those circumstances.
I have to say – credit to Liam. To still try and live a normal life in that situation, but also a little sad that it could be considered a normal existence.
Could you do it?
Anyway. Everyone has a tipping point. The straw that broke the camels back arrived.
The flat had deteriorated with the lack of maintenance and there was a burst. The ceiling came down only adding to the living difficulties. The landlord found out they were squatting in the flat and they were evicted. Liam found himself with nowhere to stay still trying to raise enough money to sort the situation out.
He began sleeping rough in a local park, cleaning himself up at work, doing his day job then passing the time till he had to head back to the park for the night. A difficult circle.
This improved slightly when another friend offered him a bed to sleep on. Then another bombshell.
His weekly pay at the Bingo hall changed to monthly. And when payday finally arrived his wages were massively short.
“What they had done right, was anything over 30 hours was deducted and put aside as holiday pay. I had 60 hours in!”
“Didn’t you explain your situation?”
“Nah. Too much information. I was massively pissed off. Anyway I thought “Fuck it.” I’m sorting this.”
“So what happened?”
“Well I said I worked in the Bingo hall?”
“Well I worked in the cash office.”
I think everyone shared a sidelong glance at this point.
“Yeah. Long story short? Safe was open. Loose bag of cash and a box I knew had money in it. Under the coat and Off. Didn’t even look back.”
“Christ. I mean, you must have known they were going to come after you?”
“Well yes and no. At that point I didn’t give a fig about what was going to happen. What more could go wrong in my life really?”
He’d really caught every ones attention at this point.
“So what happened?”
“I got home – bit of a blur really – but straight into my room and emptied the bag and the box on the bed.”
It was a sort of breathless question thrown in by one of the lads. All eyes fixed on Liam.
“Much there? Fuck me. There was money all over the bed!”
People started laughing, it was hard to take it seriously, this steady eyed young lad, relaying what had happened with a half smile, widening with each hoot of laughter from the listening group. It was all told in such a matter-of-fact way.
“Christ almighty! How much?”
“Well there was around 28 fucking grand stacked up when I managed to count it.”
“Yeah! Couldn’t believe it!”
“What did you do? Surely the police were on the way?”
“That’s what I thought. So I threw some things in a bag with the money and had it away!’
“Your kidding! Where did you go?”
“Well, first off I jumped a train to York. Then realized there were cameras everywhere. Then I remembered I had a mate in Luton. So jumped back on the train and headed down there.”
“What? Then took cover down there?”
“No. When I showed my pal what I had he was all for partying. So he drove us over to France through the tunnel.”
“Then on to Amsterdam. Proper Party!”
“No. Really. It was in the papers and everything!’ Police were looking everywhere for me!”
“So what then?”
“Well, it never occurred to us to take any ID. So every hotel we went to wanted passports. Couldn’t get in anywhere. It hadn’t been a problem driving over – no borders these days!”
The group listening to all this had been descending into laughter as the tale unfolded.
“So all that money burning a hole and nowhere to stay? Jesus – its a home away from home!”
“Ha! Yeah!.We just kept trying places until we found somewhere that didn’t ask for ID.”
“How long were you there? What were the police doing?”
We were over there seven weeks all told. And the police were running round over here like headless chickens trying to find us.”
“What did you do?”
“Spend mate. And spend some more. I have to say, I remember the time there but its all a bit vague to be honest. We just spent every fucking penny.”
“28 grand in 7 fucking weeks ! Jesus!”
“You could have got a flat or something – no mither off the police and spread it out! It was like a years pay!”
“We did mean to do that. But by the end of the first week we were doing and trying everything – we didn’t know what fucking day it was never mind organize the next year.”
The listening group was falling about itself.
“Anyway. After a couple of weeks we kept hearing bits from people at home. It was starting to sink in how serious it was.”
“Ah. Right. Give your selves up?”
“Well we tried to.”
First of all they had gone to a local police station in an effort to hand themselves in to the law. The first station they called into they were met by an officer on the reception desk and greeted him with,
“Alright pal. We need to give ourselves up.”
The officer stared at them. The policeman sat behind had stopped what he was doing and was looking on with interest.
“Give yourselves up?”
Asked the first.
“Yeah. That’s right lad. Hand ourselves in. We’re on the run. Like Bonnie and Clyde. He’s bonnie. I’ll be Clyde.”
Liams friend interrupted.
“Which one was Bonnie?”
“That was the bird.”
“Fuck off. I’m not being Bonnie. I’ll be Clyde.”
Liam sighed and turned back to the copper who was listening to their conversation along with his colleague, their heads going left and right following the exchange.
Liam sighed again and turned back to his sidekick.
“Right. Alright then. Like Butch and Sundance.”
“I’m Sundance. You’re Butch. He’s a fella.”
Butch punches the air satisfied.
“Hand yourselves in….?”
The officer said raising his eyebrows inviting Liam to continue.
“Oh yeah. We need to go back to England. I nicked some money. I think we best go back and face the music mate.”
“Stole some money. Okay. And How much did you take?”
“28 thousand pounds.”
The officer stared at them for a moment then turned to his friend. There was a flurry of Dutch between them, the side kick behind asking a question while his compatriot on the reception nodded agreement and turning back to the two master criminals stood before him.
“Have you been visiting our Cafe’s in the city? Where you can smoke the interesting cigarettes?”
Liam confused admitted he had in fact visited those establishments. And yes, imbibed.
“Yes mate. Cracking places. Very impressed. Aren’t we Butch?’
“Ah. I see. You think this is a joke. You think the Dutch police are stupid. You wish to waste out time yes? I think you should go back to one of those places and slow down with what you smoke.”
“No mate. Seriously. We need to get home. What’s the best way?”
A flurry of Dutch was exchanged again with the officer on the desk nodding agreement again with his partner and turning back to Butch and Sundance.
Time for plan B.
They were then forced to attempt to contact the UK police directly. Which takes us back to the conversation at the beginning.
“Amsterdam! Do you think this is funny son? Do you think we’re fucking idiots? Don’t you think your in enough trouble as it is? We know you were heading to Australia! Ha! Your mate’s have spilled the beans! They said you always wanted to go there!”
Liam looked at us and said in astonishment.
“It great isn’t it. It just goes to show how people don’t listen to you. I always said I wanted to go to fucking Amsterdam!”
The officer in the mean time wouldn’t have any of it.
“Listen son. There’s no way your anywhere but in this country. Stop pissing about and either go to your local cop shop or tell us where you are.”
Liam hung up and looked at his mate.
They went out and bought a camera. Then wandered all over Amsterdam over the next couple of weeks taking pictures of themselves at recognizable Dutch venues. Then, emailed the pictures back to Columbo in the UK.
The reaction was one of stunned silence. Then the wheels of justice spun into place with the boys receiving instructions to hand themselves in (again) while the UK police arranged to bring them back.
The next Dutch police station they visited had another two similar officers in the reception.
Liam rested his elbows on the desktop resigning himself to the coming conversation and began again.
“Hello pal. We need to hand ourselves in.”
The vacant stare, raised eyebrows and invitation to continue from the officers.
“Yeah. Well. I stole 28 thousand pounds and need to go back to the UK and face the police.”
The two officers exchanged long looks. Then a urgent conversation in Dutch followed.
“Yeah. That’s right.”
(Exchange looks again.)
“Have you boys visited our famous cafe’s yes?”
“Whoa whoa whoooooa cocker! We’ve had this conversation at the last place.”
“But, 28 thousand? Pounds?”
“Well yeah. But I’ve got to admit, its taken a right battering.”
Another machine gun of Dutch conversation hammered out between the officers with the guy at the reception desk turning to Butch and Sundance.
“We don’t like British police here. They make – how do you say?”
(Turning and asking his colleague)
“Ah. just so.”
(as he answered)
“As my friend says. They make too much paper work. You leave now. Stay in Amsterdam.”
He said, gesturing them to the door.
Asked Liam. He stood with his friend uncomprehending, mouths open.
“Yes. Your free to go. Stay.”
And I swear this is what they were told.
“You’ll be good for the Dutch economy.”
Before they were pushed out the door.
There followed a couple more weeks where the lads took the Dutch at their word and spent and spent. And spent some more. Drugs and women mainly.
And the camera they had to buy to prove they were in Holland. Seven week it took to organize their return to UK justice. Seven weeks of excessive spending. By the time the British police had got into fourth gear and organized their return, the money was all but gone.
“I spent the last of it on a bottle of water at the airport on our return.”
“And I had it confiscated at customs because it exceeded the fucking designated allowance.”
They returned to Blighty expecting the worst. They had liberally spent the 28 thousand. On nothing substantial really. Five star hotel, women and drugs do add up after all.
“We were picked up at the airport and pushed into a prison van, to be driven back up to Bradford.”
“I have to say, we had a fantastic time with the money. Fucking fantastic. But were expecting the full force of the law to hit us. When the van pulled over in the middle of no-where and the back doors opened, we were told to get out.”
Which they did, with some reluctance.
“Well, we thought we were in for a right fucking pasting after how stupid we’d made the police look. But the guys driving us gave us a ciggie each and began asking how the fuck we’d got away with it. It was brilliant.”
When they arrived back they were locked in a cell with another occupant.
“This guy, had murdered someone the night before. Proper murdered someone. We were shitting ourselves. But – honest to God – he was sound.”
added Liam slightly round eyed with surprise as he told us.
“Honest – he just laughed his head off when we told him what we had done.”
Yeah, cos he’s a fucking lunatic I’m thinking.
“So this guys laughing and suddenly says he’s going to put a word in with his Brief. Says he’s bang on. But, he doesn’t do Pro Bono work and can’t guarantee he’ll take the job. But – guess what?”
“He did! Said he’d never seen a case like it and had to take it. Just to see how it ended!”
During the preliminary hearing in court the prosecution demanded that they be refused bail. They were a flight risk. They couldn’t be trusted.
They had spent all the money!
But as their Brief argued, the lads had tried to hand themselves in several times. It wasn’t their fault they had had to spend the money to survive. It was all they had to live on. What else could they do but spend it on but a good shag and a big joint?
And after all, it had taken the British police force seven weeks to apprehend them. Even when they tried to hand themselves in after week 2…
So bail was granted but as Liam said,
“I went to stay with my mum up in Scotland. But It wasn’t ideal. I had to come back to Bradford and sleep on friends floors in the end.”
By the end of this situation he was back to square one, sleeping rough in a local park.
“I was actually looking forward to getting sent down.”
“I mean. I was sleeping rough. Again. Fucking freezing, no food – nothing. Scratching by. Being sent down was an answer to be honest. Got me a bed and food. In the warm”
He found himself passing the time sat around the park, just waiting to go to court to be sentenced.
“I was sat in this park right, smoking a joint. Only, this copper wanders over, catches me napping so to speak. I’m thinking oh fuck – I’m in enough trouble at it is, and I’m trying to stub it out and act normal with the haze of weed floating around me. Only this copper yeah, come’s up and pats me on the elbow and say “Good luck in court son.”…”
Its sad, this whole thing, when you think it through. Liam’s not a criminal. Not a die-hard law breaker. he was put in a situation by circumstances beyond his control. He made the wrong choice at the time but it was one under the duress of circumstances. At least tried to correct that choice and give himself up. I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to meet Liam, and, I have to say – I was impressed – at the impact this whole situation has had on the direction he wants to take now. How clearly he has defined what impact he wants to make on society himself. But more of that shortly.
“They tried to make us take the debt on board, you know? The 28 thousand. Pay it off when we got a job – after the sentence – like a mortgage. But our brief – he was a star – argued if they gave us the debt we would only turn to crime to find the money to pay it off! And the judge agreed!”
He was quite gleeful as he described the situation. Laughing as he told it. Not out of maliciousness, not at all. But finding the humour in the ridiculousness of the whole situation. It was sheer slapstick.
“The judge warned us at the beginning, we were looking at a recommended sentence of between 5 and 7 years. I have to say I shit myself at that point. But I had left a note when I took the cash.”
Liam had in fact left a note for his employers when he removed the money. Which he said was meant as a sarcastic note.
A “fuck you” to the man in charge.
“I wrote a note, just said “Sorry I had to take the money” with a big fuck off smiley face on it. You know? A two fingers to my bosses. Only, the judge decided that it showed remorse for what I had done. Remorse!”
He was laughing as he told us, and we laughed with him.
“When the judge read out the sentence all I heard was 15. My arse fell out, I have to say. But what he actually said was 15 months. I couldn’t believe it! 15 months! I was out in 4 and a half!!”
Four and a half months for stealing and spending 28 thousand. What a result.
Speaking to Liam the other day, I have to admit I’ve tried to get down pat as much clear information as possible, to do the lad justice.
“So what are your plans these days lad?”
I asked him.
“Doing a foundation course for a year then Uni to do a degree, then a master’s. I want to help those people in unfortunate situations. I’ know how it feels to have no one care about you. What you need. The fact that you don’t actually matter. I want to work for the UN in war zones. Make a difference.”
And I have to say. Looking in his matter-of-fact eyes, I believe he will make an incredible difference if he gets the opportunity. See, Liam really knows what its like to sit at the bottom of the tree. To not matter to society. To be invisible.
But I had to ask him finally what happened to Butch, his side kick in Holland. And he filled in the final blank in the story.
“My mate – the lad who drove us over? He got away with community service as he wasn’t actually involved in the robbery. Hadn’t done the stealing of the money. Just helped me spend it.”
“Got off lightly really didn’t he Liam?”
“Well, not really. The thing was, he didn’t turn up for his community service and was sent down instead.”
“That fucking idiot did more time than I did!”