I was nearly at the end of my shift travelling in steady traffic through South London. The evenings had already started drawing in and it was dark, but still warm, so I had my windows open.
Suddenly a woman wearing a dressing gown and slippers ran out into the road into the path of my car. I noticed that there were some men around her trying to encourage her to come back to the pavement to stop her being hit by the traffic. I quickly braked to avoid hitting her; she turned back and ran into a nearby off-licence. The men called out to me saying that I had to help her so I parked up and went in to the off-licence to see what was going on.
This woman was obviously very angry and she was distressed and crying. She was very hostile to me and wouldn’t answer my questions. She continued to wave her arms around, shout and swear, at me and everyone in the vicinity. I established from what she was shouting that she was a victim of domestic violence and something had happened at home that evening that made her snap and run out into the night dressed only in her dressing gown. The owner of the off-licence said that she was a regular customer and he had apparently offered to phone her daughter for her when she first came in.
A few minutes after I arrived the woman’s teenage daughter turned up; she was rubbing her jaw and also quite distressed. Thankfully she was a little more willing to engage with me and told me that her father, as well as hitting her mother, had also punched her. Worryingly she told me that her nine year old sister was still alone in the house with him. I asked her for the address but this made her mother irate. She was extremely angry with me and dragged her daughter from the shop screaming at her not to answer any of my questions and telling me in no uncertain terms where to go. I got straight on the phone to let the control room know where I was going and asked for urgent police backup while I attempted to follow them. Once again she took her life in her hands by crossing the road walking in the path of the oncoming traffic as she crossed the road.
Although I didn’t really want to make her any more angry, I also didn’t want to lose sight of her and her daughter as I still didn’t know where the nine year old was, and they were my only hope of finding her. Mother and daughter set off down a dark path between a railway line and a row of back gardens; I hung back but followed them and tried to keep them in sight. I hoped that the police would turn up quickly because if I’m honest – I didn’t really have a plan!
I was getting quite far from the road and entering onto a stretch of unlit path when things seemed to take a turn for the worse. The woman and her daughter broke through some of the fencing and climbed into a back garden. It was at this point that I also became aware that I was being followed at a walking pace by someone on a motorcycle. I actually felt a bit afraid, and at this point I didn’t know if it would be better to follow mum and daughter through the fence or confront whoever it was who was cruising behind me on the motorcycle.
I made my decision, stopped quickly, turned around and said firmly to the cyclist “What do you want?” I certainly hadn’t expected what happened next. He flashed his warrant card at me and told me that his was an off-duty police officer. He had seen me set off on foot after the shouting, angry woman and her daughter and seeing that I was entering an unlit passage way he became concerned, did a u-turn and came back to check if I was ok. Bless him, I was so grateful.
The police arrived shortly after that and despite an area search there was no trace of the pair. Then I remembered that the man in the off-licence had called the daughter on his phone for the woman just before I had arrived. We managed to retrieve the phone number and the police were able to trace the address. When they arrived at the house, they found the abusive man and were pleased to discover that he was already wanted for various violent offences and promptly arrested him for those as well as the domestic violence.