I was in Leighton Buzzard when the call came through.
Frantic banging from a lorry at Toddington services – we knew it would be illegal immigrants desperate to get out. But we didn’t know how many were there, what condition they would be in and what would face us when we opened the doors.
As more information came over the airwaves I knew we had no time to spare – the lorry was refrigerated which posed even more danger.
I drove on blues and twos along the country roads – all I could think was I hope they are ok.
As a response officer you are always prepared for the worst possible outcome and consider all contingencies.
We opened the doors and saw the children. The extent of their desperate actions was clear. It was an absolute nightmare.
The conditions were difficult for adults but for children it was just atrocious. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too.
Most children are afraid of the dark in any case but in cramped conditions without proper food and the awful smell, not to mention the cold, – they must’ve been terrified. We just had to get them out – we had to make them feel safe.
Once everyone was out of the lorry we crawled through to make sure we hadn’t missed anyone in-between the large pallets of dairy produce.
Crawling into the cold, cramped, claustrophobic spaces with the smell of human excrement in the air, it really hit home what a horrendous journey these people had just been through.
Jobs like this are hugely resource intensive. The coordination of the job was one of the biggest challenges. The language barriers, confusion and desperation. The need to keep families together.
There were 14 people in total.
All of them had to be arrested for entering the country in this way.
As well as arresting the driver on suspicion of facilitating this entry.
Addressing their medical needs was above and beyond, we needed ambulance support and to get them to a place of safety. But we also had to get them all into a cell to be dealt with by Immigration Enforcement.
We had to split the people across three custodies in two forces. Liaise with the hospital, Immigration Enforcement, keep our Sergeant in the loop. The airwaves were just constantly busy trying to coordinate everything.
A police cell is not a nice place to be but in this case we had no other option.
At least I knew this was their first step to a better life, whether that be here or somewhere else.
I’ve been a response officer for two years now based in the south of the county. I had been involved in a few immigration jobs before but this was the first time I was the first on scene. The first one I dealt with from start to finish.
I joined the police for many reasons but primarily to challenge myself.
You need to think on your feet, being a response officer is unpredictable – you have no idea what you will attend day to day. It’s unlike any other job.
But what you do know is that you can make a difference.
Generally you’re first on scene of some really serious stuff and the people you are helping often see you as a lifeline.
Long hours attending some nasty and negative situations can be difficult, especially as for the most part we are on patrol alone. This is difficult as it helps massively having someone to bounce off – but that’s all part of the job.
Being a response officer you experience things that you won’t deal with in any other job – some you’ll like, some you won’t – sometimes, like any other job, you will wish you’re at home.
But some days you will know you genuinely helped, you genuinely did a really good thing.
It is job satisfaction like no other.
It’s nice to come home feeling like that.
PC Ken Foster has been a response officer at Bedfordshire Police for two years. He was first on scene when distressed young children and their mother were discovered in the back of a lorry at Toddington along with 12 others. The job featured in Human Cargo the first episode of the new series of 24 Hours in Police Custody aired on Channel 4 at 9pm on Wednesday 20 April.
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