I arrive at St Pancras on a miserable grey Monday morning to meet Julian, the officer in charge of the station. He collects me from a cafe inside and we walk to his office. He sits at a desk and offers me the empty seat opposite. Then goes to make tea.
When he returns I hear voices coming from his radio.
“Is that important?” I ask.
“It isn’t for me, we’re a national force so I get everything.”
“How do you differentiate between when it is and isn’t for you?”
“I tune in to it when I hear numbers. Every office has a code. The code here is bravo hotel one zero. The ‘b’ is for London North, the ‘h‘ for St. Pancras, and the numerals identify each officer.”
“And how does this office work?” I ask.
“The office is made up of a mix of tasking officers (guess what they do), neighbourhood police (NPTs) and Criminal Investigators (CID).
I’m responsible for performance management – performance of the station, HR issues, welfare, making sure we’ve got the right people in the right places, that sort of thing. Day to day I’m responsible for crime prevention and for looking after passengers. It sounds really minor but people want a hot drink in their hand, especially when something goes wrong. They need to feel they’re being looked after. Last year, before Christmas, with the snow and the Eurostar break-down, we made sure everyone had a hot drink. It helps temper tempers and it allows us to engage people.”
“And what about sniffer dogs?”
“We have numerous dogs. general dogs, dogs that find drugs, dogs that find explosives. This station is international – the DB (high-speed German train) coming in just demonstrates that. The continent at the moment is Belgium and France but we’ll soon be open to Germany . While the Borough of Camden is diverse, St Pancras is important for bringing people in.”
He’s changed the subject, gone off track, I’ve lost him, I think. I am only slightly disappointed he can’t say more about the sniffer dogs and large-scale criminals. I ask,”How many people come through daily?”
“About 35,000 people a day are coming in and going out – and over 12 million people a year use Eurostar. Part of the job here includes some – (not enough!)* – trips to Paris for meetings. The last trip to Paris was three minutes meeting people, three minutes back. No time for a coffee and a croissant on the Champs-Élysées.”
“And what will you be doing after our conversation?”
“After I leave I’m doing some work on how we deal with demonstrations – this is a major hub so we often get demonstrators coming through.”
The sound of a train passes above our heads.
He says no more about the nature of his demonstrators meeting, but I guess he can’t really, so I ask what was involved in his training. He tells me basic Home Office training, then extras; track safety policing in an industrial environment, for example.
“How long have you been doing it?” I ask.
“Twenty-four years policing (he doesn’t look old enough)** I joined the transport police in 1986. When I joined I was at Euston, then did a variety of jobs – public order, searching, VIP escorts, football intelligence, spent some time as Head of Security of a train operating company.”
A loud alarm goes off and Julian explains that it isn’t an international emergency but a fire alarm test.
“Numerous VIPs travel the rail network – ministers of state – both UK and foreign governments,” he says.
“And what’s the most interesting thing that’s happened here?” I ask.
“One really interesting thing… Liverpool football club travelled through during the ash cloud. They were travelling to Madrid to play in the championships. Steven Gerrard donated his shirt to us. We auctioned it and raised £3,200 for the Railway Children charity and Help for Heroes.”
“Great,” I smile, “and the most interesting person you’ve met?”
He thinks for a moment, “I’ve got to be careful what I say…. Jack Straw the MP was interesting. He’s quite a big football supporter so there’s some common ground. I support Leeds United. He’s a well known Blackburn supporter.”
I’m almost out of questions but ask one last one, “Do you wear your hat all the time?” I say, pointing to an inspectory looking hat on a shelf behind him.
“That’s a South Korean hat but yes, I have to wear this one ,” he points to a hat on his desk.
‘I would not have made a great inspector,’ I think.
* he actually said, ‘open bracket, close bracket’
** again, he told me to write that he looked young in brackets.