Chapter 3: THE FUZZ AND THE SLAGThe thumbers to come into most frequent contact with the police are the long haired contractors-out of the previous chapter. This has been more especially the case since the 1967 Dangerous Drugs Act which gave the police power of search without prior arrest, on simple suspicion that a person is in possession of a prohibited drug. But police interest in hitch-hikers is not limited to drug matters. We will come back to this important aspect later in the chapter, but it must be set in the general context of police-hitcher relations.
Out of the 186 hitch-hikers I picked up in August and September 1968 (see Appendix 2), 87, or nearly half, said they had at one time or other been checked on by the police while waiting for a lift. As has previously been made clear the 186 do not represent a sample. They are simply a group of people picked up mainly on motorways over weekends in the latter part of the holiday season.
A number of the 87 people who had been checked were aware why the police had wanted to question them. The points they bring up serve as a rough and ready guide to the sort of reasons the police have for interrogating hitchers by the roadside.
10 of the 87 people said they had been checked for standing beyond the No Pedestrian sign on a motorway slip road. When this happens it is rare for the thumber to be breaking the law maliciously. Usually he is infringing it technically to avoid getting a car to stop in a dangerous place. When the motorway starts from a roundabout the No Pedestrians Beyond This Point notice is often planted almost on the roundabout. This may look neat but it leaves out of account the fact that for a car to be flagged down on the bend coming out of the roundabout is exceedingly dangerous. In practice what frequently happens is that the hitcher thumbs on the bend but the driver pulls in further down, beyond the No Pedestrians sign. Usually the police turn a blind eye to the hitcher going 'onto the motorway' when a car has pulled up for him. I know of only one case where an over-zealous policeman booked a student who ran beyond an M.6 sliproad sign to pick up a lift. His superiors later quashed the prosecution. Friction that exists between the police and hitchers on this point is the fault of those who site the motorway signs. I have seen several near accidents provoked by the law forcing a person to thumb from a spot where it was palpably dangerous to ask a car to stop.
A second situation in which the police check on thumbers is if they seem too young to be on the road on their own. An art student was stopped and questioned when travelling near Southampton with his girl friend. He was 16 at the time:
The police frequently carry out routine identity checks among people hitching. They do this more often at night and certain forces go in for it more than others. The official object is to catch up with wrong-doers but an important psychological element is boredom. Motorway and fast trunk road patrolling is a soul-destroying job and asking half a dozen hitch-hikers their names and addresses is at least a break in the monotony. There are instances when the police use these routine questionings in the middle of the night along frequently half deserted slip roads to express their own frustrations against sections of the public they find a trial. In November 1967 P.C. No. 555 R. Monk and his colleague P.C. 6 B.M. Smith questioned a student, A. McAlpine, on an M.1 slip road -- P.C. Monk spoke his mind about student grants. In this case the hitcher reported him to the Leicester and Rutland Chief Constable and got a paternalistic semi-apology. There are plenty of times when the police speak out of turn to hitchhikers and no redress is sought. An interesting example of negative police attitudes towards hitch-hikers was given by a nineteen year old electrician:
Some hitchers questioned by the police report that they were after stolen property. A 20 year old computer programmer told me:
Person only: 6 respondents
Luggage only: 9 respondents
The 87 people subjected to police checks were all asked:
What was their attitude to you?
He was a bit of a rat
I wouldn't say he liked us much
They treat you a little like dirt; they seem to think you have no rights because you're on the road.
9 said attitudes varied, sometimes positive, sometimes negative -
(24 of the 87 respondents had been police checked more than three times).
1 felt the police were bored.
1 said the fuzz who checked him were not vicious.
1 said the police seemed to be having a bit of fun.
18 respondents failed to report a clear-cut police attitude.
(a) search that person, and detain him for the purpose of searching him ....
If one looks at the way arbitrary police searching has long been used in London one gets the idea of the importance of Clause 6 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967. Since the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, London constables have had the right to search any person or vehicle they 'reasonably suspect' of carrying stolen property. According to Peter Laurie in his book Scotland Yard, 40% of the Metropolitan Police's 50,000 annual crime arrests result from searching a person or vehicle on 'reasonable suspicion'. But Laurie also points out that only 1 in 20 of such searches yields any positive result. The London policeman's 'reasonable suspicion' turns out to be justified by facts in 1 case against 19 where it isn't. To put this another way round:
380,000 people against whom no accusation can be made are stopped each year in the process of winkling out 20,000 prosecutable individuals.
Peter Laurie, who spent 8 months accompanying London policemen on their various tasks, shows quite conclusively that search 'on reasonable suspicion' is fully accepted by alI ranks in the force. He quotes a sergeant addressing a group of night shift beat men:
One of the dodges the police used prior to 1967 to get evidence against a person about whom they had a hunch but whom they didn't dare to arrest was to demand that he allow himself to be searched. If he agreed they would search him. If he refused they would use the refusal as a valid ground for arresting him: an innocent man would not object to being searched. This ploy is set out without even a smile on page 94 of Police Promotion Handbook No. 2.
If the '67 Act is disquieting to the general public it must he doubly so to hitch-hikers and especially to long haired ones. Plenty of people who aren't hippies or beats wear their hair long, but to many policemen a long haired hitch-hiker is 'slag'. This revealing police slang term covers drunks, tramps, beatniks and hippies. The average police attitude to long haired types was pithily summed up by John Cowan, chairman of the constables' section of the Police Federation who talked to the 1970 Police Congress about filthy, long haired drop-outs. This phraseology in the mouth of an official police union spokesman would seem to amply confirm the conclusion reached by the Release Report on Drug Offenders and the Law (1969):
'We realise that they will not be the only ones needing to be searched. The reason they are mentioned is there have been a number of arrests of people in possession of drugs while hitch-hiking.'
105 prosecutions in 1960
135 prosecutions in 1961
216 prosecutions in 1962
In a situation like the present one the police can do virtually what they please. The long haired minority is not loved by the community at large and psychologically the police certainly feel they are expressing the majority will when they get at 'slag'. There are plenty of instances to show the way the police act when they have to do with a widely unpopular minority.
Southend police confiscated the bootlaces, belts and braces of several hundred skinheads on March 30 1970. They were drawing on their powers to prevent a possible breach of the peace. They would never have dared to infringe the liberty of the subject in this way if they hadn't had on their side the media and the majority.
Bolton police stopped football ticket touting before a match on March 26 1970 by charging four touts with obstructing the footpath. They were kept at police headquarters until after the match before being granted bail, despite the fact that they had o147 cash on them. Gloating to the Times correspondent on April 13, after the trial, a senior police officer said:
So if you're 'slag' and you go hitch-hiking you stand a goodly chance of attracting police attention just because of the way you look. Your hair style and your clothes are more than sufficiently 'reasonable grounds' to suspect that you are in possession of banned drugs. If the way the policeman searches your luggage or person is unpleasant you can always complain ... to the Chief Constable who likely as not has let it be known that he fully approves of blanket 'stops' of the long haired. In preparing your complaint you should remember that you are 'slag' and that British coppers are the best in the world. The Chief Constable probably reads the Sunday Times and saw the poll published there on 21 December 1969 that showed 90% of the population thinking the police wonderful:
One of the hitch-hikers in the 186 group picked up gave a realistic recipe for hitching unmolested by the police: