I often think that I’ve never seen the inside of a police station except on screen. There is a huge imbalance here. On telly, I’ve been inside the nick a million times: I could easily sketch the layout of the nicks in, say, Foyle’s War, or Endeavour, or Happy Valley. So it’s odd that when I think of the one time I did spend the night in a nick – Stoke Newington, 1991 – I have no recollection of the desk sergeant, or indeed the desk, or the corridors, or even the posters on the noticeboards.
Here’s the scenario. It was the night before my birthday. I lived in south London, and wrote a weekly TV review, which I often worked on into the small hours. On the night in question, my boyfriend came home at 8pm and discreetly started making soup. He lived at my place, but he had a flat elsewhere, where a man whom we shall call Trevor was currently renting a room. Trevor was outdoors-y (to put it mildly), had no source of income, and was prone to mood swings.
“How are you getting on?” the boyfriend inquired, around midnight. “Not there yet!” I said. When I finally submitted the piece (by fax) at 2.30am, the boyfriend was still up. “I need to tell you something,” he said. “Trevor threatened to shoot me this evening.”
Now, it wasn’t particularly strange that someone would want to shoot my boyfriend. He was incredibly annoying. But until this moment, I’d had no idea that Trevor had the means. It turned out that he owned shotguns. These were normally kept at a club in Essex, but this week he had visited that club; moreover, he had shown my boyfriend a little black “x” in his diary, denoting the day he would commit suicide. It was today. “Why didn’t you tell me this six hours ago?” I yelled. “You were working,” he said.
And so we found ourselves sitting until morning in Stoke Newington Police Station, making a lengthy statement, and feeling worried to death about Trevor. The two young detectives who dealt with us I do remember, and quite vividly: one friendly, Welsh and dark who obediently wrote down everything my annoying boyfriend said, such as, “It’s as if Trevor’s on a tightrope, but the tightrope is only a foot above the ground”; the other excitable, blond and Cornish, who memorably burst in to the room shouting, “He’s got a Magnum!”
Trevor was OK. He was presumably quite surprised when an armed response unit bashed his door down, but at least he didn’t kill himself.
I got home around 8.30am; it had been the longest night of my life. I suppose that’s why I’ve blotted out all those inside-the-nick details that I would otherwise expect to remember. A friend told me later she had bet a fiver that I would write about Trevor Night within 12 months. But she lost the bet. It’s actually taken 25 years to get over it.
This article appears in the 15 Feb 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times