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Feather's Miscellany: Prison Incident

John Waddington-Feather tells a rewarding tale involving his famous fictional character the Revd Detective Inspector Blake Hartley.

There’s a special relationship between some prisoners and the policemen who put them behind bars. It’s really two sides of the same coin, a community connection. I’ve known many scallywags leaving prison and frequenting the pubs where off-duty policemen and prison officers drink. These are not dangerous criminals but petty thieves, friendless and inadequate loners, whose life revolves round prison – till they grow older and live law-abiding lives. And very often it’s the advice and friendship of the police and prison officers which put them back on the straight and narrow.

The Revd Detective Inspector Blake Hartley had this community relationship with many men he put behind bars. He also shared it with the homeless in Keighworth, the alcoholics and drug addicts; but he was taken by surprise one day when he received a call from the governor of the local prison asking him to go there urgently. There was a remand prisoner who’d got onto the roof to make some kind of protest and was asking to see Blake Hartley, the copper who’d put him behind bars.

Blake had known Tommy Fearnside for years, and when he wasn’t arresting him for nicking milk bottles off doorsteps and pinching push-bikes, he was giving him the odd hand-out for a sandwich and cup of tea; for he was homeless, one of the winos kipping in Keighworth Parish Church graveyard in the centre of town.

He went at once to the prison before Tommy fell off the roof, or worse still, hit one of the prison officers with the slates he was throwing down. When Hartley arrived he was taken at once to the forecourt of the jail where a long ladder had been set up, reaching to the edge of the roof four storeys up. As he entered the forecourt a slate came hurtling down and shattered on the ground.

Going to the foot of the long ladder, Hartley shouted up that he’d arrived and was going to climb the ladder, but Tommy mustn’t have heard him for as Hartley reached the edge of the roof and peered white-faced over it, a tile hurtled past him.

That was bad enough but it was nerve-wracking making the ascent step by step; a nightmare for the inspector who suffered from vertigo. “What the bloody hell are yer playing at?” he bawled at Tommy as the slate whizzed past him and shattered below.

“Is it you, Inspector Hartley?” said Tommy apologetically.

“Aye, an’ if yer don’t stop throwing slates and get back to yer cell, it won’t be me for long. If I drop off this ladder we’ll both go to hell!”

“Sorry, boss,” shouted Tommy when he realised who it was peering ashen-faced up at him. Then without more ado he went quietly back to his cell escorted by a prison officer.

Hartley slowly climbed down the ladder, shaking like a leaf, and interviewed Tommy in his cell with an officer standing by. And having listed in his notebook all the offences Tommy confessed to doing Hartley stood up to leave, but Tommy halted him with, “Will yer say a prayer for me, boss?”

Hartley gave the ‘screw’ a quick glance. He nodded and Inspector Hartley then said a short prayer, asking the good Lord to forgive Tommy for all the trouble he’d caused; to which Tommy said a very loud “Amen.”

Tommy was led away to be disciplined by the governor and was later sentenced to a few more months in prison when his case went before the magistrate. Yet Inspector Hartley’s scary climb up the ladder and his prayer had one beneficial effect, for when Tommy had finished his ‘bird’ he never offended again.


John Waddington-Feather ©


Screw = prison officer; nick = arrest; bird = prison sentence

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