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Colwyn Bay Calling


I was about to ask DeVille how he had acquired his rather unusual nickname when he suddenly said:

“Did I ever tell you about the big favour we did for the Welsh boys?”

“I’m not sure. Tell me anyway,” I said, giving him the unnecessary licence to continue. DeVille began to recount his story as we sat at a table in the Pig and Whistle supping our pints. The muzak and the hubbub of other conversations receded into the background as he conjured his tale into existence.

It is six p.m. on a Sunday evening, DeVille and Saunders are, once again, working together on the graveyard shift. However, unlike Burke and Hare, they are not seeking to provide fresh bodies to medical students for dissection. They are instead catching up on the paperwork for the bodies[1] they had dealt with during that week.

Deville receives a call from Colwyn Bay. It was the North Wales Police asking for help on one of their more serious cases.

“Is that Scotland Yard then?”

“No, it’s Albany Street, CID, nearly Scotland Yard. Detective Deville speaking. How can we be of assistance?”

He puts the call on speakerphone so Saunders can listen in. Saunders looks up briefly and indicates he is all ears. He is also polishing his shoes, he is polishing them so well that he can see not only his own face in them, but also the shape of his mother’s eyes in his own. DeVille was generally less particular about his footwear. His blackened boots were worn at heel and needed a visit to the cobbler. DeVille made a mental note.

“Well, it’s like this, see? We’ve had a murder and we believe the suspects have made their way to London,” said D.S. (Detective Superintendent) Jones from Colwyn Bay.

“I see, so how can we help?”

“Well, they would have arrived at Euston yesterday afternoon, about five-thirty. We were hoping you could check out the hotels in the area to trace and arrest them. Can you do that for us, boy’o? I’ll give you a description of the main suspect and her accomplices. You see the suspect has got her son with her, you know, and her dog too. Don’t suppose that’s much to go on but thought you’d better have all the information, like.”

DeVille took down the details:

1. Female (name redacted), white, 55 years old, 5’8”, slim build, brown hair

2. Male (name redacted), white, 18 years old, 5’10”, stocky build, brown hair

3. Dog (Snowdon), collie breed sheep dog, speaks Welsh

“We’ll do our best, but there are quite a large number of hotels and B&Bs near Euston Station and the surrounding areas,” DeVille replied.

“Well, do the best you can then, won’t you now? I’m counting on you.”

“Yes Sir, of course,” said DeVille.

DeVille put the phone down and proceeded to consider the number of hotels and B&Bs in the vicinity of Euston – probably one or two hundred more than are to be found on the seafront in Colwyn Bay - and he wondered. He wondered at the possibility of finding the suspects, in flight from Colwyn Bay. He wondered at the assumption that such a search could be conducted with the limited resources at his disposal i.e. only Saunders and himself. And, just for a moment, he wondered what had induced him to join the Police Force in the first place. DeVille caught himself thinking like this and, pushing the chair away from the desk, stood up briskly. There were a lot of doors to knock on and a lot of numbers to call. This was going to be a difficult and painstaking enquiry. Best get on with it.

Saunders’ zen-like attention to his shoes came to a sudden end as DeVille accidentallystepped on his foot. That did the trick. Saunders started showing a little bit more interest and, incidentally, needed to do a bit more polishing on one shoe in particular. Suddenly Deville shouted ‘Eureka!’ like some modern-day Archimedes and exclaimed: “Miracles, miracles, miracles on a Sunday graveyard shift! Saunders, it’s going to be a long night. We might have to call in some troops, which you will do, as I am not waking up detectives in the early hours, that’s your job.”

Saunders grimaced.

“Come on Saunders, we’ve work to do. I’ve got an idea. This is how we’ll go about things.”

Deville then proceeded to explain his strategy. The train route began at Colywn Bay, passed through Chester and eventually arrived at London Euston. Deville reminded Saunders that Euston station had been rebuilt and, at that time, a state of the art CCTV system had been installed. This might be useful.

“We need to enlist the help of our colleges in the British Transport Police. They are the experts.”

Saunders felt relieved. He would not, after all, need to be wake up colleagues from their well-earned slumbers and he would not, after all, be getting an earful for his pains. Instead they made their way to London Euston railway station, which was only about 5 minutes from the Albany Street Police Station. They went to the British Transport Police office and, as luck would have it, there was a detective on duty who Deville knew very well and had worked with on many occasions in the past. He was Scottish and was affectionately known as The Flying Scotsman. Deville was not sure whether this nickname, this apposite Scottish soubriquet, came from the speed at which the detective arrested suspects or the speed at which he could down a wee dram or two. Be that as it may, together they reviewed the CCTV footage from the previous evening and, low and behold, the two suspects and their sheep dog Snowdon, were seen going down to the lower level of the station where the Black Cabs[2] pick up fares. Detective Flying Scotsman suggested they put a notice board up near the taxi rank asking if any taxi driver had picked up a middle aged female, a young man and a Welsh speaking sheep dog the day before.

They were in luck! Following a short period of chatting with the cabbies at the rank to see if any of them remembered a couple with a Welsh dog. The sixth, or maybe seventh, cabbie said he thought he remembered them and had dropped them off in Argyle Square the evening before at a B&B that allowed dogs, especially Welsh speaking dogs, as the owner was Welsh herself.

Deville turned to Saunders and said, “Which method of detection are we going to use? Miracle or Eureka?” Saunders grimaced for only the second time that evening . Deville said: “No more grimacing. This is proper detective work!’”

The Cabbie who had taken the suspects to Argyle Square. agreed to take Deville and Saunders to the property, but not before explaining to the cabbies in front on the rank that he was assisting police detectives in an enquiry, not in fact queue jumping.

Tom the Cabbie took Deville and Saunders to The Black Swan in Argyle Square. It was an old pub, long since converted into a B&B, suitable for casual travellers and tourists alike. As they got out of the taxi Tom turned and said:

‘Watch out for that dog of theirs. Very bright them Collies. I reckon he knows more than he lets on. He seems to understand English as well as Welsh. When I handed them their luggage and said goodbye he came up to me and put out his paw to shake my hand.’

‘We’ll bear that in mind,’ said Saunders. DeVille continued:

“I spoke to the man on reception, a Greek Cypriot chap, been over here since the war, married a Welsh girl. He gave us a master key and directed us to a room at the end of the corridor up on the second floor.”

‘But shouldn’t we wait for backup?’ Saunders asked rather sensibly. ‘I mean, they are wanted for suspected murder. They could be dangerous, possibly even armed and who knows how much English the dog understands.’

“What backup would that be?”

They didn’t have any backup available. Deville suggested that Saunders (ex-military) call in the SAS (Saunders grimaced once more) but he said they were already busy abseiling elsewhere in London at some unspecified foreign Embassy. They knocked on the door.

DeVille had taken the Colwyn Bay call at 18:22 that evening. By 21:45 Deville and Saunders, had arrested the suspect, her son and Snowdon, the by now bilingual Border Collie!

D. S. Jones of Colwyn Bay was very pleased and couldn’t believe the speed Deville and Saunders obtained a result. He sent an escort to collect their ‘package’ the very next day.

Snowdon, the dog, wasn’t read his rights and later got off on a technicality. He couldn’t be taken back to the mountain he was named after, so DeVille looked after him for a few days until he was adopted by a family via the Battersea Dogs Home. It was his work on this case that earned Detective Deville the curious soubriquet of The Urban Shepherd.

The best result was that the Welsh colleagues from Colwyn Bay brought Deville and Saunders a thank you gift: two bottles of Welsh malt whiskey. Deville and Saunders were surprised, as they thought they were all tea-total in that part of the world. Clearly, they were mistaken. They were hoping to enjoy an unexpected reward for a job well done. Unfortunately, their Chief Superintendent had already been contacted by D. S. Jones from North Wales.

‘I have sent my officers to collect the prisoners and escort them back to North Wales. My officers will leave a gift of gratitude to your outstanding officers, Deville and Saunders, who helped us on this case.’

The tradition at this time was that the Chief Superintendent (the Governor), would be included in any thank you. As a matter of fact the Governor was Welsh himself. One bottle of Welsh Malt duly went in his direction.”

Sometimes a strange telephone call, an unusual request, results in a Miracle. For the North Wales officers, it was a miracle. For Deville and Saunders, on another graveyard shift, it was a ‘result’ and they toasted it together. Later in the week they finished the bottle of Welsh malt whiskey, just between themselves, as they worked on another gruelling graveyard shift.

And so, without actually asking, I finally found out how DeVille was given his unusual nickname.

  1. [1] Police colloquial term meaning prisoner/s [2] Traditional London taxis

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