Chapter One – and so it begins

The dingy paint-work layered thick over rough brick, shaped graceful arches in the low ceiling. The narrow slit windows could have been bigger but the harsh fluorescent lights set deep into the wall were more than adequate to show the minimalist room as being functional; that function was very simple and was becoming more real by the minute. This was another first experience but it had no frame of reference of any kind and so became almost a sensory overload. The building, the smells, the matter of fact voices of authority, the direct looks, and furtive glances of people that I presumed might also be new to all this in comparison to those that were obviously more at home here. A well-practised self-preservation mechanism came into play and the usual metaphorical glass wall slid into place around me, clear to still be part of things but defensive enough to keep difficult events markedly separate and allowing me to cope; for now anyway. Not knowing what was going to happen in the next few hours or minutes even were tempered by the understanding that this was all the inevitable consequence and realisation of events from more than forty years of my life. A life lived dancing precariously from one side to the other of the line that society quaintly, but realistically, calls ‘normal’.

Here in the gloom and obviously unsolicited situation, vivid thoughts were rapidly creeping into my already drowning mind. There was now the distinct possibility if not a guarantee that, life would be out of my personal control for some time to come. The feelings started to manifest themselves as a tight knot in the pit of my stomach; I had to fight physically to keep them under control. The stale solitude of those moments were curiously cushioned by the background hum and clatter of the rest of the wing. As unknown and unexpected as many of the noises were, the fact that they were on the other side of a heavy steel door did offer some degree of security which was an odd thing to consider; if I had wanted to. Had I given myself too much time to think about anything at all, my thoughts would have continued to run off in several different directions all at the same time but, I seemed to be able to just keep it together; for now anyway.

Night time, for most people anyway, would be a time for nature to deal with all the thoughts and experiences of the day. Once organised it is supposed to allow the stillness of sleep settle them into the many lower levels of the mind. It was of course just evolution making room for the next day’s catalogue of highs and lows, the significant and the pointless happenings of everyday life. This natural event was something that had rarely happened to me as my mind seemed to go into overdrive at the very moment that all other distractions were meant to be put away and the subconscious calm of sleep was supposed to take over. Under different circumstances I would have put the radio on or left the television in its sleep timer mode for an hour or so and hope that the meaningless diversion might fool my racing brain into doing its proper job. With the day’s turmoil and now these unfamiliar surroundings I was stuck for an alternative. Even if I had any I doubt that the events of the last two and a half weeks would have settled themselves away without a fight, instead they just ran and re-ran in that semi dark of the tiny prison cell. Until I stopped trying to get comfortable on the wafer-thin mattress, I hadn’t noticed that Jim, my call mate, although the term mate was not an accurate one as I didn’t know him from Adam, was snoring, not so quietly but well away in his own land of Nod. Retreat was the only course and I cut out as much of the world as I could; for the moment at least, behind closed eyes.

Naïvely I had always imagined that everyone lived their lives within a similar basic structure I was fast learning that this might not be as true as I wanted to believe. The working week, fun weekends, holidays, marriages, childhood’s and all the varied and curious things that make us into individuals but at the same time stay part of a bigger colourful social picture. For my life I had certainly had my fair share of experiences and found myself in circumstances which, as I have got older, I think may not have been anything like other peoples; by a country mile. It is not that I didn’t have any less opportunity or support than most other people of my time, it was more so that I couldn’t see or appreciate what they were or how I should have taken greater advantage from many of them. In relation to the events leading up to my current situation, this lack of perception had fuelled an inaccurate and perverse sense of independence which, going largely unchecked, resulted in many of the self-perpetuating patterns of behaviour that were not all going to be the best choices for living life in a civilised, modern, diverse society. Back in the present and this particular difficult episode. Finding myself lying on an uncomfortable bunk amongst the many as-yet unknown privations of a category B prison cell, I could easily reflect on what had set it all in motion.

A call had come through to my mobile phone a few days before. I was out of the office visiting a customer, doing a bit of PR and a delivery all to help grease the wheels of industry. My phone hardly ever rang so it must have been relatively important and the display showed it was my office calling. The conversation was very one sided, more just a message really that there were two gentlemen from the Inland Revenue wanting to see me and could I get back as soon as I could, please. My office manager was away for a few days so it was down to me to handle the problem, if indeed there was one. As I was ready to go back anyway, I gave the caller an ETA and pressed the red button to end the call.

Pulling into the office car park I swung the long nose of my car alongside the unfamiliar vehicle which I presumed belonged to my visitors. A stranger was leaning against the boot talking on his phone; he ended the call as soon as he saw me drive in. Getting out and introducing myself, having already assumed that he was there to see me, I received no verbal response not even the return of my proffered hand.

“Shall we go in?”

It should have been me leading the conversation as the host but it wasn’t and taking the lead from his tone of voice I lead the way inside not expecting any further discussion.

An involuntary but customary glance around the works showed me that everyone seemed to be doing what they thought they should and so I continued to the office where I could see the second ‘gentleman’ through the glass. He was seated at one of the two desks looking down at papers contained by a leather document case open in front of him. The reference to my visitors being gentlemen had obviously been based on their smart dress and general appearance which gave them a palpable air of authority and purpose; as one would expect from an employee of one of Her Majesty’s departments. On entering the small office, once more I didn’t get the chance to take any lead in conversation and I was actually a little taken aback by being firmly asked to take a seat at the other desk; I was more accustomed to being the host in my own offices but I didn’t think about not acceding to the request.

The office felt different to how it normally would but I couldn’t easily make out why. My subconscious recorded that the door was closed which was the first thing and the second was my visitor as he stood against it, arms folded, feet apart, blank but stern expression on his face. It didn’t help to alleviate the oppressive tension that was building. My nerve endings were beginning to tingle. My mind was desperately trying to recall anything untoward in the accounts that the tax man might be interested in. What was it that I didn’t know, what should I have known, was it just a routine visit, I was snapped out of my reverie by the person seated in front of me.

“I’m sorry to get you back like this but,” he spoke quietly and calmly, “we need to speak with you on a rather urgent and serious matter.”

Still there were no clues. In times of uncertainty or stress I had always found it is best to keep things as calm and civil as possible but, with no information forthcoming from his opening statement I had nothing to go on at all until he started to speak again. It was only then that things started to skid into focus as I was given a very formal introduction of both. They were officers of the West Midlands Police.

After giving only a cursory glance at the two identifications rather perfunctorily proffered, I couldn’t say that I had recognised anything about the actual contents of the small leather wallets.

“There are several things that I need to ask you about.”

The seated officer still maintained his outwardly friendly and composed manner, the standing one kept his rather stiff posture. The asking proceeded at speed and in depth.

I don’t recall very much detail of the questioning except the tone and level of the officer’s voice being stern, course even. Of course, as soon as the initial outline of the conversation had been formed I was painfully aware of what they wanted to talk about and I knew that they were already in possession of a great deal of information. It was patently obvious that they had been well briefed before their visit this morning and I was just another piece of a much larger puzzle. Having already had its edge pieces put together without my help, it was now time for the more obvious elements of its emerging image to be assembled; a clearer picture would emerge with every new piece. It was at this point that I realised that I had some small advantage in knowing just what the picture was on the front of the puzzle box; they more than likely hadn’t had that rather dubious privilege, not yet.

Answering each of the questions posed as clearly and honestly as I could, I managed to hold onto a degree of vagueness wherever I could without lying. They eventually asked for specific information about computers that I owned or used and the contents of such machinery, but more specifically, certain types of pictures and images within that content. My avoidance tactics were a well-practised separation procedure that I used to keep myself ‘safe’ which had served me well for a long time and I had hoped for some time to come but as the procedure progressed that all seemed to be over. The interview continued inexorably on. Although I knew exactly what they were wanting me to say, I tried my best to resisted the faint urge to pour out the whole sordid mess. With this under control the only relevant suggestion that I allowed them was that they may be interested in a lap-top computer that I had at home. Having reasoned something with myself I tried to save them some time and dispel the implied involvement of the company machines. The information was accepted graciously.

“I’ll tell the officers waiting at the flat to look for it,” I must have shown my shock but he continued without pause, “we will be conducting an extensive search of all your property as soon as I have completed my enquiries here.”

Thinking about it logically, as I found myself able to do with another other part of my brain, it was only to be expected. The fact that they were just doing their job was not quite at the forefront of my mind at that point. The potential, no, the actual, seriousness of my situation was suddenly overshadowed by greater concerns for other things.

“My son might be in,” I glanced at both officers not knowing who would be responsible for any reaction, “I wouldn’t want him to be surprised or frightened if, when, you go in. He gets very protective about things and I am not sure how he might react.”

They assured me that the other officers would be sensitive to any situation that might arise but they had to carry out the task in hand and would do their job, whatever happened. The lead officer asked for my house keys which I hope suggested that they would be making a civilised and hopefully quiet entry. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that they did indeed do the job with as much tact and as little disruption that such an invasive operation could have. I had no doubt that the more vigilant of my neighbours would be aware of the many bags of things that were removed during the search and would start to build a picture of something for themselves.

“You will come with us now.”

There was obviously no room for discussion and I stood up ready to go with them without any kind of resistance. The keys to my car were requested and taken and it was soon being pawed over by another team of plain clothed police that had appeared silently as the three of us left the premises.

Before we actually left the building, I asked what I should do about both the factory and my staff. With only the briefest of pauses in the proceedings I was allowed to go, with my escort, to speak with the one person that I would consider responsible for things while I was ‘helping the police with their enquiries’ as I was instructed to say. Trying to say as much but as little as I could without giving away any real information was difficult and I was cut short with my bewildered employee still none the wiser other than, he would have more information when it was available. It was some small comfort at least that I had every faith that they would sort things out for now but had no way of expressing it, all I could do was look on and smile.

We made our way out to their rather unremarkable car being reminded that it was best that I did not speak to any of the other staff; I noted to myself how I felt curiously calm.

Despite understanding why this was happening, it was still difficult to openly acknowledge the culmination and inevitable conclusion of many years of secret activity. Despite knowing full well that it would all have to come to light at some point I was able to recall having admitted such to myself only a few months before. Despite all these things that hadn’t stopped me gathering yet more images from the wide variety of websites that I had visited on most nights of the week. The thoughts and knowledge of all the legal implications failed to make any impact as I sorted and filed them all away in the extensive and dare I congratulate myself, well-structured electronic filing system.

It was not just saving them that had filled the many dark hours, there was all the checking for duplicates, creating new folders for new subjects and always some degree of lingering over particularly attractive or evocative fancies. It was more like an industrial operation than a rather sad and over indulgent pastime. One part of my mind would be telling me it was secret and therefore safe, another would nearly always argue that it was rather stupid and sad; I always went for the first and more interesting option. Stimulating would be a far better description of it all.

The extensive collection of beauty, youth and passion was meant to fill some of the empty spaces in life. What it offered was a representation of smooth ageless perfection that I had never seemed to have been able to achieve in myself. It gave me the means to feel the heights of solitary ecstasy that I couldn’t ever seem to find with anyone else. It offered the fulfilment of simple aspirations that I knew full well I could never achieve. In their own dark simplicity, any of the myriad of reasons or excuses I could create kept me seemingly safe inside the cycle of activity right up to the point that I had now reached. My mind returned reluctantly to its corporeal body sitting in the back of the unmarked police car speeding along to its police station.

Bizarre as it may seem, of all the things that I should have been concentrating on, I noticed that the younger of the two officers had a head of hair that was not exactly blonde but light enough to give the faint stubble on his cheeks almost invisibility until it caught the light at certain angles. To just a casual onlooker it would have meant nothing but to me, what would have been the trait of not having to shave regularly, as I had since I was about twelve years old, was only added to his rather attractive looks and well-proportioned build.

The journey to the local police station was only a short one and although when I had been there before it had only been to the public front desk. This time the car drove straight round to the back of the unremarkable modern building and parked amongst the other marked and unmarked vehicles. Unexpectedly I was helped out of the back seat but I guessed that this was more to stop me having a chance to run off although quite where they imagined I might be thinking of going I didn’t know; I was never the running type at the best of times.

Not quite knowing if I was just using another coping mechanism, I found myself thinking about police programmes on the television. They were something that I liked to watch and often found a degree of morbid interest with the general inclusion of rough, but sometimes attractive criminal elements who would be vigorously fighting the system with all their attitude, cropped hair and tattoos. Serves them right I used to think but at the same time, show some more, please. This present reality was very like all that but at the same time very different; it was now not just confined to the safety of the small screen. The procedure was slower, oh so much slower; unfortunately, there was to be no dramatic editing to be done.

This real-time event was mainly sitting, waiting, moving, waiting some more, formal pronouncements, more waiting and, disappointingly, not a good looking fellow scallywag to be seen. I tried my best not to focus on the uniforms and all that went with them but it was difficult and in some small way a distraction that I didn’t feel the need to let go of for the time being. Although I didn’t know it, the lack of other offenders was because I was deliberately being keep separate from the day’s normal traffic due to the ‘sensitivity of my situation’ and the charges that would inevitably be brought against me. It was very thoughtful of them I remember thinking once it had been pointed out by someone. All these processes would become much clearer as things moved on over the weeks ahead.

Due process continued unhindered. Pictures, DNA and finger prints which interestingly, to me anyway, were taken on a fancy computerised machine. All of them were scanned and logged away with no sticky black ink to bother with afterwards. My curious nature went thoroughly undeterred and fortunately for my general mental state, overshadowed the serious nature of the events. There were more forms, explanations, searches even more waiting and finally, removal to the custody cells. Just as I had watched on the television, off came my shoes, belt, and tie. Walking into the call the cold of the floor seeped through my socks but, cold wouldn’t kill me whereas using something as a tourniquet would have; if I had a mind to end it all that is. There was the offer of a hot drink, I went for the coffee, black, no sugar, it came eventually, luke warm, white with at least one sugar. Feeling that I had no recourse to complaint, I smiled and sipped at it, if ungratefully.

“Just sit tight while they get on and do whatever investigations they have to. You’ll be fine.”

The sentiment that the duty officer offered was far more comforting than the drink he had brought.

The room was sparse which didn’t help considering the amount of time that I sat, or lay, or paced within the small space trying to forget; this was just my way of dealing with things that I didn’t need or want to. There were regular checks through the small peep hole in the door but I also noticed a camera lens behind a small glass plate high up in the wall; it was only to be expected that I was being watched most of the time. Occasionally I had the offer of another drink which I took, despite the first experience. All the drinks and the hard cold seat meant that I had to use the functional and surprisingly clean toilet arrangement in the cell. It was impossible not to touch the thing but the odd germ was probably the last thing I should worry about; I should be used to strange toilets anyway. Later on that evening I answered the less than profound questions posed by the custody sergeant regarding my treatment during my stay which included my assessment of the facilities; what could one say?

Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, I was taken out of the cold cell, my shoes slipping untied on my feet, led out to the main desk where I was formally charged with being in possession of illegal images; and a few other things that I chose not to file away as it was much wordier than that, but you’ll get the gist I’m sure. Curiously, or was it just me again, before this simple act could happen, I had to wait for the whole of the custody suite to be cleared except for those personnel relevant to my case. It was the most likely reason for it seeming to take so long to arrange; I didn’t ask about it obviously. Having received an apology for this delay, I thanked the officer, despite the fact that I still didn’t quite know why it had to be so. The custody sergeant asked if I wanted a solicitor which I said that I think that I should. Not having my own, I was appointed the duty functionary and the call was put in after consulting the rota. After some discussion over the telephone between the desk Sergeant and whoever it was to be my representative, it was thought that I wouldn’t need to see him given the outline of my charges at that point but, I could have just a brief discussion with him on the telephone. From this I hoped that it might be a good sign and the words of relative comfort that I had during the rather short conversation did help; if only a little. There would be ‘ongoing investigations’ he told me and when there was more information they would deal with it ‘in an appropriate manner’. Or course I had no idea what the investigations would consist of, not fully wanting to admit to the possibilities anyway even if I did.

Back in the cell I sat or lay some more and waited for what seemed endless hours. To break the boredom, I tried to content myself by reading the official leaflets I had been handed about the treatment of those held in custody, the standards and expectations, recourse to complaint and other nonsense; it didn’t take long to get through them. After this interlude, I reflected on what might be happening outside in the real world.

For all intents and purposes I had evaporated out of my normal life with hardly any explanation. No doubt someone would be filling in the blanks but I had no control over how or with what they would be doing that although nothing that anyone could come up with would be near the truth; that at least was certain. The line of thought was starting to concern me as the deliberations and decisions that were being made would obviously affect the outcome of the official investigation. What was more concerning though were the inevitable inaccuracies that would materialise and how they would undoubtedly colour my reputation, such as it might be have been. The feeling of being helpless was not a comfortable one and.

Being interested in the general process of policing and custody I took up an alternative train of thought to try and remain as calm as I could. In this endeavour, I tried to note all the things that I enjoyed about police programmes and compare them to what I was experiencing now. All too plainly I understood how tedious it all was and why most of the filmed boredom didn’t make the final cut. The attempt at distraction wasn’t working very well at all.

The bench cum bed was getting uncomfortable, even the cellular blankets didn’t make much difference; I tried pacing up and down instead. The small, well used and liberally abused room didn’t allow for much of a stretch but it was better than nothing. As a further effort of self-amusement, I took the opportunity to read and even chuckle at the varied graffiti adorning the walls, but even that didn’t take very long; television never shows the boredom that cells induce and I sat back down to contemplate the situation once more.

Although I wasn’t fully aware, the carefully planned operation to investigate my ‘hobby’ was close to running its present course. Understandably it would take some time to unravel it all. It may be OK to say ‘fair cop guv’, not that I had actually used those words, but I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. What was happening was at both the factory and my home where all the things that appeared to be relevant or just interesting, computers, disks, disk drives, DVDs plus a few irrelevant items not that they knew it then, had been bagged, tagged and by now all secured carefully away in some evidence locker. The technical departments would have to find plenty of time to work on the huge amount of material but for now there was enough superficial evidence to fulfil the police’s requirements for the charges I had been saddled with. The futile process of denial had crossed my mind but what was the point. It was obvious that the matter was well advanced and the police knew almost as much as I did and it, whatever ‘it’ was going to be, it would soon all be over.

Falling back into my thoughts I was still able to acknowledge that fact that I was not stupid or ignorant, I had done things that were against the law and this was just the result of all that illicit activity; and more besides. In an odd way I felt some kind of relief about what had happened. Despite having rationalised it all on some level, I didn’t really want to deal with the gory consequences so I managed to put it away in one of the mental boxes that I kept for more difficult things. Despite doing this, my thoughts were being replaced by equally negative things and I started to slip backwards, uncomfortably out of control. My thoughts spun round all the things that I had been involved with over the years, not all of them illegal but let us just say, questionable; it was becoming hard to maintain a grip on the present. Thoughts about the future were equally tortuous.

Information was what I needed, I can deal with information, I needed more information. Immediate rescue came from being taken out to the custody desk once more to have yet more pronouncements made to me. It seemed that I was out. Not out of trouble but just out on police bail while further investigations were being done. The many do’s and don’ts were reeled off plus some advice about keeping myself safe; again, I didn’t fully understand all the implications they were alluding to but took it all on board somehow and stored it away with the other things as I get through the many locked and CCTV monitored doors.

Despite my normally logical approach, getting out of station had the curious effect of putting me into a bit of a mental spin. Here, back on the outside, back in the real world, I felt horribly lost and alone.

Once behind my own front door having made the trip on foot and thankfully without encountering anyone, I realised that I had lost all sense of time, space and worse, reality. I didn’t even remember if I had spent a day or a night in the cells that is how bad I was. It was daylight now so perhaps I had been for longer than I thought; I pushed the pointless issue out of my mind. The flat didn’t look too bad considering that it had been ‘turned over’ but I guessed that my son would have any of the clearing up done. No-one was there now. As I sat with a cup of ‘proper’ coffee, hot, black and with no sugar, the harsh reality of my situation fell solidly into the pit of my stomach. It churned and twisted painfully.

Reverting to what I could of a daily routine, thing had to be done on auto-pilot. There were people I needed to contact. It was something that I didn’t want to do at the best of times let alone now. The hardest thing was not knowing how other people would be like towards me, what they thought they knew and how they might deal with this mess. The fact that only I had any insight to the truth did nothing to help my concerns, even the police couldn’t yet profess to know it all and if I could have my way it would stay like it. Obviously, it couldn’t be like that but I could at least limit information leakage to something vaguely acceptable; less controversial at least.

At the best of times my life was a duality or even tri-ality. Most of me had a public face that displayed normality and decency but many other parts of it were very secret and although debatable, rather ‘murky’ for want of a better word. It was this part that I needed to manage now knowing exactly how it would affect things.

For altogether selfish reasons I reverted to type in deciding to adopt the usual ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach when things started to get difficult; I picked up the phone and looked at it for a very long time. For the most part, as the phrase would suggest, I managed to hide behind something that wasn’t there, creating a wall of non-information that helped to keep most of the questions away and any of the more difficult details out of the immediate spotlight. It kept me safe for the present time but it was inevitably a hollow performance and left more questions than answers. It was all I could face knowing that anything else would get filled in with the inevitable unhelpful speculation. Although I couldn’t win, I felt that I wasn’t quite losing either.

In a twisted praxis, because the subject matter was so controversial, there were few people who were willing to bring themselves to discuss the details of it anyway. It certainly helped to keep the more controversial conversations off the table for now at least. The downside to this was that I was immediately excluded from almost everything and everyone that had been in my previous life either by embarrassment or disgust. The upside was that I didn’t have to deal with the more unpleasant aspects of human nature; however, much I thought that I might have I deserved it.

Putting away the difficult matters in yet more of my mental boxes I seemed to have avoided the worst of it for now. All I was left to cope with now was the sure knowledge that there was far worse to come. Undoubtedly and inevitably I would be successfully prosecuted for the crimes that I had committed and was inwardly resolved to that fate.

Unfortunately, inside the whole melange, the most difficult thing was going to be the effects that my actions and life choices would ultimately have on other people. This was the greatest regret and held more horror than anything that might happen to me. Having made many difficult choices over the years, I had always been able to manage the fallout as best I could at the time. In most things, I had always tried to minimise the difficulties that I knew that I was creating for everyone else; this time I knew that it would be very different. My little mental boxes would be very welcome and undoubtedly stretched to capacity in the long months to come.

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