Leeds nostalgia: Stephen pens an ‘honest’ Copper’s Tale

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STEPHEN Place worked on some of the biggest police cases in Leeds during his 20 years on the force - some were horrific, others more humorous.

Now, the retired police constable has penned two memoirs of his time on the force and he describes it as “an honest look at policing.”

But he only came to write the books after he was injured in a car accident, which left him out of action for several weeks.

The books, Dodge City: A Copper’s Tale and Donkey Walloper: A Copper’s Tale Part II, give an insight into what policing was like in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Speaking to Times Past about the books, Mr Place, 53, who recently retired from his business in buying, selling and training horses for dressage and other events, said: “The books are a true telling of policing in Leeds and Bradford, through my eyes as a young man, from when I first joined to when I left.

“I’ve tried to include everything, from the really quite moving, serious side of things, like murders and riots to the more humorous.

“I happened to have been in the police force at a time when there were some pretty major cases going on.”

He’s talking about the like of the Yorkshire Ripper, the Chapeltown Riots, which took place in the 1980s and the Bradford City football fire in May 1985, which left more than 50 people dead.

“I also policed major gigs in Roundhay Park, so the likes of Madonna, Genesis, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen.

“One of the stories in the book is about the second time Genesis played Roundhay Park. I was with the mounted police at the time and there were some 300 Leeds football fans who were determined to get into the concert for free. We spend a good few hours chasing them around the park and finally managed to corner them near the lake and literally pushed them in. After that, they gave up and went home.”

Other of his memories are more serious. He was on duty the day of the Bradford City football fire.

He recalled: “Things like that affect the whole city and they last a long time. I was on duty in the ground when the fire broke out. I was pulling dead bodies out and had people bursting into flames right in front of me. It’s sometimes difficult to put things like that out of your mind, because it affects everyone for months and months afterward.”

Some of his memories will no doubt raise a few eyebrows, among them the so-called ‘initiation ceremonies’ which were (and possibly still are) organised for new police recruits.

“It happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to lots of others. When I joined, I remember them telling me I had to go out and collect a satellite which had fallen from the sky. They got me dressed up in all this silly protective gear and sent me out to get this thing and when I got back to the station, I realised then it was the inside of an old television but they were all there with cameras.

“Another thing which sometimes happens is new recruits will be send into a dark building and they will find in there a body hanging from a beam - when they report this, the radio dispatcher will ask them to touch the body to check if it is still alive... I was that body on many occasions and what will happen is, as they put their hand out to check, I would grab theirs. The reactions to this were interesting.”

He went on: “I’ve tried to make the books honest but also to find humour in there. I wrote the second book because I couldn’t fit everything in the first and I was advised to split them.

“The term ‘donkey walloper’ is just a silly nickname given to the mounted section.”

Stephen, who has worked with horses since he was eight, took easily to the mounted police and eventually became a ‘remount’ trainer, training new horses.

He added: “I had a horse called Ambassador, which was scared of nothing else except skips. If you were riding along and you saw a skip at the side of the road, you would have to find another way round.

“Another horse we used to show and which won police horse of the year, it was fearless, you could fire a gun under its belly and it wouldn’t flinch but if it ever caught sight of a black bin liner, it was scared out of its wits. It used to be bin collection day on Wednesday up around Temple Newsam, which meant we didn’t really go out that day.”

Both books are available to buy now online.

The Town Hall and Market Square, Wetherby.

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