From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 10 – How we can develop ‘the love of the truth’ and the character quality , and habit, of truthfulness?
Refusing to tell lies can make you very unpopular. I vividly remember my first day on patrol as a police constable in November 1983. I was put with my designated ‘tutor constable’, whose task was to teach me the practicalities of how to do the job. He had to accompany me all the time for my first 10 weeks in the police. As we sat in the police car he said to me at the start of my first day: “Let’s get one thing straight – whatever I write in my pocket book, that’s what you will write in yours.”
I knew immediately what he meant, and that I needed to take a firm stand, there and then. Basically, he was saying that no matter what I saw or heard, my evidence would have to be whatever he said it was. He was insisting that I did not contradict him or write anything different. I replied, as politely and deferentially as I could, that I would be happy to be guided by him as to how to write up my evidence, so long as it was all true.
When he heard that last point he became furious. He went back to the police station at lunch time and began to spread the news to the entire station, of over 100 officers, that I was a menace and that I was not safe to be with! He told people that I could get them into trouble because I would just write down whatever I saw and heard. He believed I could even get people the sack, for revealing that they were doing wrong, breaking rules, or telling lies.
A large proportion of the station then ‘sent me to Coventry’, or it seemed so to me. Very few people spoke to me for months and most were wary of going on patrol with me. It was a very painful time indeed. It’s one thing to look back on it all now, but it was agonising at the time, especially as I was so young and inexperienced. But I’m not sure what else I could have done. I had to make a stand, or my integrity would have been compromised.
If I had buckled to the pressure I would soon have ended up writing something false in my pocket book. And it wouldn’t have ended there. I would then have had to copy that false evidence from my pocket book into witness statements and reports for senior officers to look at. I would then have had to sign those to certify they were true. I just couldn’t have done it, and I knew that.
Even worse, I would, eventually, have ended up in a Court, having to testify on oath, in front of Judges, Magistrates and juries, that what I had written in my statement and my pocket book was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I would then have had to stick to that false or incomplete story and look the judge and jury in the eye when cross examined about it. I knew I just wouldn’t be able to go through with any of that, even if I had wanted to.
I would never have had a single night’s sleep during my years in the police if I’d allowed myself to be compromised in those ways. Also, my personal witness as a Christian would have been ruined. How could I ever look another officer in the eye and tell him what the Christian gospel is if both he and I knew that I was a liar? My testimony as a Christian would have become worthless. That was how I saw it, and I think I was right to see it that way.
Though He allowed me to suffer for a while, God later honoured me for the stand that I took. He also had pity on my sad plight and solved it all for me. Four months later the Coal Miners’ strike began, in March 1984. I suddenly found that I was sent out in carrier vans, every day, for very long shifts on the miners’ picket lines. I had to spend 10 or 12 hours a day with 6-12 other officers cooped up in a van.
And, because we were doing a lot of overtime, I got to spend sustained periods of time with officers from other shifts too, i.e. the ones who had heard bad reports about me, but had never really met me. It put an end to my enforced isolation. They were all forced to get to know me and, as they did, their wariness of me diminished and then disappeared. In the end, I was fully accepted by all of them. However, I had to suffer for four months beforehand, due to the stand I had taken.
Another much smaller problem came up a year or so later, when a group of us were sent in a carrier van to police a football match. We got back from it at a certain time, say 6.30pm. However, the Sergeant told us all to write in our pocket books that we had got back later, at about 7.00pm, so as to claim an extra 30 minutes worth of overtime. That would have been OK if we could have openly said that we actually got back at 6.30pm, but that we were being awarded that extra time as a bonus. I’d have been happy to do that, provided it could be done legitimately and openly. But, that was not what the Sergeant meant.
So I announced, in front of the whole carrier van of police officers, that I was going to write down that I had got back at 6.30pm. That meant they all had to do the same, even the sergeant. They had no choice. They all therefore lost the extra 30 minutes overtime pay. As you might imagine, that went down badly, but nothing like as badly as the first time I took a principled stand. They must have been getting used to me by then, because nothing came of it.
I found after that that I had fewer problems. I suspect that, in part, that was because some officers modified their behaviour whenever they were with me. Therefore, there was nothing improper for me to see or write about. All our evidence was true. That, in itself, shows something important. The clear and resolute stand that I took saved me, in the end, from witnessing all sorts of wrong things that would otherwise have happened in front of me. It modified other officers’ conduct. So, it worked to my advantage and, I believe, to the advantage of the police force and the public.