An eight-day police chase across two counties ended peacefully when a suspected canal barge thief was cornered in a canal basin near Wolverhampton. When the emergency call came in last week, police officers ran to their specially-equipped police canal barge with sirens and tracking equipment that has been fitted out for exactly this sort of low-speed chase across the inland waterways of Britain.
The dramatic pursuit captured the nation’s attention when 24-hour TV news channels used helicopters to follow the brightly coloured canal boat ‘Esmeralda’ along the length of the Worcester & Birmingham canal. Police Inspector Harry Graham, head of the thirty-strong pursuit team, blamed an initial delay on the need to get permission from British Waterways to exceed the 4mph speed limit. ‘When we got the necessary clearance, we found our boat would only do 4mph anyway. So we decided on a softly-softly approach and dug in for the long haul.’
As crowds gathered on the towpath to witness the police giving cold pursuit, the leader of the canal barge thieves seemed to be revelling in his notoriety, giving on-lookers a friendly wave, as he took a puff of his pipe and gave a slight nudge on the tiller to avoid a family of ducks up ahead.
But finally, the superior training and tactics of the professionals won out when the fugitive and his wife stopped for lunch at a waterside pub and in a dramatic climax were cut off by a whole squad of police canal barges surrounding the stolen boat. Released from police custody without charge, holidaymaker Derek Aitcheson said: “Me and the missus had no idea we’d taken the wrong barge. We wondered about the helicopters and the boat behind with the blue lights but put it down to some kind of festival.’
Looking tanned and relaxed, Inspector Graham told reporters ‘The successful end to this chase has shown that the investment in these police canal barges was money well spent.’ Unfortunately the press conference had to be cut short as the shock news came in that a pedalo thief was getting away along the beach front at Paignton.
26th June 2008