Gatwick Airport

1971: Gatwick Airport: Ray Harlow: When I was posted to Horley in the then Reigate Division in 1971, Gatwick Airport was within the Surrey Constabulary policing area although the airport itself was policed by the British Airports Authority police force.

The personnel were made up largely from serving police officers from other forces that had resigned and joined the BAA police. The uniforms they wore were almost identical to those worn by ours the helmets having a lookalike badge. The general public would have known no difference. However, their powers were confined to the airport areas and they had no Home Office approved detention cells.

Their chief constable as far as I recall was not answerable to the Home Secretary. Therefore, when any incident occurred which may have required the attendance of an armed police officer, an approved Surrey marksman was requested. A small number of such officers were appointed within Reigate Division.

When offenders were arrested by BAA police personnel they were brought to Horley Police Station for the duty sergeant to process. This obviously required knowledge by this sergeant of the many bye-laws appertaining to the airport and these laws were known as the "breathing act".

One offence which was commonly used was that of "being found on the airport". No other proviso, just being there. Like the hundreds of passengers for instance! Very easy to prove and useful for getting rid of problem visitors like the persons on weekends who visited from around Surrey and Sussex just to have a drink in the bars and shop on the non-air side.

Persons brought to Horley police station were charged, or otherwise, and the BAA officer signed the charge sheet. In those times the offenders attended Dorking Magistrates Court where magistrates were familiar in dealing with these people.

Referring to the bars at the terminal building (there was only one terminal then) these were subject to the Licensing Act and this licence again was issued by the Dorking Justices at the annual Brewster Sessions. Like most police stations in Surrey a nominated sergeant and one other usually, did pub visits and I had the job at one time of visiting the bars at Gatwick including the air-side bars. I usually took a BAA uniformed officer with me as a matter of courtesy.

Liaison with the BAA police staff was cordial and it was refreshing change to go there. At one stage in the l970s students worldwide started to hijack aircraft and this brought into practice at Gatwick the searching of passengers after checking in and on going to their departure gates. Surrey police officers were involved and supervised the searches and also carried them out in the initial stages with BAA police personnel before contract security employees were hired by the BAA.

The Surrey personnel were headed by a uniform inspector, a sergeant and around six constables, men and women. The inspector and sergeant were armed with .38 S & W revolvers having had training at Pirbright refresher courses attended by Inspector Crawford. All I knew were ex-servicemen and already authorised in the force to carry firearms.

We operated out of the VIP lounge in the terminal and were looked after well. There were two twelve hour shifts, the night shift being quiet as the last flight left around midnight at the latest, night flights being banned. I worked mostly with Inspector Watts, one of the nicest men you could find. He had been RAF aircrew during World War Two.

Later, major incident exercises were held in the area involving both police and service personnel. These usually lasted twenty four hours. I was selected with one or two others, John Molyneux was one, to join the helicopter patrols which were based in the airfield. Our function was to direct the pilots to a scene of an incident using our local knowledge of the area and 2.5 inch OS Maps. One soon got used to reading these maps at breakneck speed!

The helicopters were small Gazelle machines which came from, I think, Aldershot area and were piloted by army NCOs. We sat in the co-pilot seat. The other helicopters were larger troop carrying machines usually piloted by RAF officers from Odiham. The Surrey sergeants performed the same function in these machines.

We soon found our police uniforms totally unsuitable - the headphones and other cables we had to wear soon became entangled with our whistles and chains! We requested navy blue sweaters but this fell on deaf ears and I managed to obtain a couple through St. David's Fire HQ. We did report the shortcomings we had discovered but probably due to cost and the uncertainty of the operations nothing was forthcoming.

These exercises were probably expensive to operate and involved many personnel both from divisions and headquarters departments. I recall some army personnel lying in ditches for hours on end around the Norwood Hill and Charlwood areas. All this came to an end in 1974 the year of the boundary changes and Local Government Act.

It was proposed that Horley and Charlwood be put into Sussex along with Gatwick Airport. Gatwick was obviously growing fast and the Surrey Constabulary was thought to be too small a force to police it. The combined Sussex police force was obviously the best option, adjoined to Gatwick as it was by Crawley. Late in 1973 it was decided that one sergeant and a small number of PCs would be transferred to Sussex from Horley.

Plans were implemented and communications such as teleprinter were earmarked to be connected to the Lewes network. Those living in police houses would remain and the houses transferred to Sussex. The usual "transfer rights" would be honoured. I was earmarked to go to Sussex having volunteered.

At this time there was uproar amongst many of the populace especially from the well off residents of Charlwood who objected to "moving" to Crawley! There was a campaign launched named "Keep Horley and Charlwood in Surrey" and a Bill was presented to Parliament to this effect. Lo and behold, the day that Prime Minister Edward Heath was defeated as the result of the industrial unrest, the last piece of legislation passed by parliament before it was prorogued was the Horley and Charlwood Bill.

About turn the police force arrangements. I was regarded by the man in the big house as being disloyal. You cannot win! Horley and Charlwood on 1st April, 1974 entered the Borough of Reigate administratively.

Gatwick Airport however was to go to Sussex and policed by them. The BAA police force was eventually disbanded. They were never armed of course as they were not answerable to the Home Secretary. The decision to place Gatwick Airport into the Sussex Police Force I think was a blow to the prestige of the Surrey Constabulary.

I have written the facts as I recall them having no notes to refer to.

Heads of governments, royalty and other VIPs went to and fro through Gatwick at various times and all road bridges over the railway line from Gatwick Airport to Victoria station in London were manned by police for obvious reasons. The police representative at the airport waiting to shake hands with these VIPs was of course by right the chief constable of the BAA police. Our man used to attend of course but I remember on one occasion when the Emperor of Japan visited he was frozen out. His mood when he returned to Horley Police station will live with me forever!

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