50 years on the beat: Mick Rainbird on his half century with Suffolk police

Mick Rainbird has spent more than 50 years at the sharp end of policing in Suffolk. Michael Steward met him to discuss his career, how times have changed for the boys in blue and the day he almost got the sack.

"I suppose to a certain extent, I'm institutionalized." After 53 years with Suffolk police, it's a comment you might expect from Mick Rainbird.

The 71-year-old joined Suffolk Constabulary's cadets in 1966, before becoming a fully-fledged police constable two years later.

He has been treading the thin blue line ever since and currently serves on the major investigation team as an enquiry officer dealing with murders, rapes, blackmail and kidnapping.

"Even now, at my age, I still get the adrenaline rush," he tells me at Suffolk police's headquarters at Martlesham. "I think that's what keeps you going, along with the camaraderie you get within the teams. You work hard, but you still have a laugh and a joke."

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The hungry young copper joined CID in 1974 and after six years, found himself on the drug squad. A particular run-in with an out-of-county farmer sticks in his mind.

"We had an importation of cannabis and some cocaine and that started in London," he recalls. "We followed them all the way down to the south coast.

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"We plotted up in a field and a farmer came out with his 12-bore [shotgun] and stuck it through our window at two o'clock in the morning.

"He said, 'What you doing here?'. We told him we were police officers and he asked to see identification. When I showed him my Suffolk ID - he said, 'What are you doing down here?' But eventually, we managed to catch them. They were all sentenced to a minimum of 10 years."

So how does he believe policing has changed over the past half-century?

"The job hasn't changed," he says. "The definition of a constable - a citizen locally appointed for the protection of life and property, and prosecution of offenders, keeping the Queen's peace - that is the basis, although they give it fancy words now. That is what the lads and lasses try to do but they're firefighting all the while.

"So the job hasn't changed, but the way we do it has changed. We were out on the beat talking to people, but we did have the time and there were enough of us. There would be virtually 24 officers on a shift.

"Through no fault of the actual police service itself, they've been stripped of all that they can have.

"It hurts me when I hear people saying, 'You can never get a police officer when you need one and they're not interested in that'. They can only go by what they're told to do, and the number of them that can do it."

Good turn pays dividends

He recalls one occasion when an earlier "good turn" on the beat would prove valuable in solving a case.

"When I was CID at Ipswich, I was investigating a burglary at a sports club and interviewing people around there," he says.

"This chap came up to me and said, 'I'll tell you who did it'. Then he said, 'You don't know who I am do you? You were a uniform copper in Rope Walk one day and you stopped me and I had a bald tyre. You sent me off to get it changed and told me to come and see you later on when I got it changed and you wouldn't book me. You did me a good turn, now I'll do you one'.

His lengthy police career nearly came to an abrupt end before it had really begun however after an amusing case of mistaken identity.

"I was a uniform officer at Ipswich, at Civic Drive, and in our report room they had what was a breakfast bar where you used to go in and write your reports. You had some cabinets at the end that had all your papers and everything you needed.

"On nights you weren't allowed to go in and do any paperwork until after about three or four o'clock in the morning.

"So this was about five o'clock in the morning and I turned round to see my mate, or who I thought was my mate, bending down at the cabinet.

"So I went up to him and booted him up the backside. I turned round and when I looked back, there was the duty inspector sprawled out on the floor.

"I thought 'Oh Rainbird, you've done it now". I said, 'I'm so sorry sir, I thought it was Colin Woods'.

"Anyway, I'm writing my report with trepidation about 40 minutes later and Colin Woods walks in and says, 'What did you do to the inspector?' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'He's just come up to me in the corridor and booted me up the backside and said, 'That's from Mick Rainbird'."

So does the keen Ipswich Town fan, a Star of Suffolk nominee this year, have any plans to hang up his badge anytime soon?

"People keep saying 'Why don't you retire?' and 'Why don't you go on holiday?'." he says. "I always say 'I still go on holiday' and 'I can still use my spare time'. Things change in every occupation, every walk of life, but I'm still happy to come to work."

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