A Policeman’s Lot 2….The Case of the Lethal Piano Accordion

The Case of the Lethal Piano Accordion

If you read my first post in the Policeman’s Lot blog you will know that after completing my basic training in the Metropolitan Police in 1973, I was posted to West End Central police station on ‘C’ Division. A very busy police station but one that only covered a very small geographical area….The two areas known as Mayfair and Soho…..Because of its small size, these two areas were covered by 12 foot patrols (or Beats) one to six in Mayfair and seven to twelve in Soho…..Because of its small size and the nature of the streets in the West End the roads and streets would frequently get clogged with traffic….Now traffic congestion is not usually seen a a positive thing (particularly by motorists stuck in crowded streets)….But it did mean that there were very few serious traffic accidents in the West End and by serious I mean accidents that involved fatality or serious injury….As a general rule, speed is a major contributor to the seriousness of a traffic accident….If you are involved in a road traffic accident (RTA), the your slower the speed at the point of impact, the greater your chance of escaping without serious injury…..And it therefore stands to reason that it is almost impossible to become a fatal casualty when the traffic is at a complete standstill…..You will notice that I use the term ALMOST impossible…….

Road traffic accidents usually have contributory factors, speed is the main one….The proximity of ‘roadside furniture’ can also be a factor, as can weather conditions….Piano accordions however rarely feature in the Top Ten causes of road traffic fatalities…..That was about to change!

On this particular day I was posted to Early Turn (7am to 3pm) on a Mayfair beat.

At about midday I was called by the station to investigate serious traffic congestion on my beat and I swiftly discovered that the cause of the disruption was a faulty set of traffic lights…..There was only one thing for me to do….I had to stand at the junction and start waving my hands around and try to clear the congestion….This did not take too long but it quickly became apparent that if I left the junction, the traffic would immediately clog up once again….It looked like I was going to be stuck there for the rest of the shift…..Unless I could find a more pressing reason to abandon my junction…..Suddenly, I heard the sound of rapidly approaching sirens and looking behind me I could see the blue lights of an ambulance, immediately followed by a fire engine….Of course I stopped the other traffic and waved the emergency vehicles on their way and waited for the sirens to fade into the distance…..But they didn’t….Instead, both vehicles disappeared around a corner and switched off their sirens almost immediately…..Yet another fire engine came into view shortly after and once around the corner, it too switched off its siren…..Whatever the ‘Emergency’ was it was plainly very close by!

I contacted the station via my personal radio and asked if they had any details about what might be happening but the Communications Officer, could offer no information at all….I suggested that I should leave my junction to investigate further….But the Comms Officer (A very wise and experienced Scottish officer known to all as “Jock”) offered these sage words of advice. “If the emergency crews require police assistance, they will call and ask for it….If I was you, Laddie….I’d stay where you are!”…..Wise words indeed…..And obviously, I had no intention of heeding them!

I informed Jock that “I’ve just been told by a member of the public that something is happening nearby….and I think I’d better go and investigate!”

Jock replied “Aye? Well, on your own head be it!”…..I left my post and headed after the ambulance and the Fire Engine!

When I reached South Molton Street I could see an Ambulance heading away from the scene, followed by a one of the fire appliances….Neither had their blue lights switched on….The second fire engine had also switched off its blue lights and as I approached the fire fighters began to clamber back on board…..I spoke to the officer in charge and asked him what had happened. “Oh, It turns out to be a false alarm” he said, “We were called out to a man trapped under that builders skip….But when we arrived it turns out that he had not been trapped at all….It seems he was in some sort of RTA close to the skip and he fell over and banged his head…..But he was never trapped….And he seemed fine when we arrived….In fact he didn’t want to go to hospital…..But the ambulance crew persuaded him to get checked over.”

I thanked the fire chief…..But did not relish returning to my non functioning junction. “You said he was in an accident and had a head injury?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“In that case”, I said “I must complete a personal injury RTA report. Do you have his details!”

“Yes, of course.”

As I was about to leave he said….”It was probably the piano accordion that caused it!”

I said “What piano accordion?”

“The piano accordion he was playing when he fell over over….You see, the traffic was at a standstill….He was standing by the skip playing his accordion….There was a box van trying to get past the skip….It seems that the wheel arch of the van rode over the edge of the skip…..and when the weight of the van caused the wheel arch to buckle….The van lurched forward and the body of the box van hit the skip….Not hard….but just enough to shift it about six inches….The skip hit the casualty and knocked him off balance…..And as he fell….the weight of the piano accordion caused his head to hit the ground with extra force….causing the little gash on his head.

I rapidly jotted down the casualties details and noted the probable cause of the accident in the ‘How Accident Happened’ section and trotted off merrily to the police station….In the case of an RTA where personal injury occurs, a police report is required….Back at the police station, clutching my report book, I informed Jock that the incident for which I left my junction would be a personal injury RTA report completed by myself and then headed to the canteen to sip a cup of coffee while I completed my simple report…..Which I completed right on booking off time!

I headed down to the station office to obtain the required Station Officers signature on my report…..He looked it through….”Before you go off duty, just ring the Casualty Dept. at the Middlesex Hospital to find out how he is.”

I found a phone….rang the Casualty Dept. And asked the duty Sister if my casualty had been discharged yet?…..She returned to the phone a minute or so later…. “Is this the RTA casualty from South Molton Street?”

“Yes”

“The one with the piano accordion?”

“Yes, that’s our man!”

“He’s dead!”

“Pardon?”

“I said he’s dead, he passed away while he was being examined….We attempted to resuscitate him but it didn’t work…..He probably had a blood clot as a result of the injury….And probably the piano accordion didn’t help much, I suppose….But he’s definitely dead.”

“Oh.”

“Sarge the Casualty Dept say he’s dead….He collapsed in the hospital.”

At that moment the Chief Inspector appeared in the front office. He was a large unpleasant, bully who was disliked by just about everybody. He usually made it clear that he disliked me as much as I disliked him….He rather sneered at what he considered my obvious incompetence and ordered that photographic branch should attend the scene to photograph the skip and local area…..He then ordered me to go back to the scene and make sure that nobody removed the skip before the scene had been fully recorded…..It was some considerable time later when I finally got off duty.

The next day, I was not posted to a beat….Instead I would be dealing with the outfall from my ‘Quick personal injury RTA’…. Every time I walked past Jock he would smirk and ask me if I had chosen to ignore any more sound advice recently”

My inspector called me into his office and told me what needed doing….”Is this your first dead body?”

“Yes sir.”

“OK, we have to establish a continuity of evidence….In other words we have to show that the body that will be autopsied tomorrow is the same body that was pronounced dead at the hospital, which was the casualty at the scene of the accident….Do you understand?”

“Yes, but how?”

You will go to the Middlesex Hosp. now and meet the ambulance crew that took him to hospital…..They will identify the body to you. You will then see the doctor in the Casualty Dept who pronounced life extinct….He will also identify the body to you. You will then go to the Westminster Mortuary at Horseferry Road tomorrow and you will identify the body to the Coroners Officer….Have you got that?”

“Yes, Sir” And off I went to get the identifications sorted out.

The next day I presented myself at Westminster mortuary and was told to wait outside the autopsy room and told that the pathologist would call me in before he started the autopsy….About an hour later I was still sitting there when the Coroner’s Officer spotted me….”Are you still here?”

“Er…Yes”

“Haven’t they called you in yet?”

“No.”

“Oh….Wait a second”

A few seconds later the pathologist appeared. “Terribly sorry Officer, I completely forgot about you….It’s been a busy day…..This is your man….Can you identify him?”

Unfortunately the corpse I was looking at appeared not to have a face….”Erm not really.”

The pathologist suddenly realised and pulled his face back into the approximate position where it should be….and it was sufficient for me to identify the body and provide the required continuity of evidence….I then left the mortuary as quickly as possible to gasp in some fresh air.

My final part in this little drama played out some time later when I attended the Inquest at Westminster Coroner’s Court…..There the sad story was explained as to how a piano accordion contributed to the death of its owner in a road traffic accident where the traffic in the street was almost completely stationary….The verdict was “Accidental Death” and the cause of death due to a blood clot on the brain caused by the blow received when he fell.

The saddest part of the story came right at the end….When the case was concluded and the man’s family were ready to leave….The man’s property was handed back to his next of kin…..There was little or no grief shown by the family and suddenly a loud and highly vocal dispute broke out between some of the male family members as they left the court building arguing about who should inherit the piano accordion!

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