- Jan 20, 2007
Apologies if it's already been posted, but Ron's article on the echo website makes for interesting reading...
The day my family home was raided by the police
THE day, two weeks ago, March 1, is likely to remain in the memory of my family and me for a very long time.
The questions "Why? What happened?" continue to be asked by friends and acquaintances.
It was a Thursday morning, with the usual activities of breakfast and preparing for school.
At 7am, while much of the country was beginning to stir, the unusually rapid crunching of wheels over the shingle drive received the attention of us all.
At first glance I saw a white van and then another in tandem.
There was no signwriting on the vehicles, although my first thoughts centred on contractors.
I did not recall who we might be expecting, particularly at this early hour.
I then saw a car follow up the driveway.
At this point uniformed police were clambering out of the vans.
I immediately went to the door to be confronted by a plain clothed officer, brandishing a warrant card and rattling off, in that split second, some indecipherable standard legalese.
I gathered they were from Gloucester and said they wished to look for documents in relation to money laundering and corruption. They did not say what our connection was, or who was being investigated.
Oddly, and without scrutinising their credentials, we welcomed the plain clothed officer and his men into our house, directing them to the study and dining room where I had been working on various papers the previous evening.
At that moment I had no idea, or indeed expectation, of the degree of detail they would employ in searching the property. It was unbelievable.
This was a surreal moment, bewildering in the extreme. They volunteered absolutely nothing.
There was an air of co-operation on our part - almost friendliness.
Our sons looked equally confused but we decided the daily routine must continue.
We all have responsibilities which included getting our boys to school.
We decided my wife, Julie, should drive the boys while I remained to assist my new found friends.
After all, we welcomed them into our home at the crack of dawn and gave them the run of the place thereafter - a greeting generally only reserved for family and close friends.
I have to say our visitors, while dressed in what looked remarkably like riot gear, were courteous and, I believe, had some understanding of our bewilderment.
Their trousers were tucked in clodhopper boots, maybe fake bullet proof vests (I didn't test the theory) plus truncheon weapons at the ready. What for, I do not know.
The rest of the morning I sought to conduct my daily activities over the telephone, albeit severely distracted.
Julie was similarly constrained following her return from the school run.
Ordinarily I am sure Julie would have offered our guests tea or coffee, but on this occasion I doubt we had enough cups or mugs to go around.
In any event these people were very well prepared with their own refreshments.
The only ingredient we needed to supply was hot water creating an instant mix of tea, coffee or hot chocolate - very self sufficient. Clearly they were here for the long haul.
I had twigged early on the Gloucester connection.
My property group has had a parcel of land - some 40 acres - in Cheltenham for almost 11 years.
While probably 99 per cent of our representations are made to officers of the council via our planning consultants, on occasions we write directly to councillors and one such contact had been a councillor Shaun Connors in August 2004.
My wife and I learnt from listening to the radio during the course of the morning that a 46-year-old man in Gloucester had been arrested.
Being chairman of a football club it is not possible to be a shrinking violet and like it or not the position carries a high profile.
Those people who know me well probably recognise I do not court publicity, but by necessity represent the club's interests in promoting its future.
Sometimes the ingredients of a high profile and a football club can work against the interest one is trying to advance and protect.
As a result, it is never long before a conversation gravitates towards football.
I love it and could spend more time, if I did not have a living to make, talking about it.
Councillor Connors had inquired whether he and two of his children could attend Cheltenham Town v Southend United - Cheltenham being his home Club.
He was, he told us, involved with a local football team.
I am sure some of those reading this will think with some cynicism this was an act of persuasion, the lobbying of a local councillor to help a planning application.
I understand people are quick to point the finger, some wishing always to think the worst - there is no smoke without fire etc.
When does lobbying mean getting too close to someone - is lunching (which never happened) a step too far?
Is a bottle of wine at Christmas (which also never happened) or sponsorship to become a crime?
If I am asked the question: Did I want the ear of this councillor? The answer is yes and no.
I would want anyone who is prepared to listen and understand the merits of anything with which I am involved. To that extent the answer must be yes.
Equally the answer is no, as councillor Connors was never - and was never going to be - in a position where he could make a difference.
In my view he is a good person with sincere intent, albeit not always adopting the most diplomatic methodology.
Clearly the police think differently, having arrested him on March 1.
I perceive he is a good family man with honest characteristics.
So, is sponsorship taboo - are philanthropic gestures not allowed? Shall we cancel Christmas?
In time all of these questions and more will be answered, when we learn a little more about the police investigation.
In the meantime the boots, the vests, the truncheons coupled with the sinister demeanour prevails.
A man's home is not really his castle.
Intruders rule, violation of privacy and public speculation ensue - and for what?
Maybe I am missing the link. Maybe this is something and nothing. When one considers the resources employed in this exercise, and if this was judged on my proximity to Mr Connors, one does have to wonder whether such personnel could not be better deployed in fighting better causes - or at least conduct their inquiries in a less intrusive, covert manner.
The fact is this experience could happen to any of us.
The memories of March 1 will remain with us and are likely to be replicated with other bewildered families until the authorities find a better way.