Having covered several reports of antisocial behaviour and the blight it is having on local communities, Advertiser reporter Craig Finlay jumped at the chance to spend a Friday night with the police as they tackled the problem.
At last we receive a message from Force Control: a large group of underage youths are reportedly gathered behind Loanhead Leisure Centre. Neil floors the turbo-diesel Ford and we race to the scene.
The van pulls into the car park, and most of the kids scamper across neighbouring playing fields and into the cover of darkness.
We jump out and the Inspector confiscates a bottle of energy drink from a girl who appears unsteady on her feet. He offers me a whiff and, unsurprisingly, the contents reek of booze. Alcohol, or rather the misuse of it, will play a significant part in the evening’s proceedings...
No sooner have we climbed back into the van when it all kicks off.
Force Control on the radio again: gangs from Gorebridge and Mayfield are involved in a fight at Kippielaw, and reports suggest that various weapons are being used.
I feel a pang of adrenaline as the Ford finds an extra gear. It’s moving surprisingly fast for an old van, and it occurs that now might be a good time to fasten my seatbelt.
Scouring the Kippielaw area for signs of trouble, we receive another report from the call centre – this time to say that a man has been stabbed and is bleeding to death in Gorebridge. I’m about to ask Neil a question when we spot the MCAT (Midlothian Community Action Team) talking to a young lad at the side of the road. MCAT’s main function is to target antisocial behaviour, including youth problems and drug misuse.
We pull over as the boy gives the team – Sergeant Colin McDonald and police constables Keith Anderson and Ian McCandlish – an innocent explanation as to why he was running: he was being chased, he says. I notice a hockey stick and baseball bat at the side of the road. He doesn’t seem the sporty type, yet it’s impossible to determine whether he’s telling the truth.
Detained in the back of the MCAT van, an older lad is mouthing off to the officers, and this continues all the way to his house, where a less-than-impressed mum gives him the hairdyer treatment.
The stabbing, I later discover, was a hoax call from a mobile phone. It’s likely, I’m told, that troublemakers invented the story as a ruse to pull police resources away from the site of the pre-planned fight.
Back on the road, we’re called to the Buccleuch pub in central Dalkeith, where a man, obviously the worse for wear, has been giving grief to bar staff and refusing to leave the premises. Wisely, he changes tack when the strong arm of the law arrives.
Our next call is to a nearby flat, where a man has been beaten up inside. I notice fresh blood on the stairs leading up to the property, and again feel a slight rush of adrenaline. My respect for the officers seems to grow with every step as I come to a glaringly obvious realisation: they really do put themselves in the line of fire every time they enter the unknown.
Once inside, it becomes evident that there has been a drink-fuelled falling out. Feeling more than a bit self-conscious in my plain clothes, I watch as Colin and his men separate the various witnesses and begin to take statements. Three witnesses give varying descriptions of what the alleged attacker was wearing. Despite the conflicting statements, a 28-year-old man is later traced and arrested for the assault.
The remainder of my shift involves visiting various addresses to check that bail curfew orders are being adhered to. Along the way, we encounter groups of youths hanging around local estates, and the officers occasionally stop for a chat.
It was an averagely busy night by MCAT standards, but still an eye-opener for me. The exciting and varied work seems appealing, but I don’t envy the task of dealing with those who are intoxicated and unpredictable. Like most jobs, being a member of MCAT will have its mundane moments. However, violence, or at least the threat of it, is never too far away.