Stephen Beardsley has the handshake of a bouncer and the CV of a mercenary. He served in a tank crew in the first Gulf War, fought off Kalashnikov-toting Somali pirates as they raided transporter ships in the Indian Ocean, and was dubbed “Big Steve” by tabloid paps as a bodyguard for Wonderbra model Sophie Anderton.
Now, he’s bringing that experience to the mean streets of Frinton-on-Sea, forming a private police force to protect the terrified residents in a seaside town that the regular police have virtually left at the mercy of crime.
Before Steve and his private security team turned up there was only the thinnest of blue lines protecting Frinton. With police cuts taking their toll, the town’s nearest police station is set to close. Frintonians are not taking any chances on the tsunami of criminality that could hypothetically hit at any moment. Araura Global Solutions (AGS) is stepping into the vacuum.
It may be a sensible decision under budgetary stress for the police not to concentrate resources on an area with as little crime as Frinton. In September of this year there were only 34 reported crimes, while nearby Clacton witnessed nearly ten times that number. But the relative absence of crime hasn’t stopped a few hundred of Frinton’s residents paying AGS £2 a week to patrol the neighbourhood in their battenberg 4x4s.
Steve in his office
When I visited Steve to join one of his nightly patrols, he was sure to bat off suggestions that he runs an unaccountable racket of hired vigilantes. “There’s only one law out there and that’s the police,” he said, adding that the cuts to the UK’s police forces are “tragic”.
He said he opts for a calm, consensual policing style – maintaining a preventative presence and talking sense into trouble makers rather than beating it into them. “If you go in there thinking you’re Charlie Big Bananas, you’re in for a world of shit,” he told me. As such, “it can be pretty boring”, he admitted. Really? So not like The Bill then? “It’s more like Last of the Summer Wine.”
AGS are hoping to get accredited by the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, which will mean the Home Office granting them some pseudo-police powers like confiscating fags from kids or taking the name and address of someone acting in an anti-social manner. For now, they’re limited to citizen’s arrests and trying to look as much like real cops as possible.
Many communities would be delighted to see the back of the police – the criminal community, for one. But also young people from ethnic minorities communities sick of stop and searches; young people who like congregating in public spaces; the friends and families of over 1,500 people who have died in police custody since 1990; protesters who don’t like being hospitalised; or just people who don’t like getting beaten up.
So what kind of community would be so horrified by the absence of police that they would pay to bolster them with their own private A-Team?
On the way to Steve’s office, a taxi driver had offered a clue: “Frinton? It’s OK if you don’t mind walking around with your nose in the air. If you’re not from Frinton, they think you’re a different class.” He then told me a story about a driver who got pulled over by the police without insurance. Apparently her response was, “I’m a Frintonian” and that said she never left the area anyway, so why bother with insurance? “They think they’re above the law.”