Hello this happened to me January of this year. This version (I've tried it several times) is probably still far too long and a tad rambling but to this day it still feels like an episode of The Prisoner.
I think I am at liberty to talk about this now that the felon and driver of the bandit vehicle is safely behind bars having pleaded guilty. Though I am not sure what he pleaded guilty to. The whole thing still feels like a piece of meta-fiction and having spent the last few years delving into the realms of my unconscious creativity this is hardly surprising. Several friends have indeed commented that such a colourful piece of happenstance could only happen to me. I don’t remember the impact itself (normal I am told) but I do remember stopping in a box junction once I heard a siren and saw the familiar flickering blue light in the darkness down the road. I always used to feel somehow useful as I pulled over to let the emergency services pass. This time, however, within seconds of applying the breaks I saw a white transit van heading straight for me through a red light on the wrong side of the road. “It’s okay,” I told myself, “these are highly trained drivers and he will easily avoid you”. In that blink of an eye I felt sure that whatever happened the police would take care of things. Except the van kept coming even as I looked the driver in his emotionless eye. The next thing I remember is thinking oh that was less traumatic that I thought a head on collision with a speeding transit van would be. It was clear that the driver of the van was clearly not part of the emergency services as he leapt out and headed for the nearby park but before I had time to dwell on such things a man was climbing into my car and applying a neck brace to my person. It seems a private ambulance had been at the scene thus lending the scenario an air of my own private episode of casualty as I watched the scene unfold through the windscreen of my now written off Mazda Xedos. The police were right on cue and they seemed to swarm before me on the rain speckled screen. Quite how they did this in spite of not having pursued the van down the wrong side of the road I do not know but they insist that they were not behind him as we collided.
My initial concerns were for my ukulele and acoustic guitar on the back seat of the car that I could not turn round to look at. The private paramedic kept me talking and after half an hour an NHS crew arrived at the scene. Sean seemed to be the man in charge of the NHS team and he kept talking to me in a pleasant cajoling fashion. “If you turn your head a little to the right you’ll see gold coins on the road’ he joshed. Daring to move my neck a little (I had been advised not to move at all) I did indeed see what appeared to be large doubloon style coins glinting on the rain soaked tarmac. He reported minutes later that the vans foot wells were full of them. Together the two crews discussed how best to remove me from the vehicle and after somehow bending the front right side of the car open the four of them lifted me onto a spinal board across the two front seats of the car and out onto a waiting trolley. About now I began to think I’m fine why are they doing this to me? They wheeled me to the waiting public ambulance and placed my instruments in the vicinity. Whilst my vitals were being checked a nice young policeman climbed aboard and read me my rights. Yes he cautioned me. He was also very keen to find out if the fugitive was wearing a high visibility vest. I couldn't remember i said but even then had a faint recollection of the inadmissibility of leading questions. This really was like my own private budget TV drama. I should have known when I set off earlier full of hope for the New Year. I mean when we watch those programs we always know something awful is going to happen right? I think now that the ambulance crew were too shocked to say anything to the questioning police officer but when they didn’t things began to feel positively Kafkaesque. One minute I was on my way home the next I’m a suspect in a gold heist.
An hour after the impact I was eventually asked which hospital I would like to go to and I rather forthrightly suggested King’s as it was nearest my home. To my surprise they agreed and I spent the next half of the night in resuss. Sean the paramedic was like a guardian angel and without him I would have felt positively terrified, as it was my fear took on a gentler upward curve the longer I was kept immobile. My urge to go home almost prevented me from acknowledging that my spine hurt but I did admit that yes the middle of my back hurt a lot. I was swiftly dispatched for x-rays, which took a few goes because “the spine is very long”. “Ooh I thought, “I have a long spine. That’s a bonus” but it turns out everyone has a long spine. As they wheeled me out of the x-ray room the nurse lent over and gently asked me if I felt paralysed? More Kafkaisms I laughed to myself. I should point out that by now I was chattering incessantly retelling the unfolding drama to anyone who appeared when I wasn’t lying by myself for long stretches at a time staring at the modular ceiling above me. The immediate world had taken on a rather narrow field of vision you see. About now the emotionally intelligent paramedic also leant over me and whispered that in his opinion I was going to be all right. Clearly he was breaking protocol and he went onto say that it might take a while but I was not going to be unable to walk forever – or words to that effect. So now cue the bombastic Doctor “So tell me about these pains in your legs” “erm its my back” I replied meekly. He was not happy and swift staccato gruff outbursts ensued to the medics around him. At some point my x-rays were examined and it was noted that there was no acute damage. “Does this mean I can get up?” I enquired. “No” came the reply "you might fall over". Now I can’t remember how but I persuaded the gruff bombast to let me get up to walk unaccompanied to the toilet. So imagine the relief of relieving myself after the relief of discovering that I could in fact walk! I was on a role and persuaded the police constables who had been assigned the duty of waiting to see if I spoke out of turn to drive me home in the early hours of the morning. My wife had not slept since I called from the ambulance at half ten and it was now 4 a.m. I have not slept well since.
But what of the gold coins? Well when the police didn’t get in touch I began to wonder if I had somehow blown the whole thing out of proportion. That in actual fact yes it was a mere traffic incident as they kept telling me in the letters advising that they would be taking no action against me. I have a very kind friend who works in the murder squad and she was very concerned for me. So much so that she arranged for me to give a statement to the police investigating the robbery. I turned up at Kennington police station still expecting my heroes welcome but the officer concerned had been called away. Instead I gave my statement through reinforced glass to another officer. As I was about to leave feeling I had achieved exactly nothing I dared to ask about the gold coins I had imagined on the road. Oh there were two tons of them,” she proudly stated ‘and I should know because I had to log them in”. She even told me the location of the mint they were stolen from which happened to be over the road from a gym in Camberwell where I occasionally take my son to play football. So that explains why the van weighing two tons in itself was probably only able to sail a fixed course into the front of my car and why the impact felt soft in a very heavy kind of way I instantly reasoned. After my complaints I met with the police customer service team and a traffic sergeant who assured me that they had no idea they were chasing a van full of gold coins (the mint made royal wedding medallions) and had they then they wouldn’t have chased it. “But still about the time it hit me you would have called off the chase?” “Yes” came the astonishing reply and I saw a brief crumpling of the customer service police employee. Still there was no apology and I wrote to my local MP Tessa Jowell. Every time I tell the story I feel as if people will think I’m delusional and so there were several email exchanges with her office checking, I presume, that I wasn’t a fantasist. The bottom line was I did have a crime reference number. Then in July nearly seven months after the crash I had an email from a DCI, which included the word “apology”. After months of meeting with police customer services being told that I would be very happy after out meeting this felt like real progress. But the damage was already done. The police had got their man and I was only too pleased to have been of inadvertent service but then they left me in limbo spending days on the phone trying to claim not only for the car (a trifling concern) but for the physical and mental therapy I knew I would need to recover. Oddly I am unable to claim criminal damages because the felon was in a vehicle.
It’s not so much that I want compensation (would you believe I am claiming through the van's insurer?) more that I would like to know that, yes for sooth a mint in Camberwell that mints gold royal wedding coins was robbed and the fully laden bandit vehicle was chased by the police down the wrong side of the road through a red light into the front of your car. Having the police state it that baldly would help me feel I could move on from that particular box junction. Here in my car and all that.