It must have been in the early 1970s, possibly the winter of 1972 when an extra special case of mistaken identity took place in the suburbs of South Manchester. As I was witness to this particular incident and saw what happened, I will never ever give credence to charges brought against a person accused of a crime and picked out at an identity parade by an acceptable witness to such a crime.
The players in this particularly unfortunate incident were:-
Alan Malpas, my father, in his prime at this time, 54 years old, mild mannered in ladies’ company, surly and unapproachable in male circles, with a sharp temper kept under control but liable to break out unexpectedly in moments of stress, a Conservative councillor for Longsight, in Manchester. married to a Justice of the Peace, deputy chief apparitor of St. Robert’s Church in Longsight, a pillar of the community and a big fish in a small pond, who had a name to look after.
Howard Skelton, a fine upstanding Longsight man who had served his time as a printer and at 6’2″ tall and about 17 stone weight, was not a man to mess with. Captain of East Levenshulme cricket team, he doubled as a very competent opening batsman and wicketkeeper. He decided at about 30 years of age to join the Greater Manchester Police force. He was a man of the streets, feared nobody and these particular traits soon brought him to the attention of his superiors and at this time, having been recently promoted to Sergeant, had taken over the desk at Didsbury Police Station in South Manchester. At 35 years old, he was a man on his way up and liked by everyone who had no reason to fear him.
Paul Malpas, myself, a humble sub-contractor in the civil engineering industry, carrying out drainage works on motorways all over England, returning often to Manchester when the work enabled and joining up with old friends like Howard, to enjoy a couple of pints and also to further his betrothal to Helen Towey, the love of his life. Howard and Paul had a long acquaintance from East Levenshulme Cricket Club and we both enjoyed a few off duty drinks at Longsight Conservative Club.
Kevin Malpas, my younger brother by 16 months, who was another man to fear, 6′ 0″ tall and 16 stone weight, with a nose to prove more than a passing interest in a clenched fist. At one time training to be a missionary priest, he had passed his vocation up when he realized he would have to leave Manchester to carry out his duties. With drink taken, his anger would surface very quickly and his change of personality was not nice to watch. However on more than one occasion Howard had steered him from danger by using a more superior force than Kevin could muster.
Brian Cain, a diminutive taxi-driver, having to work night shifts at his precarious occupation, driving round the wilds of drug and drink laced Manchester, faced with increasing costs he could not control from a supposedly regulated industry which in fact was one out of control, with rogue drivers paying service to a gangster culture that was slowly gaining command of the streets of the town. Brian, an Englishman with Dublin connections, was a man at the end of his tether.
Helen Towey, an unassuming, honest-to-goodness type of girl and the prospective wife of Paul Malpas, hoping shortly to marry her intended in the following March, on St. Patrick’s Day. Helen was a quiet and kind girl whose Mayo parents had come to Manchester 35 years previously to escape the poverty of De Valera’s Ireland of the 1930s and obviously knew how to keep their heads below the parapet.
A.N. Other, a man about town, of lower working class extraction, who, although a good and honest worker during the week, followed the habits of his stock by dressing up on Saturdays and spending the day and night drinking in the many legal and illegal drinking clubs of South Manchester, eventually regaining his doorstep and sleeping off his excesses on the Sunday, penniless until the following Thursday.
Howard Skelton, the desk sergeant at Didsbury Police Station is halfway through his Saturday night shift. It had been a busy one, with a stabbing outside a pub 100 yards from the station, a couple of loons full of something or other who thought they were Bruce Lee, three or four drunks who did not know where they lived and a local whore who had tried to steal a few quid off a customer who she thought was sleeping off his excesses at the local hotel. The six cells were overflowing, Howard had had enough and he was thirsty, he was managing the station and could not get out like the beat bobbies, to enjoy a pint after time in one of the local hostelries.
A stuttering fart of a taxi-driver enters the station, effing and blinding.
Brian Cain. I’ve been shuttling this fellah round Didsbury for half an hour, he is that drunk he does not know where he is, never mind where he wants to go to and I want my fare.
Howard goes out to the taxi and immediately recognizes the drunk as Kevin Malpas and gives him a playful tap on the jaw to waken him.
Howard’s playful taps normally knocked out offenders and this was no exception, the man was now prostrate in the back of the cab. He turned to the surprised driver and told him to follow him back into the station.
Howard. OK taximan, I know this fucker, the best and easiest way to get your money is to take him to this address, 2 Birchfields Road in Longsight. I will ring them now and tell them you are coming. They will pay you. They are alright OK.
Brian. Fuck me, OK then
It was after midnight on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, Paul Malpas and Helen Towey after enjoying a couple of pints and a game of cards in the bar at Longsight Conservative Club, nothing too grand for this serious courting couple who were saving like mad for their forthcoming nuptials. They had decided to call in to see Alan’s wife Margaret and chew the cud for half an hour. The phone rang at this late hour and Alan picked up the phone with some trepidation.
Howard. Is that you, Alan?
Howard. I have that dickhead son of yours outside the station in a taxi, he’s as pissed as arseholes. I am telling the taxi-driver to take him to your house, you pay the driver and knock some kind of sense into that prick son of yours. It is either that or I am locking him up and he will be in front of a special magistrates court in the morning.
Alan. Thanks Howard, send him round and I will deal with him and the driver.
Alan Malpas, his eldest son Paul and his very concerned future wife, Helen Towey are stood on the pavement outside 2 Birchfields Road waiting for the taxi to turn up. Lights approach, a taxi is recognized and Alan puts out his hand for the cab to stop.
Brian. I’ve been told to bring this fellah round to you. Can I have my fare please.
Alan. Hang on a minute while I get this bollocks out
He opens the back door and the Kevin is just coming round from Howard’s playful tap when he gets an humdinger from his father who, I know from painful experience, packs a fair punch. Alan skuldrags Kevin out of the taxi by his legs and drags him to the hedge.
Alan. Sorry about this driver, how much do I owe you? He is my son and I will take care of him now.
Brian. I’ve been driving him around for ages and he could not tell me where he lived. That will be £5 10 shillings please.
Alan. Bloody hell, you must have been driving around all day. Here’s your money now fuck off.
Turning round he gives Kevin’s now supine body a few kicks and attempts to pull him up, Paul observantly exclaims.
Paul. Hang on a minute, that’s not Kevin.
Alan. Course it is Howard said……….
Gathering our thoughts and leaving the drunk lying against the gatepost Alan and Paul, followed by the distressed Helen return to the house to phone up Howard.
Howard. Didsbury Police Station here.
Paul. What the fuck is going on. This taxi pulls up with a drunk in the back, you told us it was Kevin, my dad as given him a few wallops and we find out it is not him.
Howard. Well it was Kevin in the back of the fucking taxi here. You must have signalled the wrong one to stop.
The three witnesses slowly walk back out to the battered victim to apologize for their mistake only to see him staggering off along Birchfields Road, rubbing his jaw with one hand and soothing the pain from the kicks he had received with the other and no doubt ruminating on whether a Saturday night out on the town was worth it. They also wondered what kind of hooch the Desk Sergeant at Didsbury Police Station was on during a very busy Saturday night shift.