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Stressed and over-stretched police unable to solve crimes, report finds. It was nearly midnight, and on a cold, dark moonless night in , me and my mate were crouching by a car. The car was parked on a bombed peck which was full of various different vehicles, and this bombed peck was at the bottom of Brass Street and Newtown Row in Aston. The reason we were there was because we were siphoning out the petrol from the car's tank, and why we needed that petrol was to get to work roof tiling the next day.

It was almost pitch black, the only light coming from a distant streetlight in Newtown Row. We crouched there listening to the petrol dribble through the rubber tube into the 5-gallon tank. Suddenly my mate stiffened, grabbed my arm, and said, 'Sshh.

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We immediately did two things: first we dropped down on the rough ground and slid under two adjacent cars, and secondly, we froze like statues. In the darkness and cold, our scared, panting breath started to condense into giveaway clouds. We could hear both the ticking of the bike gears and the tinkling of the petrol which, with the combination of adrenalin and fear, was beginning to sound more and more like Niagara Falls.

We lay there silently. The bottom halves of the bike's wheels slowly came into view as did the lower legs of the pushing owner.

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The legs were clad in black trousers which were above black hobnailed boots and each ankle had a bike clip holding the trousers tight to those ankles. The trousers and hobnailed boots immediately told us that these were the legs of a copper, and so we lay there trying to shrink into the ground and desperately trying not to breathe. I watched the ticking wheels and police-issue boots advance towards us and the completely exposed tinkling petrol can.

I thought to myself there could be no way that the policeman was going to miss seeing the can and, with a possible three years locked up in an Approved School looming, I gestured to my mate to get ready to do a runner. The half-wheels and the boots made their way past the van and suddenly and quietly the copper parked his bike up against an adjacent car.

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Thinking 'this is it', I shuffled to the other side of the vehicle ready for the mad race that was surely about to start. The legs sidled behind a car and stopped; there was no sound at all now — the petrol tank had obviously been drained and the can had filled up. The arcing stream of steaming piss when it hit the floor was as much a relief to us as it was to the copper, and I hit my head on the underside of the car trying not to laugh.

We lay there waiting for the flood to stop, which it finally did with a satisfying 'Ahh' from the copper. He grabbed his bike, swung his piss-free leg over the crossbar and jauntily rode off into the night.

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Free from the long arm of the law, we grabbed the can and were off in a flash up Ormond Street where we had digs in the attic of my sister's place. We put the can in the brewhouse up the yard where we kept our Dawes Double Blue bikes and then, still shaking with both relief and laughter, went off to bed. Nicking the petrol when it was only 2 s 3 d a gallon may have seemed petty, but we were seventeen years old and couldn't have cared less. We worked for ourselves sub-contracting at tiling roofs for the Marley Tile Company which was based near Burton upon Trent and the world was our oyster.

When we got a cheque for our work it would be cashed and spent on the necessities of life, like days off, fags, snooker, booze, the flicks, clothes and other important items. Hence the reason for pinching the petrol. Me and my mate had been friends since about He had lived at the bottom end of Cowper Street in Aston and I lived up the other end of the street over the chemist's shop in Summer Lane. We had become mates because he blacked one of my eyes after some older lads had goaded us on to fight each other one day by Blews Street Park, just off Newtown Row.

After the fight, which incidentally he won, he cried, I cried, and we both walked home with our arms around each other's shoulders swearing we would be mates for life, and that was how it was. His mom was a nice little woman who was always making jumpers and cardigans for him so that sometimes he looked like a little mommy's boy. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I think I must have thought of him as a bit posh because he never had anything second-hand, like shoes or clothes, whereas I was dressed up in hand-me-downs or clobber and used footwear bought from the Salvation Army place up by Gosta Green.

He didn't seem to hold that against me and we got on a treat and in no time at all were inseparable — we would gee each other up to do things and seemed to be forever in some trouble or other, but none of it really bad stuff. Today only one courtyard of back-to-backs, on the corner of Inge Street and Hurst Street, survives.


The rest were demolished in a clearance of the city slums after they were declared unfit for human habitation in and residents moved out into other council properties. By Justine Halifax. Birmingham's back-to-back houses. View gallery.