In which The Author gets a sneaky preview of his Criminalistics practical
Just before 9pm on Friday night, I left the Cambrian and walked into Canon Street. The bells of St Elvan’s Church were in full peal. Two fire engines were parked up outside the vodka bar (formerly the Carpenters Arms) but the traffic was moving relatively normally. A couple of elderly ladies who had just left the bingo hall were watching the fire officers coming and going. I asked them whether there’d been a fire in the vodka bar, and joked that it would be the best thing that could happen to that place.
As I walked down the street an ambulance arrived, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Outside the kebab shop I bumped into my pal Steve C. He too was trying to figure out what was going on. A group of youngsters from the youth centre up the street had gathered as well.
There’s an alleyway next to the fish shop, where an old shop has been pulled down and made into a short cut to the car park. Fire officers were going back and forth into the alleyway. The owner of the fish shop (which is closed by this time of night) was talking to a couple of them. The vodka bar was also closed, unusually for a Friday night.
As Steve and I were speculating about what was happening, a third fire engine arrived, followed in short order by a second ambulance and a paramedic in a car. In spite of all this activity the traffic was still running, albeit very slowly. Dai W. drove came along in his taxi as we were watching the proceedings. He asked us if we knew what was happening. We just shrugged and he drove on.
Steve and I crossed the road and tried to see what was happening in the alleyway. Behind the fish shop there’s a yard, fenced off from the car park. Next to that is what used to be the ‘beer garden’ of the Carpenters. A group of youngsters were standing around talking to fire officers and trying to peer over the fence. One of their colleagues was turning people back as they tried to enter the alleyway.
Steve walked a little way into the alley, and was told to turn back or be arrested. A few teenagers were also trying to join their mates in the car park, and were also told they’d be arrested if they went any further. Steve and I were wondering who would actually carry out the arrest, as even at this stage there was no sign of the police. However, a few moments later a uniformed constable emerged from the car park and started taping off the entrance to the alleyway. (Presumably the police had parked up behind the fish shop.)
We walked back into the street in time to see a fourth fire engine coming around the corner. An unmarked car pulled up outside the kebab shop, with a blue light mounted on top. Steve and I were wondering who it was – maybe a detective or a Scene of Crime Officer. A chap in plain clothes got out and took a bag from the boot of the car. He donned protective boots and a high-visibility vest with the word FIRE on the back before walking into the alleyway.
By this time, a substantial crowd had gathered. A red van containing even more fire officers had added itself to the line of flashing blue lights. I walked along the road to take a few photos of the scene.
Steve’s wife Christine came along and asked if I’d seen him. He must have wandered off as I was taking the photos, as he’d vanished from the street. I had a quick word with the guys from the shop, and they told me that a teenager had (apparently) climbed over the fence and ‘broken his neck.’ Imogen walked past and asked me if I knew what was happening. I told her what the guys from the shop had told me, and we walked as far as the bank together.
In spite of all this activity just behind the church, the bellringers had continued to practice throughout, adding a bizarre touch to the proceedings. Figuring that I wouldn’t see any more than a few flashing lights, and since it was starting to rain, I headed to the Pickled Pepper.
In the grand Aberdare tradition, the word had already got around. Not content with the story I’d had from the guys from the shop, Kelly the barbint had heard that a teenager had fallen from a roof and died.
Two years ago, Lorna Prichard would have been living a stone’s throw from the fish shop, and would have been on the scene in a matter of minutes, taking notes, interviewing witnesses, speaking to police and fire officers, and trying to establish exactly what had happened.
It’s all changed. Lorna now works for BBC Wales. The so-called Cynon Valley Leaderis a joke, with most of the content generated from a central production office in Cardiff. It just recycles press releases from Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council and New Horizons – what Nick Davies terms ‘churnalism’ – without any attempt to question the background to the story. They don’t even have an office in the catchment area any more – everything’s based in Merthyr. In the absence of a decent locally-based reporter, these Chinese Whispers in pubs or bus queues, and contradictory discussions on Aberdare Online, are the closest we get to real news these days. We might get the official version in the local paper next week, but the true sequence of events will never emerge. In this new age of instant (but biased) ‘journalism’, casual passers-by armed with a half-decent digital camera are the only people doing any meaningful news gathering.