Choose Your Friends Carefully
This story covers two themes, what it is like to be a night shift security guard at a 24 hour shopping centre just outside North London, and it’s also about a friend I made whilst working there called Ben, who initially seemed a great guy, but turned out to be a monster.
The images marked (c) Steve Bale are genuine images from the time. Ben does NOT appear in any of them for obvious reasons. Other images are for illustrative purposes.
Warning. I mostly write as I speak, so you may find some rather fruity language used in places. I have limited that sort of thing to a minimum after editing this many times so it’s not too over the top.
Some names, dates and places have been changed to anonymize this story for legal and moral reasons.
By law in the UK, security companies have to properly check out the background and history of a new security guard employee, including a criminal record check, which costs money, so of course a lot of the smaller security companies used to skip making that check to save a few quid.
Nowadays, what with all security guards being properly trained and licensed they can’t get away with it so easily.
When you consider I was once in a shoplifting gang and got nicked for it and had numerous other convictions for theft on my record I was a bit surprised that I got the job of night security guard back in 1999.
I soon guessed how that had happened though when a guy called Ben joined our team, he told me he had just come out of prison a month ago, which confirmed my suspicions that we were working for a right dodgy outfit. Ironically the boss was an ex-copper too!
So, the year is now early 1999 (I’m 39 years old) and I’m working 12 hour night shifts, 6 nights a week (7pm-7Am) as a general night security guard at a shopping centre on the outskirts of London.
Although our main duties were to look after the exterior of the shops, the shopping centre in general, the cars in the car parks and basically anything that happened outside, we were often called to help inside shops that were open at that time that were having trouble.
The Security Team
We were a team of five guys. Between us we had to keep the place secure and deal with problems 24\7, 356 days a year, so if one of us was on holiday and someone also went sick we were seriously short-handed and that meant at least one of us working every day of the week. If we were three short (rare) we even did the occasional 24 hour shift, I usually slept through most of those though! Occasionally a temp guard was sent in to help, but the bosses did not like doing that.
There was no sick pay in this job, we were on minimum wage, didn’t get paid extra for bank holidays, although we did get double pay for Christmas day and new years day. Worst of all the company was too mean to have us insured for injury.
In this type of job, it is rare, but always a realistic possibility, that you could get stabbed or worse, and there is always the chance of a random injury as well as the usual illnesses everyone gets from time to time.
Observe And Report
Because we were not insured we were told very explicitly that we were not to get involved with shoplifters, drunks, junkies or fights or chasing people around like the Keystone cops.
We were told to let internal security deal with it as they were insured, or call the Police if it was really serious. Our boss told us our watchword was, “Observe and report“.
In reality (and the management knew this) we had no choice but to get involved as our comrades inside were calling us on the radio for assistance most nights as well as the on-site petrol station run by one or two women on their own were constantly calling us for help with aggressive customers and thieves. What was we to do? Say “sorry, not insured!”?
The Embarrassing Uniform
When you are on the day shift the uniform we had to wear was shit. A bright red jacket, white shirt, a stupid Postman Pat bright red hat, a tie and even a bright red lanyard (pathetically pointless piece of kit).
During my first two weeks of induction I had to work day shift to be shown procedures etc so I had to wear full kit and I could of died from embarrassment to be honest, imagine a tall streaky Postman Pat, only not as cool as Pat.
Anyway as soon as I was on nights I ditched everything red and the tie, as you see in photos below. I had several bollockings about this, but they gave up telling me off in the end.
Anyway, by chance I found that looking more casual and not too much like a copper actually helped to calm down a lot of drunks and junkies and I used that look with a calm voice to good effect.
Apart from those negatives it was probably the best job that I had ever had (apart from being self-employed). The upside was that as I worked permanent nights there were no bosses about, so we were mostly left to our own devices.
We had a little office at the back of the shopping centre where we had a kitchen and lounge type area, so lots of tea drinking, eating pizzas from the microwave and playing games on my laptop, and taking short snoozes was the usual run of things, which mostly made up for the negatives of the job.
We could be in position at the front of the main store within 30 seconds if we were called for assistance on our radios, and if we were snoozing we turned up the radio’s volume to make sure the call woke us up, so no harm done and it made the job bearable.
When I first started the job we had to patrol around the whole site every hour and clock into these little terminals placed around the site to show we had done the patrol.
The small electronic baton thing we used for clocking the terminals somehow kept getting broken and our tight ass company took months to get them fixed, where upon a week later lo and behold they broke again, no way!
Of course if they were broken we were free to do as we wanted. I’m admitting nothing here.
The Weekend Horror Show
For three nights a week I was usually on my own. Mainly when it was quiet. On weekends there was usually two of us on, as long as nobody had gone sick.
Friday and Saturday nights during the summer was a particular nightmare of drunks, first after the pubs shut, and then after the nightclubs shut. It was horrendous and I hated it, but there was no hiding from it, you had to get in there and deal with it because you would get called in anyway.
Never Show Fear
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what drunken youngsters are like in England, they are fucking animals sometimes to be honest.
One wrong word and a fight could break out, you had to choose your words very carefully, be firm, but not an asshole, above all though you must never show fear in your body posture or face, no matter what happens.
I learnt that very quickly, and even though I was nervous most of the time, I had worked out a good poker face that saw me through drunk-dealing quite well, but I would never be happy dealing with drunks, or junks. This left me with a permanent hang up about being around drunk people later in life.
Junkies And Drunkies
Drug addicts, were a different kettle of shit. Most of them had no fear of anything and were focused on one thing and one thing only, stealing shit to buy their shit.
I actually understood this and sympathized a little at first, as a fellow addict (degenerate gambler) but after several episodes of dealing with those sick fucks I eventually detested them to be honest, I couldn’t help it.
Once they are past the point of no return they become barely human, you cannot reason with them even on the most basic level, and of course they can be very dangerous when desperate, which is most of the time.
I still felt guilty though when we were called to bring in a shoplifter from the shop exit door to the security holding room.
Those roles were reversed not so many years ago when I was a shoplifter, so I felt the need to go easy where I could, at least on the one’s that didn’t give us any trouble.
Obviously I always felt a massive hypocrite, but I couldn’t explain that to my colleagues, because they would of grassed me up in the hope of getting me sacked, just to earn brownie points from the boss.
I think that they thought I was a liberal wet leftist type, which ironically, I suppose I am really.
This didn’t go down too well with some of my colleagues as they absolutely hated these thieves, even more than the junkies and drunks.
For example, most of the time we could let off most small shoplifters with a caution if the goods they tried to steal didn’t add up to too much, and they hadn’t given us trouble. But my wannabe cop colleagues always called the Police in to arrest them.
Once a young girl, about 17 years old, was caught on camera bagging makeup products. When we brought her in to the holding room she was shaking like a leaf and looked like she was going to throw up. She was obviously a first timer – well, the first time that she was caught at least- and I doubted she would do it again looking at the state of her. When you see hardened lifters nearly every day you can soon spot the one-off lifters easily enough.
Go Easy Lads
I suggested that we give her a warning lecture and maybe ban her from the store, but the guys wanted her nicked so that they could call their Police officer buddies in to show them what good security guards they were, pathetic really.
Another thing my colleagues always prayed for was the chance to appear in court as a witness for the crime. They drooled at the mouth for the chance to show what a great professional they were.
I on the other hand specifically went out of my way not to witness too much when I had to get involved, and I only once got the call to appear in court.
The coppers wanted me to be a witness against a Traveller family that had caused chaos on our site. I couldn’t get out of it as I was the main person that dealt with it. I was bricking it for months because we all know what some traveller people can be like, right? And stupidly, your name and address is read out as you appear in the witness box, in court, just great!
As it turned out they pleaded guilty a day before the trial and I got the call to stand down, phew!
The Nicking Game
When I took the job on I was told we were there to help people just as much as to keep the peace and stop theft and damage. I enjoyed doing that, things like helping someone who had locked their keys in their car, a broken down car, a lost kid, a lost wallet or purse, some old man taken ill etc. etc.
Inside the main store (internal security) had high-tech cameras that can see everywhere, even outside. The cameras had massive optical zooms on them, with pan and tilt.
Therefore I.S could see who was coming to the shopping centre even before they arrived, and if it was a known junkie, drunky or lifter we were called in as backup in case it all kicked off, which when certain members of staff were on duty it was always sure to as they purposely stirred it up. They claimed they loved the buzz. I didn’t get that attitude, I still don’t.
Internal security also had a sheet pinned to the wall with running tallies of which guard had caught the most lifters, it was a fun game to them, but to me those names were lives probably ruined.
Getting back to my new buddy Ben (not his real name of course), who had just got out of prison a month previously. I liked the guy. He was in his mid 30s, tall, big and chunky, he was always joking and larking about and had an infectious, likeable, personality.
After one particular shift (all our shifts were a minimum of 12 hours), Ben sighed that he had another long walk home. I asked where he lived, he said with his sister in Tottenham, that must be a good eight miles from here I thought.
Sometimes, if there was trouble on site, we could be walking, or even running, about for most of the shift and that night had been one of them. We had barely even had the chance of a quick snooze.
I knew how knackered I felt and wouldn’t of liked the thought of a eight mile trek like that so I offered to lend Ben the cab or bus fare. He borrowed enough for the bus home.
A few weeks later Ben and I had by now worked several shifts together and I thought I knew him well enough to offer him to share my two room flat, which was just a 20 min walk from work and that would solve his commute problem.
Ben jumped at the chance. So we divided the flat up and I declined to take any rent off him until he go his shit sorted out.
I can’t say how, but I was making some decent money on the side at that time and was pretty well off for a few years, it wasn’t any thieving from work though, I wasn’t that daft, the thought of giving those wannabe cop guards in the store the pleasure of getting me nicked was just too great, and anyway I was, and still am, a reformed character, mostly.
A Little Gem
As far as women went Ben and I were always on the look out for anyone nice as we were both single at the time. The majority of the girls worked inside the big supermarket on the site so we use to prowl about in there investigating “security issues” and chat up any nice looking till girls and shelve stackers.
One particularly beautiful young lady who worked behind the tobacco kiosk at that time was called Gemma. She was way out of my league and I knew it, also she was young, about 22 years old, where I was nearing 40, though I could easily lie at that time and get away with mid 30s, maybe.
Anyway, knowing I didn’t have much hope with her I only half-heartedly chatted her up, it was more just a friendly chat. She was half Italian and had that dark-sultry look with beautiful long jet black hair, very pretty face and a great figure.
When Ben saw me chatting to Gemma one evening he wasted no time getting in there and before you know it they were dating, and days later they were shagging in my flat, I was a bit nonplussed to be honest.
A Cool Threesome
We used to go out drinking in a threesome once a week, me being the raspberry, but Gemma looked so fabulous when she dolled herself up that I was just honoured to be seen with her in any capacity, (does that sound really sad?) She really looked stunning though, believe me, and for once in my life I felt like I was part of the cool people set.
The thing with Gemma was she was also a really down to earth person, kind, polite and considerate, and just to top it off Ben tells me later that week that she comes from a rich family too.
But she does have some crazy over protective brothers, and they do not like her going out with English guys.
The Saga Of Jock
In the mean time a Scottish bloke joins our team at work, yes we called him Jock and he was OK with it.
He and Ben got on like a house on fire and ended up working the day shifts together, though they both had to do a night a week as well on occasion.
Jock thought he was a really funny practical joker, but his “jokes” weren’t funny, they were irritating.
For example, he thought it was hilarious when he came round our flat during the day when I was asleep, to bang on my bedroom door until I got up and answered it and he said, I just wondered if you were asleep or not mate, ha ha. Yeah hilarious Jock. After the fifth time I just use to scream out “fuck off Jock you c***”.
Un-hilarious Practical Jokes
There were numerous other such childish and “funny tricks” Jock pulled, like stealing my keys and hiding them, (twat), pouring my cup of tea away while I’m not looking (never fuck with my cup of tea mate) and so on, ad infinitum. Take my word for it, if it was you as the victim you would quickly get bored and very angry with him.
Jock was a bad influence on Ben, and Ben would start being a bit disrespectful and sometimes even a bit nasty towards me, and this eventually even infected Gemma, who I felt was being a bit offish with me. I didn’t understand all this behaviour.
I’ve been told that because I show a lack of self-confidence (when I’m not pretending to be confident at work) people with a bullying or narcissistic nature like to investigate that perceived weakness to see where it goes. Thinking back through my life I realise now that I attract narcissistic personalities like a magnet.
Don’t Push Me Jock!
One day though Jock pushed me so far that I offered to fight him then and there to get this shit over with. I was totally sick of his childish antics and the way my so called friends were treating me, he backed down. I wasn’t bluffing. I really wanted to hurt the bastard.
I’ve never been a violent person, and rarely get so angry that I want to duff someone up, probably only three times in my whole life, none came to much. But this guy had almost pushed me over the edge.
After the set-to with Jock he calmed it down a bit and he lost some of his influence on Ben and Gemma and he didn’t come around the flat so much after that.
Jock Reveals True Self
One last thing about Jock. We were working together one night and we had two blokes turn up at the petrol station in a van at about 3Am. The two women workers there had called us for assistance as these blokes were kicking things about and being rude and aggressive to them.
The women were quite safe locked in the garage, but we couldn’t ignore these guys messing about with petrol pumps and kicking the goods on display in the front of the kiosk. So we nipped over there.
At least one of them was out of his head on something, it didn’t appear to be alcohol, no smell. I talked to him and just said, come on mate you had better go, because you are being recorded on video, and the old bill pass here on patrol a lot (which is true).
He didn’t take too kindly to that and started squaring up to me. I was watching his hands for a knife, but he had clenched his fists and was deciding whether to hit me.
The other guy had gone quite and was slowly making his way to his vehicle, while Jock was leaning against he wall, smiling, as if he had nothing to do with any of it, waiting for me to get chinned. I knew then that if it kicked off Jock wouldn’t help me.
The other guy then suddenly jumped into his van, started the engine and called clenchy-fist over, he must have changed his mind about hitting me as he knew something was up.
They zoomed out of the garage in their van just as a Police patrol car pulled in. I guess the driver of the van had seen the Police car coming in the distance? It would of been out of our view.
I told the old bill what happened and they said they would check them out and sped off after them.
As Jock and I walked back to the hut we could see the van had been stopped by the Police. We watched from a distance and after a while the coppers let them go.
Jock and I never spoke a word to each other again that night. Later on that morning when it was getting light, I was walking along where the van had been stopped and there were dozens of little wraps of drugs in the roadside. I picked them up and booked them in as evidence.
They were never given to the Police, one of our lot nicked them along with the paperwork! What do I care?
Jock left the job a few months later, much to my relief. I bumped into him in a shop in the high street years later and I just blanked him, as I always will from now on.
Ben Makes His Move
As I said before, my relationship with Ben and Gem had been affected adversely by Jock somehow. Now Ben was constantly borrowing money off me and not paying it back when promised, he wanted to borrow my PlayStation and games too, so I let him have that in his room. I wondered if I’d ever get it back, and in general he was a bit stroppy with me and taking the piss overall and just being disrespectful in general. Why?
When I started saying no to more loans he sulked. He even sent Gemma to my room to coax money out of me for him. I just said, I’m skint Gem, and Ben is going to have to start helping with the rent soon anyway.
I wonder how much money Ben had taken her for? I never found out.
Almost Getting Nicked
Later that month Ben got caught stealing a mobile phone from the stock room of the supermarket we looked after. The silly twat didn’t know that internal security had a list of all their in-stock mobile phones’ serial numbers.
He used the stolen phone at work and a keen eyed I.S guard spotted that he was using the same model that had been stolen and it was brand new. Ben was asked to hand it in to be cleared.
He soon admitted to the theft when he was shown the matching numbers and was offered to “retire” from his job immediately or face the Police. He had stolen lots more stuff he told me, so he was happy to get away with it, though it cost him his job. I was totally amazed the wannabe cops didn’t call the Police, maybe they thought it would reflect badly on them?
A Week Later
I was on duty alone that night and got home to the flat at about 7.20Am. Ben’s bedroom door was wide open and his stuff had gone, as well as my PlayStation and games and most likely any hope of getting back some of the money he owed me, though I was well pleased he had buggered off. A note letting me know why would of been decent, but there you go.
After a kip I went to tidy up his room as there was rubbish everywhere. To my great shock I found a bag of letters, all addressed to me, and all torn up!
This included things like a cheque book (I guess he couldn’t get hold of my card to use it or he would have) and bills and all sorts of stuff. I was flabbergasted, why? What the hell did I do? I wondered why he had to tear up the letters? It was with hate I reckon.
Is this where Karma had come around to punish me for stealing peoples mail when I was a kid?
I didn’t have Gemma’s phone number to find out what was happening, so I just left it. I could of put myself out to find her at work, but I was just glad to be on my own again and away from poisonous people whose motives and actions I didn’t understand at all.
Steve The Shell
I think this is where I started slowly going into my shell and not trusting my judgement of people any more.
Weeks passed and I heard a few rumours that Gemma’s brothers had beaten Ben up because he did something to her, nobody knew what, and I still don’t know. I also heard he had a bedsit nearby but luckily we never bumped into each other at that time.
About a year passed and one day I was going into the bookies to place some bets when my eye caught a fairly hot chick working at a desk near the front window of the estate agents next door, it was Gemma.
I signalled to her to come have a chat, and we had a smoke outside and discussed Ben.
Gem was putting weight on and didn’t look quite as good as she did just a year or so ago. She also looked a bit haggard, maybe with worry or something.
She wouldn’t tell me much. They had broken up. She was scared of him and hated him. Ben had taken the split badly and was following her about everywhere.
One day he came into her shop and when she wouldn’t come out with him to talk he turned her desk over and then ran off. She said she was going to change her job to hide from him.
She claimed she knew nothing about my letters, or why he left my flat without a word.
Apparently Ben had somehow wangled a council flat locally, but she wasn’t sure where it was. I knew she was not telling me all that she knew. But did it even matter any more?
We said goodbye and we have never seen each other since. I have no idea what happened to Gemma, but I’m sure everything worked out just fine for her.
Things definitely did not work out well for Ben though.
Some months later I heard via someone else that Ben was in the local newspaper. He was up in court accused of raping a girl, he pleaded not guilty and was bailed to appear for sentencing in a few months.
According to the news report he had got drunk in a pub with a girl he didn’t know and afterwards they went back to his flat where they got in bed together, she said she fell asleep and the next thing she knew he was raping her and wouldn’t stop when requested.
Because of the dodgy circumstances he may well of got away with it if he hadn’t done another rape whilst on bail!
He again got drunk with an unknown girl in a pub, but this time he didn’t even wait to get home he raped her up against a wall in an alleyway against her will.
Of course they threw the book at him, he was sentenced to an undetermined sentence with a minimum of 6 years. I don’t know how that works exactly, maybe a psychiatrist decides if he will re-offend or not before they release him.
Six Years Later
He must of served about six years because we came face to face in town one day. He was all apologetic, but about nothing specific.
I knew he must of been through hell in prison, and what he did to me was way in the past now, and didn’t seem that bad now compared to what he had escalated to.
But I just didn’t want to know him. He was a pathetic sight and desperate for a friend. I agreed to a cup of tea in a nearby cafe for old times sake, we didn’t talk about anything of consequence and I just wanted to get away as soon as I could.
Eventually I said, “well, I have to go now Ben”. And he said almost begging, “where you going mate?” I mumbled some crap and scarpered, hoping he wouldn’t follow me to my new address, which he didn’t know about.
I felt guilty not helping out a one time old mate, but look what happened the last time I gave him my help and trust, no thanks. Once bitten, twice shy.
This story has one last horrible twist to it.
About Five Years Later
In about 2017 an old work colleague of mine sent me a YouTube video link. I was staggered when I watched it.
It was A video of a paedophile hunting gang that had set Ben up. He had changed his name by then and moved out into the countryside, but it was unmistakably Ben, you couldn’t mistake him for anyone else.
Ben had thought he had chatted up a 12 year old girl on some social network site and had talked her into coming to his flat, which was a train journey away, he said they would have sex and that he would teach her etc. etc. It was made very clear to him how young she was several times.
When he went to meet her at the train station he was suddenly surrounded by six blokes, some with video cameras, they showed him print outs of what he had said to the fake girl, who was actually one of the blokes acting, and they were giving him a right bollocking while they waited for the Police. For the first time I saw genuine fear on Ben’s face, he mumbled a load of shit but he mainly said “my life is fucked now”.
I never found out what sentence he got and I don’t really care, There must be a newspaper report of it on the Internet, but I’m not even going to look for it.
I’m pretty sure I’ll never ever see Ben again, but if I do I will blank him, just like Jock.
(c) 2020 Steve Bale.
Other self contained true stories from the same author:
Diary Of A Second Heart Attack
Corona Virus Times May 2020
Heart Attack #1
ADHD, what it’s really like
Daisy Of Muswell Hill
The Water Cupboard
On The Run
A Short, Sharp, Shock!