Meet the marine team who do the 'filthiest job' in the police as they work across the North East
They do the “filthiest job in the force,” from sifting through river silt to climbing into stinky sewers.
Northumbria Police’s Marine Unit covers from Berwick down to Seaham and across to Kielder, but can be called on by forces across the country thanks to their specialist skills as licensed search officers.
The team’s HQ is in Jarrow, on the banks of the River Tyne, with a series of boats and vehicles at the ready to help its 10 PCs, two instructors, a technician, a Sergeant and an Inspector in their huge range of tasks.
Members can seize any vessels being used to break the law or deemed to be the proceeds of crime, while they are the officers called in when it comes to searching drains, sewers, culverts, rivers and lakes as their colleagues look for vital evidence to crack a case.
In waterways such as the Tyne, the divers have to work in zero visibility as they sift through mud, debris and items thrown into the water.
Their skills mean they can seek out something as small as a sim card and finding weapons is a key part of their role.
The team often encounter seals out in the sea and in rivers who will nudge and nibble at their suits causing a bit of a distraction.
Another responsibility is to train up other police divers from across England, Ireland and Wales, with its base kitted out with a 7 metre-deep tank which can be used to teach survival skills and learn how to search the hull of a ship, with a winch used to lower in kit designed to replicate part of a vessel.
It also has a depression chamber to help divers help them get used to going down to depths of 50 metres.
Emergency service teams, including their dog unit colleagues and the North East Ambulance Service’s Hazardous Area Response Teams (Hart) are among those to be put through their paces at its school recently as they train up ready to handle incidents.
The team has a number of boats, including the Northumbrian, a covered rib used for sea and river patrols, as well as dives; Excalibur, a 10-metre long rib which can be used at sea and on rivers; Sword, a 6-metre riverboat which can also be used in training; Cutless, which is around the same length and can be used to dive with her collapsible front, and a number of small inflatable boats, with trailers at hand to help them reach their missions.
Sergeant Suzanne Crossley, who has been with the force for 20 years, is a member of the team, having previously worked in community teams, its sexual offences management unit and event planning.
She says the team takes great pride in its work, which its officers say is the “filthiest job in the force.”
“I love it and wouldn't change it for the world,” she added.
“I've got a fantastic team, where everybody is really conscious of why we do it and that good attitude, no matter what the challenge.
“What I love most is the multi-agency work, when we’re with the fisheries, Environment Agency, National Crime Agency, immigration teams, because when we work together we can make a massive difference."
Another of their other tasks is to recover bodies to return to their loved ones, with Hartlepool’s marina, the River Tees and other areas of water among those it has been called to in recent years.
She said this when her team is most driven, and efforts go on for as long as needed.
“For us, we want to give that body back to their family, to get them home and to give their loved ones peace of mind, it is crucial,” she added.
PC Paul Spedding, who has been with the force for 18 years and spent 14 of those as a 24/7 response officer, signed up to the police with the hope of one day working with the team.
“I’ve been a diver since before I joined and when I started in the job, I wanted to be that frogman, the police diver.
“It is the best job in the world, but unfortunately for us, the times they come up is few and far between because we all love doing what we do.
“We’re always training and preparing, but we do a good bit of work with our duties as a neighbourhood police team on the coastline.
“As licensed search officers, we can get called into a lot of different jobs and we’re also trained to know about IEDs, and we do so many different roles.
“But for me, it’s the dive work I like best. We can even be doing a search working with counter-terrorism.
“We’re a national resource as well, so we can get tasked around the country – anyone who requests us, we’ll be there.”