ONLY when driving around the Port of Tilbury do you begin to get a sense of its true size and the vast operation simmering away.
From enormous ships, which seem to defy the laws of physics moored by the quayside, to the towers of containers en-route to far-flung destinations, the port is a hive of activity right on our doorstep.
It is little wonder then that with the value and quantity of goods passing through and the opportunities on offer for immigrants to enter, or exit, the country undetected through the port, that there is the need for a dedicated police force.
That is what Inspector Andy Masson and his small team provide, working as part of one of the oldest forces in the country.
Their duties are the same as those undertaken by colleagues at Essex Police – they make arrests, attend and investigate incidents and work with a host of agencies, including the UK Border Agency and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, to ensure the port and the UK’s borders are secure. Like all police officers, the port force’s 14 officers are sworn in under oath by magistrates.
Mr Masson describes the role of the port police as “community policing in its rawest form” and says the force is “the final bastion of port policing”.
He said: “We have a huge history. The force started as the Port of London Police Authority in 1802 and gradually, as docks started to close down, we became the Port of Tilbury Police Force.
“Policing started on the Thames. That’s where the crime was because that’s where the money was, and still is.”
With the large number of lorries and other vehicles coming in and out of the port, officers make use of the automatic number plate recognition system to stop any suspicious vehicles. But the force’s role is wide ranging. They are first responders to any incident within the port and even a mile outside of it. For instance, they were first on the scene after an accident on the Dock Approach Road recently.
Mr Masson said: “Everything that happens crime-wise outside of the port, happens inside but to a lesser degree. “My officers deal with all the same sorts of offences. We come across some sophisticated drug crime, which involves us working closely with SOCA.
“We make arrests and take suspects to Grays or Basildon station and all the port roads are covered by the Road Traffic Act.”
One member of the force recovered more than £1million worth of high value cars coming through the port last year.
Driving around the port, Mr Masson emphasises the importance of knowing the port inside out and recognising “normal port activity”. This is where the aspect of community policing comes into its own.
The force has recently been nominated for a St John’s Award for helping with incidents. Mr Masson added: “We’re very proud of the level of service we provide.”
Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price, who is a patron of the force and championed their role during a recent debate in the House of Commons, said: “The force make a major contribution to fighting crime at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
“They make a crucial contribution to keeping our borders and the community safe and secure.”