Terry handles with care

Terry Swetnam with Prince, Joe Tolcher's dog Rex and his retired dog Ingot.
Terry Swetnam with Prince, Joe Tolcher's dog Rex and his retired dog Ingot.
Super parents Cora and Gerry Watson

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Back in the days when Portsmouth had its own police force and dog handlers, kennels for the animals could be found at Burrfields Road, Copnor.

However, most handlers took their dogs home at the end of the working day, including Terry Swetnam from North End.

Terry was born in Malta as his father was a Royal Marine and arrived in England with his mother 18 months before the outbreak of the war.

At one time the family lived at Milton Road, Milton, and he can remember when a bomb landed outside the house blowing up a gas main.

The family later moved to Langstone Road and Terry joined the City Police in 1951 as a cadet. His first posting was to Southsea Police Station which was then a private house in Festing Road.

In 1953 Terry was called up for National Service joining the RAF and was posted to Kent where he met his future wife Margaret who came from Gosport. When they were married a double decker bus was laid on to take everyone from the Gosport ferry to the reception at Alverstoke.

On demob Terry rejoined the police and became a constable on March 26, 1955. Terry recalls that constables on the beat were only able to be contacted by a flashing amber light on the old police pillar telephone system in the street. And if a PC needed to get quickly to an incident, he would simply jump on the platform of a passing bus.

In late 1955 he was posted to the police station in St Michael’s Road, a former vicarage. This was demolished when the police moved to a purpose-built station in Hyde Park Road now in Winston Churchill Avenue.

It was about this time that Terry saw a notice at Kingston Crescent Police Station for candidates to join the police dog section which he successfully applied for. He was sent to Guildford for initial training with his first dog Prince.

The city force built four kennels in Burrfields Road on land donated by the city council, land which is now home to the stray dogs kennels. Jim Tolcher and Joe Garvey were the other handlers.

Unfortunately Prince never made the grade and was returned to his original owner. Terry was then given Greif who became a faithful friend but terrorised criminals.

Apart from working in Portsmouth, Terry was also called on to patrol Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

He had to patrol with Greif under the barred open windows of the cells. ‘They chucked everything over from the high up windows. Not very nice at all,’ he says.

One of the dogs in the kennels was Mountbrown Ingot (Inky) a jet black Alsatian. His handler was Jim Tolcher and in retirement Jim kept him at home while he took charge of a new recruit named Rex.

Inky was the force’s first police dog. He took part in two murder hunts, hundreds of incidents and made 30 arrests. When he died he was buried at the kennels.

The dogs were exercised and trained on the recreation ground behind those Burrfields Road kennels much to the amusement of onlookers, especially when they were being taught to bring down a suspect wearing the leather arm gauntlet which the dogs grabbed.

In 1967 the City Police became part of Hampshire Constabulary much to Terry’s and many more officers’ regret. ‘It was never the same after that,’ recalls Terry, who then reverted to a beat bobby.

He became a gaoler at the Central Police Station and part of his job involved escorting prisoners to court via underground corridors.

He got to know many of the regulars and one day, when he was in Commercial Road with Margaret, they were approached by one of them who said: ‘Hello missus, is this your husband? He’s all right he is,’ and then tried to push a 10 shilling note into her hand.

Terry retired from the force in 1984 after 29 years and became a porter at Nesbits auction house in Southsea.