Cpl Kate Retallick, RAF Coltishall:

Tactical Provost Wing Service Police Search Teams (SPST) are trained at the National Search Centre in Chatham along with their civilian police counterparts, in search techniques that can be used in a variety of situations. These teams are often used during unit preparation for high profile events.

On 17th November, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited RAF Coltishall. This was a poignant visit as it was the 65th anniversary of the last Battle of Britain station and would be Her Majesty’s last visit due to the planned closure of the unit in September 2006. As with any such high profile visit, the RAF Police at Coltishall requested assistance from TPW Search Teams in scrutinising areas to be visited by the Queen. TPW promptly deployed two Service Police Search Teams (SPST) and two Service Police Search Advisors to conduct the search. Assistance was provided by an Arms and Explosives Search (AES) dog team from No 1 Specialist Police Wing.

Work began in earnest on the 14th November with SPST personnel being split into search pairs and areas assigned to them. The areas searched provided various challenges for the teams including a route search of the Queen’s itinerary, the Officers’ Mess, Training Development Flight, gymnasium and two large hangars.

The hangars were the first to be tackled and proved to be relatively straightforward. The AES dog was utilised in the search of the main hangar areas while the search teams made a start on the offices. All was going well until the milkman arrived and inadvertently walked down one side of the building, breaking all the seals on the rooms that had been checked! The entire area had to be searched again. Despite this, morale remained high and the hangars were finally completed the following day.

Next up were the route search and gymnasium. One Sqn personnel cracked on with the route whilst two Sqn personnel made a start on the gym, which had been turned into a display area for the event. The route search included drain inspections and checks of the surrounding areas whilst the gymnasium had a mini, speedboat and storeroom crammed full of kit. The next day, everyone assembled in the Officers’ Mess and, being careful to not touch anything shiny or break anything, the search began. The itinerary called for extensive use of the mess and so a vast area was searched including the kitchen and dining areas, roof areas, garage areas, building surrounds and plant rooms. The Training Development Flight was searched quickly with all personnel communicating well and working as a close-knit team.

All areas were searched in a methodical manner with personnel making extensive use of both specialist equipment and the non-specialist but well trained 'Mk1 hand and eyeball’.

The team were particularly grateful to a company called Redbox, who had loaned TPW a new piece of search equipment for us to trial, called Snake Cam . The Snake Cam consists of a handheld monitor and remote camera, and was supplied with an extendable pole on which to mount the camera. This simple but effective bit of kit allows the operator to search areas that are inaccessible due to height, confined space, the presence of liquid or inaccessible voids – these areas include roof voids, guttering and ledges that would have required the use of ladders and a working at heights permit. The equipment proved extremely effective, cut search time considerably and negated the requirement for specialist search teams (i.e. working in combined spaces teams). Overall, it proved such a hit that the wing is now hoping to buy a number of Snake Cams.

All areas were searched successfully and thankfully no suspect items were found. During the visit the SPST remained on standby in case any incidents occurred (or in reality to hang around and meet the Queen). Once Her Majesty had departed, the SPST were welcomed by the Catering Flight at a post visit bash, before recovering back to Henlow the following day.