A MAN is lying on a filthy mattress in the airless basement of a block of flats near The Level in Brighton.
He is 50 years old, looks much aged beyond his years, and – although he does not know it yet – is about to lose a leg.
What is unusual about the room in which he lives is not the filth or the team of paramedics, banks of medical equipment and the four police officers attempting to administer Ketamine into his left arm to calm him down.
It’s not even the fact that every time they try to talk to him – “C’mon, mate, we just need to get this into you … we’re just trying to help” – he calls them “c***s” and orders them to “f*** off”.
No, what is unusual about the room he lives in is the smell. Not a bad smell, not a nasty odour wafting around a windowless basement room that can be extinguished with a can of cheap aerosol, but a smell that can only be described as a putrefying, odious, tear-inducing, stench.
“That,” says PC Annie Lees, lowering a mask from her face and finally taking a breath of fresh air on the pavement on Grand Parade five minutes later, “is the smell of a decomposing body. At best, he’ll have his leg amputated tomorrow.”
As part of national Response Week, Sussex Police has invited The Argus for what is colloquially known as a “ridealong”, the chance for the media to see what police do, and teamed us up for the day with PC Lees and Sergeant Mark Robinson of Brighton and Hove Division. It is, of course, a public relations exercise but it is also a sobering experience, and one that lays bare the increasing mental health crisis across the city.
Just 30 minutes into their shift, PC Lees – a relative newcomer with two years in the force - and Sgt Robinson – 13 years into his police career – have displayed the nimble negotiating skills a diplomat would envy.
Ten minutes before confronting the man in the flat they were faced with an angry cyclist and equally belligerent motorist who collided on Edward Street and are now blaming each other; although the officers don’t know it yet, in less than an hour they will come face-to-face with a middle-aged woman in the top floor of a Hove flat so intoxicated all she can do is scream in their faces while her six-year-old niece in the dining room below will innocently say to them: “That’s just what auntie does. Do you like my T-shirt?”
The only question anyone can really ask at this point is … why on earth would you do a job like this?
For Sgt Robinson, the answer is fairly straightforward. He thinks for a while and then shoots back that the best part of being a police officer is “catching criminals”.
For PC Lees, the answer takes longer to surface.
In the police vehicle on the way back to Brighton Police Station after talking to the six-year-old girl, she says she never really wanted to be in the force but dreamed of being a paramedic. “All my family are in public service,” she explains.
Once back at the station, she picks up the question again and slowly begins to tell the story of how recently she responded to a call concerning a man on the top of a building in Brighton who'd had enough. Fed up with how his life had turned out, all he wanted was to end it; jump off a high-rise building and take whatever comes next.
“At that stage you’re just trying to keep them talking,” she explains. “Everything you say, everything you do, has a consequence on the outcome.”
In a situation such as this, there is something, she explains, equally pervading.
“It’s the fact that for all you know, you may well be the last human being that person ever talks to. If they have a family, they will – quite rightly – want to know what you said and did during their final seconds.
“So to answer your question,” she says, looking back out over Brighton on one of the hottest days of the year, on an early evening where thousands of people are having the time of their lives on the beach and cafes across the city and struggling people of this world are just trying to get through the next 24 hours, “it’s for moments like that I do this job.”
The man didn’t jump.
Regardless of any “ridealong”, or PR exercise, that is quite a convincing answer for going to work every day.