Policing the Solent fiction meets crime fact on Deadly Waters

My fictional detective, DI Andy Horton, is based in Portsmouth and the Solent area on the South Coast of England. The Solent is the busiest waterway in Europe and one of the busiest in the world with around one million commercial and naval shipping movements and in excess of 10 million pleasure craft movements per year, so it's a brilliant area in which to set a series of crime novels, with plenty of inspiration and lots of activity.

The DI Horton marine mystery crime novels include members of a fictional Hampshire Police Marine Unit - Sergeant Dai Elkins and PC Rilpey - who take Horton and members of the Major Crime Team across the Solent from Portsmouth (where Horton is based in CID) to the Isle of Wight to solve crimes there and get on the track of villains.

I was fortunate to meet some real officers from the Hampshire Constabulary Marine Unit at the Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Conference in Southampton on 21 April. The real unit as opposed to my fictional marine police unit consists of one Sergeant and nine PCs. PCs Kerry Murray and Matt Gransden are younger and much better looking than Dai Elkins and Phil Ripley, although readers of the Horton novels might be aware that PC Ripley is only a little older than Matt. But the work my fictional marine unit are involved in isn't that far removed from the real thing.

Hampshire's history of maritime policing dates back to 1873 when it used a rowing boat to combat crime around the docks. Things have come a long way since then. It has recently invested in a new modern fleet to police the coastline stretching from Dorset to Sussex and out to 12 miles offshore. The fleet includes a 12-metre catamaran with sonar, CCTV, thermal imaging cameras and the latest in satellite communications; a general purpose patrol launch, which has a body recovery platform, and two 8m rigid inflatable boats, which can reach speeds of up to 55 mph on the water. I've been promised a trip on one of these but I think I'll wait for a calm, sunny and warm day!

The role of the marine unit includes counter terrorism patrols, the reduction and detection of marine crime, investigation of marine incidents and fatalities, policing large events, supporting the UK Border Agency, Coastguard, and Harbour Authorities and responsibility for countering serious and organised crime and preventing child abduction. Plenty there to give me ideas for crime novels.

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