The Force booked WPC Cox off on sick leave for a month after the rape. Her attack attracted extensive publicity locally in the Cambridge Mercury and other local newspapers, with headlines such as “Terror of WPC,” and “WPC Left Handcuffed and Gagged.” The first three pages of the Mercury were devoted to the story, with a photograph of Alison taken when she first joined the police force. The incident was covered in the inside papers of the nationals. There was even a photograph of Rebel, Dave Brownlee’s dog. The coverage referred to a serious assault rather than a rape. This was partly out of consideration for Alison, and because it was thought unnecessary at this stage to supply more information about what had occurred.
Alison surprised the investigating officers with the amount of detail she was able to give them. They said she was the best witness they ever had. Her presence of mind in obtaining and retaining the registration number of the van despite her ordeal was particularly praised. The van number and the tattoo she had noted on one of the men’s hands were thought to be particularly useful. Extensive enquiries were set in hand to try to locate the offenders.
Alison was deeply traumatised by the attack and took a long time to recover. She suffered from irrational fears that the men would return and kill her, or kidnap and rape her again. They had taken her handbag as well as her radio, and this contained her driving licence giving her name and address and other personal items including her keys. She thought about moving from the flat above the shop, but changed her mind and the force paid for the locks to be changed instead. Alison suffered from flashbacks to the incident and had difficulty sleeping. Sometimes she just stayed in and didn’t want to go out.
Alison put on a brave face to avoid causing distress to her parents, boyfriend and colleagues. They hadn’t been told about the actual rape at her request, but when pressed by her mother, and later her boyfriend, she admitted to them what had occurred. She tried to make light of it all for their sake, but her parents tried to persuade her to leave the police and go to work for one of her uncles, who was able to offer her a job. Alison felt a sense of shame and guilt that she had submitted to the men and hadn’t tried to resist them in some way.
One day she left the flat to get some fresh air and buy some bread and milk from a corner shop nearby. Alison saw a white van parked on the corner and had a panic attack. She gripped the wall near the florist’s and began hyperventilating. An elderly lady took her by the arm. “Are you all right, dear? Do you need an ambulance?” she asked. Someone came out of the florist’s and offered her a chair to sit on. Alison made some excuse about having been unwell lately and walked off. She saw that the van had the logo, “J. & R. Daley, Plumbing and Heating Engineers,” on the side. For God’s sake, she thought, get a grip on yourself, woman. It’s just a plumber’s van. And it’s not even a Marina. It’s an Escort. If they wanted to kill you, they would have done.
The force arranged for Alison to see a psychiatrist. Oh my God, she thought, they must think I’m mental. They’ll probably chuck me out of the force and stick me in a loony bin. Yet the sessions with the psychiatrist were beneficial. He encouraged her to open up and express her feelings about the attack, though she broke down twice in his office in floods of tears. He even seemed to welcome this. “You’re my patient,” he reassured her. “Whatever happens here in the office stays in my office. I’m not going to tell anyone anything at all without your express permission.” He also prescribed sedatives to help her sleep.
John, her boyfriend, was incredibly patient and considerate with her. Alison recoiled and froze whenever he touched her intimately. He would just hold her and hug her when they were in bed together. It’s okay,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s just wait till you’re ready.”
PS Hopper from the rural unit and all her old friends from the section came round to visit her while she was off sick. Everybody was so kind to her. Don Marsh, her old tutor constable, called round to see her with Paul O’Neill, whose brother had the fruit and veg shop beneath her flat. At one point Don Marsh seemed on the verge of tears. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there with you, Alison,” he said. “I wish I’d been there for you.”
“It’s okay, Don,” Alison said to cheer him up. “All those practical jokes you lot played on me were a lot worse. You remember when you made me run a mile in my uniform? And when you got me to dress up as a schoolgirl to catch the flasher?” They all laughed about old times on the section.
Officers investigating the attack called round to see her to confirm some details she had given them. They showed her some photographs and asked if she thought any of them could be the offenders. She studied them closely. They had made a balaclava cut out to put over the photographs. It was a bit difficult as she had never seen the men’s faces properly, but she thought that the eyes and mouth of one of the men were very much like the second attacker. “That’s interesting,” they said. “That’s very useful.”
About three weeks after the rape, Alison was asked to attend the office of the Head of Special Branch at Force Headquarters in plain clothes. When she arrived late that morning, she was ushered into a large office where she was greeted by the SB Superintendent and another man in his late forties dressed in a dark suit. “Do come in, WPC Cox,” he said warmly. “How are you now? Thank you so much for coming. We just wanted to update you on the progress on the investigation. I’m afraid I can’t introduce you properly to my colleague here,” he said, indicating the other man. “All I can tell you is that he’s a senior officer from MI5.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person,” the man joked. “I haven’t even got a licence to kill.” They sat down in leather armchairs near the window.
The Superintendent began. “For the time being the men who attacked you and their van seem to have vanished into thin air,” he explained. “They’ve obviously gone to ground. But the information you were able to supply has been extremely useful. The van was traced to a commercial vehicle dealer’s in Pembroke in south Wales. Of course this is on the ferry route from Dublin.” Alison nodded. “Just over a month ago it was bought for cash by the men you described. They seemed nervous and one spoke with an Irish accent. The dealer was suspicious because they paid the full asking price straight away and didn’t try to bargain him down.”
“Though we can’t be 100% sure at this stage, it is highly likely that the attack on you was terrorist related,” he continued. “Hence the presence of my colleague here.”
The MI5 man now took over. “From your descriptions of the men, we think we have identified a possible offender. This ties in with other information in our possession about an attack that was being planned on an army depot or military installation in the Cambridgeshire area. It seems highly likely that you stumbled upon IRA operatives from an Active Service Unit and that you have foiled an intended attack. You are to be congratulated, WPC Cox. Your presence of mind may well have saved lives. But I’m afraid I have to be somewhere else shortly.” He shook hands with Alison and left.
“I have to tell you that you have been recommended for a commendation,” the Superintendent added. “The Deputy Chief Constable has asked to see you while you are here.”
Alison was taken to the DCC’S office on the next floor. The DCC rose to greet her as she went in. His staff officer and her Superintendent from Cambridge Central were also in the room. “The Chief Constable would have liked to meet you himself, but I’m afraid he’s abroad at the moment,” he began. She was asked a number of questions and the commendation was mentioned again. “You may not be fully recovered at present, WPC Cox, but when you are there is a vacancy on the Planning Department I would like you to consider.”
He went on to explain what was involved. It sounded like interesting work, planning for major operations, large sporting events, public order incidents, and contingencies like bad weather and flooding. Alison listened intently. If she was working at headquarters, it would put her parents’ and John’s minds to rest when she returned to work. “I’d very much like to be considered for that vacancy, sir,” she said. They all shook Alison’s hand and she left.
Alison was concerned that she was asking too much of her boyfriend and would drive him away. It was time to put the rape behind her. When John called round to see her the following night, she put her arms on his shoulders and kissed him passionately. “I’m ready now, John,” she said softly. “Thank you for being so patient with me.” She undressed slowly, revealing underwear that John had bought for her. They made love all night, making up for lost time.
A few days later, John asked her to marry him. Alison said yes.
Sometimes a Policewoman’s Lot wasn’t too bad after all.