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The Liver Run Rovers - 30 Years On

On 8th May 1987, a critically ill patient at Cromwell Hospital in Kensington, Aliza Hillel, was rejecting her recent liver transplant. Another organ was desperately required and one was eventually located in Hull, but it wouldn’t survive for long outside of a human body. The plane flying it to Stansted Airport was delayed by fog but when it finally touched down, it was met on the runway by an Essex Constabulary Granada which then sped the ice-packed box down the M11. At 11:54 am, the Ford reached Junction 7 where two London Metropolitan Police Rover 3500 SD1 Traffic Cars, both based at Chadwell Heath, took over the despatch.

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The task facing the crews - driver PC William McIntyre and navigator/wireless operator PC Graham Fordham in the lead car and PCs Les Crossland and Steve McCabe in a backup vehicle with a video camera – is best described as ‘immense’. The operation on Ms. Hillel had started and if they didn’t arrive at the hospital by 12.30pm it would be too late. They needed to transport the organ by road as 30 years ago there was no London Air Ambulance Service (it was established in 1989), all the capital’s police helicopters had been grounded on 6th May after one had suffered a major engine failure and there was no time to hire a private craft.

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And so, the job would have to be undertaken by police cars as no transit ambulance could have covered 27 miles of motorway and London traffic in just 34 minutes. At times the two Rovers reached speeds of 120 mph, and were assisted in their vital journey by 50 other Met and City Police officers who sealed off highways and kept their Command Control Centre constantly informed about road traffic conditions. Looking at the footage now, what is most noticeable is not just the incidental details (all those Vauxhall Cavalier IIs and Leyland Sherpa vans) and the remarkable sight of the SD1s travelling anti-clockwise around the ‘Wedding Cake’ in front of Buckingham Palace but the understated professionalism of the crews.

As PC McIntyre stated in a subsequent television interview, ‘I know some people will look and say “well, look it's only 50-odd miles per hour” but that is fast for the conditions…if any pedestrians had walked out…’. That was indeed a terrifying prospect as the SD1s darted through congested streets on a Friday afternoon. Another reminder of a lost time was that satellite navigation in a car would have been science-fiction in 1987 and as the officers were usually stationed in outer London, the navigators used A-Z map books for their journey across the capital.   

The Rovers finally arrived at Cromwell Hospital at 12.25 pm and the life of Ms. Hillel was saved, thanks to some of the most impressive roadcraft ever seen in the UK. It was also a magnificent swansong to the SD1 which had ceased production in the previous year but was still a firm favourite with the Met. Indeed, when the camera car, A 536 UJD, was taking part in a community event in RAF Northolt in 2010 it took part in the arrest of burglary suspects! Today, the lead car, A 738 UJD, is believed to survive while its partner now lives in Kent with its owner Ernie Jupp. ‘I bought the Rover about five years ago; the bodywork was tired, the engine was extremely tired, and the automatic transmission was leaking slightly’.

Last year the Rover was treated to new paintwork and a new engine and joins Ernie’s other prime vehicles, which include the London Met Jaguar S-Type Area Car that was one of the stars of the 2016 Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show. The SD1 is often displayed at events, so when you see it, take the opportunity to pay tribute to a very famous Rover -  and a brilliant example of emergency driving under pressure.

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 With Thanks to Ernie Jupp and http://www.policecaruk.com/index.html

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