Hero to zero.
Cop to corpse.
One minute PC Harry Tasker is strolling up Walcot Street, Bath,
on foot patrol. The next he is shot through the head. No scream,
no struggle, no last words. He is picked off, felled, dead.
The shooting activates an alarm over one of the shops nearby,
an ear-splitting ring certain to wake everyone.
Normally at this time on a Sunday morning – around 4 a.m. – the
streets of Bath are silent. The nightclubs close officially at three.
The last of the revellers have dispersed. PC Tasker was on his way
back to the police station after checking that Club XL was quiet.
His body lies in a bow shape under the light of a street lamp on
the flagstone pavement, a small puddle of blood forming under
the head. His chequered cap is upturned nearby.
Harry Tasker is the third police officer murdered in Avon and
Somerset in twelve weeks. The others, like him, were shot while
on foot patrol. A huge operation to identify the sniper has come
to nothing. All the police know for certain is that the victims were
shot by someone using a high velocity assault rifle that fires 5.56
x 45mm cartridges. The killings and the hunt for the so-called
Somerset Sniper have been splashed in headlines across the nation.
Nobody else is on the street at this hour. This is the pattern.
The killing is done at night. The victims are discovered eventually
by some early riser, a milkman, a dog owner.
But today there is a difference. In a flat above one of the shops
in Walcot Street, a hand grabs a phone.
The 999 call is taken at the communications centre in Portishead,
logged at 4.09 a.m.
‘Which service do you need: police, fire or ambulance?’
‘Ambulance, for sure. And police. There’s a guy lying in the street
here. I heard this sound like a gunshot a minute ago and looked
out and there he was. He’s not moving. I think he’s a policeman.’
Another police officer. The operator is trained to assess critical
information and act on it calmly, yet even she takes a sharp breath.
‘Where are you speaking from?’
The caller gives the address and his name and in the emergency
room the location is flashed on screen. An all-units call. Within
minutes all available response cars and an ambulance are heading
for the stretch of Walcot Street near Beehive Yard.
A new shooting is terrible news, but the speed of this alert gives
the police the best chance yet of detaining the sniper.
Walcot Street was created by the Romans. It is believed to have
formed a small section of the Fosse Way, the unswerving road that
linked the west country to the Midlands. It runs north to south
for a third of a mile, parallel to the River Avon, from St Swithin’s
Church – where Jane Austen’s parents were married in 1764 – to St
Michael’s, where it morphs into Northgate Street. Located outside
the old city walls, Walcot was once a village independent of Bath
and still has the feel of a place apart. It was always the city’s lumber
room, housing, in its time, tram sheds, a flea market, slaughterhouses,
a foundry, a women’s prison and an isolation hospital for
venereal diseases. Now it goes in for shops of character and variable
charm such as Jack and Danny’s Fancy Dress Hire; Bath Sewing
Machine Service; Yummy House; Bath Aqua Theatre of Glass; and
Appy Daze, Bath’s Premium Hemporium.
The first police car powers up the street, blues and twos going.
By now some local people in nightclothes are grouped around
the body. Two officers fling open their car doors and dash over to
their shot colleague as more cars arrive from the other direction.
The ambulance snakes through and the paramedics take over, but
anyone can see Harry Tasker is beyond help. His personal radio,
attached to his tunic, eerily emits someone else’s voice relaying
information about his shooting.
A real voice cuts in: ‘Let’s have some order here. For a start,
will somebody stop that fucking alarm.’
Ken Lockton is the senior man at the scene and must direct
the operation. ‘Senior’ is a contradiction in terms. Inspector
Lockton is not yet thirty, came quickly through the ranks and
passed his promotion exam at the end of last year. He wouldn’t
be the first choice to deal with a major incident, or the second,
or even the tenth, but he’s the man on duty. As the uniformed
inspector lowest in the pecking order he gets more night shifts
than anyone else. He knew Harry Tasker well and is shocked by
the killing, yet can’t let that affect his handling of the incident.
Lockton knows he must suppress all emotion, lead by example,
and set the right procedures in motion. Inside him, every pulse
is throbbing, and not just because another policeman has been
shot. His strap-brown eyes are wide, eager. He doesn’t mind anyone
knowing he’s a career man, a high flyer aiming for executive
rank. This is a thumping great chance for glory, the best chance
anyone has had to bag the sniper. And he hasn’t got long. As
soon as Headquarters get their act together they will send some
hotshot detective to take over.
The men available to Lockton aren’t exactly the A team. Like
him, they happen to be on the night shift, almost at the end of
it, ready for sleep, stumbling bleary-eyed out of patrol cars and
minibuses uncertain what their duties will be. He must make effective
use of them.
He gets one success. The jangling alarm is silenced.
He grabs a loud-hailer and begins issuing orders. No one must
be in any doubt who is in charge
The first imperative is to seal the crime scene. A stretch of the
street for about a hundred yards is closed to traffic by police cars
parked laterally at either end. Cones and police tape reinforce the
cordon. While this is being done, Lockton assesses the location. If
the sniper is still in the area the local geography will hamper him.
Behind the row of small shops on the side where PC Tasker lies
is the river, deep and steeply banked. Not much chance of escape
there. On the other side of Walcot Street is a twenty-foot high
retaining wall. Above it, on massive foundations, are the backs of
Bladud Buildings and the Paragon, grand terraces from the mideighteenth
century sited at the top of a steep escarpment.
The armed response team arrives by van. They were sent automatically
when the seriousness of the alert was known and they are
here in their black body armour and bearing their Heckler & Koch
G36 subcarbines. Ken Lockton, glowing with importance, tells the
senior man he wants stop points on all conceivable escape routes
from the sectioned-off area.
He also has work for his sleep-deprived army of unarmed men
and women. Residents disturbed by the noise and coming to their
front doors will find officers standing guard. They will be told to
lock up and stay inside.
Another group is sent to make a search of Beehive Yard, on
the river side.
Do Not Cross tape is used to enclose the area around the body.
Later a crime scene tent will be erected. The police surgeon is
already examining the body, a necessary formality. He’s a local
GP. The forensic pathologist will follow.
The 999 call originated from a flat above a charity shop and
Lockton goes in with a female officer to question the informant,
a first year undergraduate.
Ponytail, glasses, pale, spotty face and a wisp of beard fit the
student stereotype. The young guy, who gives his name as Damon
Richards, is in a black dressing gown. The questioning is sharp
considering that he raised the alert. Lockton knows that people
who call the emergency number are not always public-spirited.
They may well be implicated in what happened.
‘Take me through it. You heard gunfire, right? Where were
you – in bed?’
‘Actually, no. I was at my desk, studying. If I wake early, that’s
what I do. I had a book open and I was making notes.’ He is tiresomely
slow of speech.
‘What woke you – a noise?’
‘If you really want to know, I needed a pee. Then I was awake, so
I started to work. Ten or twenty minutes after, I heard the shooting.’
‘Where were you when you heard it?’
‘I told you. At my desk. Over there by the window.’
The room is typical of early nineteenth century Bath houses,
high-ceilinged, corniced, spacious. And typical of the twentyfirst
century, it is in use as a bedsit, crammed with self-assembly
furniture. The desk is hard against the sash window and books
are stacked on it. One book is open and there is a notepad
‘With the curtain drawn?’
‘Yes. I heard the gunfire and didn’t know what it was so I pulled
back the curtain and saw the guy lying there. He wasn’t moving.
That’s when I phoned. I didn’t go out to him because I was scared,
to be honest. Is he dead?’
‘You heard more than one shot?’
‘I think so.’
‘What do you mean – “think so”? You’d know if there was more
‘There could have been an echo.’
‘Do you have any sense of where the shooting came from? Was
‘It sounded bloody close to me. Other people must have heard it.’
‘The difference is that you were already awake. Was the gunfire
from out in the street, would you say?’
‘As distinct from one of these houses?’
‘I get you. I couldn’t say that. How could I tell?’
‘Do you remember if there was a vehicle nearby?’
‘There are some parking spaces that get filled up quickly. Otherwise
it’s double yellow lines all the way.’
‘I’m not talking about parked cars, for God’s sake. Did you hear
anything after the shots, like a car or a motorbike moving off?’
‘I don’t remember any. I could be wrong. I was in shock, to be
‘You keep saying “to be honest”. You’d better be honest with me,
young man. We’ll need a written statement from you. Everything
you remember.’ Lockton nods to the constable and leaves her to
start the paperwork.
It is still before 4.30 a.m.
Reinforcements are arriving all the time. Lockton knows he
could find himself replaced any minute as the Senior Investigating
Officer. He needs to make his opportunity count, and soon. He
moved over to where the police surgeon has now stepped back
from the body.
The shooting fits the pattern of the previous attacks. The entry
wound is above the right ear. The bullet must have fragmented
inside the skull, shattering much of the opposite side of the head.
It’s not a sight you want to linger over.
‘Nothing I can tell you that isn’t obvious. A single bullet wound.’
‘We think there may have been more than one shot,’ Lockton
‘Have you found other bullets, then?’
‘Not yet. Other priorities. Is there any way of telling the direction
of the shots?’
‘Depends where he was when he was hit. The bullet entered here,
quite high up on the right temple, and you can see that most of
the tissue damage is lower down on the opposite side. That could
be an angle for you to work with.’
‘You’re talking about the trajectory?’
‘That’s for you to work out. I’m only here to examine the body.’
‘A high velocity bullet?’
‘I’m a doctor, not a gun expert.’
Ken Lockton goes into deduction mode. ‘It’s unlikely the shooting
was from ground level, so it’s a good bet he fired from above
us, like a window over one of the shops.’ He’s pleased with that.
CID would approve.
‘In that case, he would have been walking away from the town
centre, towards Walcot.’
Lockton isn’t sure now. He betrays some of the tension he feels
by chewing his thumbnail. ‘The right side, you say.’
‘You can see for yourself.’
Actually he’s seen more than he wants to. He doesn’t need to
look again to know where the bullet entered. He gives a nervous
laugh. ‘His shift was nearly over. He should have been heading the
opposite way, back towards Manvers Street nick.’
‘If you’re right, the killer wasn’t on the shop side. He must
have been somewhere behind us.’ He turns to look again at that
massive brick rampart along the west side of the street, a far cry
from the cleaned-up stone structures that grace most of the city.
Blackened by two centuries of pollution, the wall is tall enough
and grim enough to enclose a prison.
A disused Victorian fountain is recessed into the brickwork
under an arch flanked by granite columns. When the market
across the street thrived, the trough must have been a place where
thirsty horses were watered after delivering goods. Its modern
use is as a flowerbed – with insufficient cover for a gunman to
‘I’m leaving,’ the police surgeon says. ‘I’ve pronounced him
dead. There’s nothing more to keep me here.’
Lockton is too absorbed to answer.
Left of the fountain his eyes light on an ancient flight of steps
leading up to Bladud Buildings. Is that where the shot was fired
from? The gunman could have made his escape up there and be
in a different street.
His heart-rate quickening, Lockton crosses for a closer inspection,
runs halfway up the steps and at once discovers a difficulty.
It is far too narrow. To have fired from a height the sniper needs
to have been at least this far up, but the tall sides mask the view.
You can’t see the fallen man from here. The sniper would have
needed to wait for his victim to draw level across the street. The
shooting from the steps didn’t happen.
Cursing, Lockton descends, returns to the middle of the street,
stares at that long expanse of wall and gets a better idea. Up to
now he has accepted the structure without fully taking it in. Now
he can see that the brickwork isn’t entirely solid. At intervals there
are cavities where entire bricks are missing. Maybe they are meant
for drainage. They look like spy-holes.
Or sniper points.
The holes go in a long way. Beer cans have been stuffed into
some within reach. You could put your whole arm into them. It’s
hard to tell how far back they go.
He has assumed up to now that solid earth is behind the wall.
Still thinking about the possibility, he steps back for a longer look
and some way to the right of the fountain notices a door and
A lock-up. It belongs to a local firm that salvages and retails
masonry and statuary.
His spirits surge.
Padlocks and hasps would be no great problem for a committed
He orders two pairs of armed officers to force the lock-up door.
The window spaces would be ideal sniper-points, allowing a clear
view of the street and a human target walking by.
Overhead, the police helicopter hovers, more proof of the seriousness
of this operation. This is the biggest moment of Ken
Lockton’s career. All of this is under his command, the chopper,
the cars, the bobbies stepping down from minibuses, the gun team
yelling, ‘Armed police,’ as they storm the lock-up.
The doors are kicked in and the interior searched by flashlight.
In a situation as tense as this, violent action is welcomed by the
team. Inside are large chunks of masonry and statuary harvested
from old buildings all over Somerset, griffins, dragons and hounds.
Several are large enough to hide behind.
But it ends in anticlimax. There’s nothing to show that the lockup
was entered recently. The team steps out, deflated.
Lockton feels the pressure. For all he knows, the sniper could
be inside one of the shops or flats holding people hostage. Each
dwelling will need to be checked, every resident questioned as a
possible witness, but unless something happens quickly this will
have to be a later phase in the operation, after he hands over
responsibility. Headquarters have already radioed to say CID are
on their way and will take over.
He stares at the wall, the sodding great wall. Logically that was
the side the bullets came from if one penetrated PC Tasker’s right
temple. Or was he facing the other direction for some obscure
His gaze travels up the rows of blackened bricks. There isn’t
enough daylight to see properly and the height goes well above
streetlamp level. He asks for a flashlight and picks out an iron railing
along the top. ‘What’s up there, Steve?’ he asks Sergeant Stillman,
one of the patrolling drivers who had answered the all-units call.
The two were sergeants together for four years. Stillman is worth
his stripes, but in Lockton’s opinion won’t ever make inspector.
No officer qualities.
‘Behind the rail? Gardens. They’re all the way along. They belong
to the houses in the terrace.’
‘Gardens?’ Fresh thoughts stampede Lockton’s brain. He can’t
see anything except overhanging foliage from down in the street,
but he is visualising a gun position.
‘They’ll be roof gardens really. Just a few feet of soil.’
‘How would he get up there?’
‘He wouldn’t, unless he lived in one of the houses. He’d have
to come through someone’s flat.’
‘Drive me up there.’
‘Now?’ Stillman doesn’t appreciate that Lockton wants a personal
triumph out of this.
‘Get the car, for fuck’s sake.’
He could just as easily run up the steps. It would be quicker.
Sergeant Stillman decides this is about power. Ken Lockton is
asserting his rank.
A silver-haired sergeant is deputed to take over at street level.
Without another word Sergeant Stillman fetches the car and
does the short drive as ordered, ignoring the one-way system by
turning at Saracen Street and back down Broad Street to park on
the front side of the terrace, level with the cast-iron bollards at
the top of the steps – the same steps Lockton could have used in
half the time.
To the right of the steps is Bladud Buildings. The Paragon is
to the left. There’s little difference. It’s all four or five floors high
and Georgian neo-classical in style: entablatures, pediments and
Lockton stands by the car with arms folded, trying to understand
how this building is grounded on the steep slope. It isn’t easy to
visualise from this side. ‘There have got to be basements,’ he tells
Steve Stillman. ‘The ground floor is going to be above the level
of the garden.’
He steps up to one of the entrances and looks at the array
of bell-pushes on the entryphone system. Each terraced house
must have been a sole residence once. Now there are flats on
all floors. Beside each button is the name of the tenant. He
tries the lowest.
Through the grill a weary voice says, ‘Chrissake, what time is this?’
‘Police,’ says Lockton.
‘Fuck off,’ says the voice.
‘That’s what we get for safeguarding the great British public,’
Lockton comments to Stillman. ‘We’ll try another place.’
Stillman is frowning. ‘It could be him.’
‘I don’t think so. He wouldn’t answer, would he?’
There was some logic in that.
They study the bell-system two doors along. Someone has been
efficient here. Each name is typed on white card rather than
handwritten on odd scraps of paper. ‘Not this one,’ Lockton says.
‘Why not?’ Sergeant Stillman is starting to question Lockton’s
deductive skills. By his own estimation, the house must overlook
the place where Harry Tasker’s body lies.
‘Because it’s not what I’m looking for, not what the sniper would
He finds it at the next house, handwritten names for flats 1, 2
and 3 and a blank for the fourth, the lowest. He presses 3.
After a long pause, a woman’s voice. ‘Who is this?’
‘How do I know that?’
‘Look out of your front window. You’ll see our car.’
‘Hang on a mo.’
Presently they are admitted to apartment 3 by a young woman
in blue winceyette pyjamas. She rakes a hand through her blonde
hair and tells them it’s early in the day.
Stillman bites back the strong comment he’d like to make after
being up all night.
Lockton asks who occupies the flat below.
‘Nobody,’ the blonde says. ‘It’s been empty some time, far as
‘You haven’t heard any sounds?’
A shake of the head. ‘There was a noise like an alarm down in
the street a short time ago, or I think there was. It woke me. Then
I drifted off again.’
‘How do we get into the basement?’
‘The what? Do you mean the garden flat? The stairs in the hall.’
The two policemen find their way down. The door is locked.
‘Force it, Steve.’
Sergeant Stillman aims a kick at the lock. The door gives at the
second try. ‘Shouldn’t we get armed assistance?’
Lockton doesn’t listen. ‘Give me your torch.’
He’s already inside, still living his dream of instant fame. The
place has the smell of long disuse and the lights don’t work. He
senses that the sniper isn’t here. Through what must be the living
room – though the place is unfurnished – he can see a small
sunroom, too poky to call a conservatory. Beyond is the garden,
overgrown, a fine crop of stinging nettles waist-high and bedraggled
with the overnight dew.
He steps through the sunroom and notes that the door isn’t
bolted from inside. Not a huge security risk, but any landlord worthy
of the name would surely take the trouble to secure an empty flat.
If nothing else, he’ll get a view of Walcot Street from the end of
the garden. Parting the nettles, he moves on, following the torch
beam, and then stops.
Ahead, resting against the railing, is an assault rifle.