23 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 24


Jonathan Ray helps the Scarborough police with their inquiries

I WAS strolling along the prom at Scarborough minding my own business. The sun was hot, the ice-cream was cold and, apart from my usual troubles and problems (or troubleats, as a friend calls them), I hadn't a care in the world. Or so I thought. For as ambled along, I got the distinct impression that the good burghers of Scarborough were giving me the stare, whispering to each other as they did so. It was quite unnerving; was I really that strange? Admittedly, I had just had one of my savage Number Two haircuts, but that rarely produces such a profound reaction, except from my aunt who thoughtfully offered me a subscription to Gay Times.

It took me a while to notice the police car keeping pace with me, its occupants eyeing me closely. I began to fret about what I'd been up to — last night, last week, last month, ever. I had no outstanding parking fines as far as I knew, and surely that girl on the tour bus in Whitby hadn't complained to anyone; I was only being chatty. As I quickened my step, one of the policemen leapt out and blocked my path. 'Just a moment, sir, could I have a quick word?' he asked, as a murmuring group of bystanders gathered. He then bombarded me with questions: did I live in Scarborough, and, if not. where did I live? How long had I been in town? Why was I here? Where was I staying? When would I be leaving? How old was I? What was my occupation?

I don't consider myself a troublemaker. and I boast a cleanish record, marred only by a ridiculous misunderstanding long ago about some errant garden gnomes — conditional discharge, Maidstone magistrates' court, 1976 — but I began to feel absurdly guilty and extremely nervous. I answered his inquiries meekly, until suddenly I was overcome by anger. 'Look, what on earth is this all about? Just what am I supposed to have done?'

`Nothing, as far as I know,' smiled the policeman. 'It's just that we've got someone the spitting image of you down the nick and we're trying to round up enough lookalikes for an identity parade. Seven o'clock tonight. Can you come?' I let out a long sigh of relief, and told him that unfortunately I had planned on being in Scarborough only until mid-afternoon. Sorry and all that, but I would have to be pressing on.

The rozzers in Scarborough are an eagleeyed bunch, for barely 20 minutes later I was accosted by a couple of plods on foot patrol. Again, passers-by stopped to have a good gawp. One of the pair embarked on the same rigmarole, until I stopped him and said that I already knew about the ID parade and that, sadly, I wouldn't be around at seven. Sorry, but no.

Coming out of an art gallery an hour later. I was nabbed yet again, this time by a passing police van, blue light flashing. As the policewoman wound down the window I told her that the answer was no. 'Look,' she insisted, `the guy in custody is suspected of doing something really vile. We're certain that he did it, and if we don't hold the ID parade by seven tonight, we are obliged to let him go. Two witnesses scared out of their wits have agreed to come along, but we have to have at least 13 people to choose from and we're still several guys short. And you do look just like him.' I asked what my doppelOnger was supposed to have done. 'Something very, very unsavoury,' she said, looking me in the eye. I gave in and told her that I'd be there.

I spent the rest of the day feeling hounded, cowering out of sight in hotel foyers, cafes and shops, before presenting myself at Scarborough police station. On entering the waiting-room, I was completely thrown at seeing so many of my doubles: I might have been at a Jonathan Ray Convention. OK, so we weren't all quite the same age or height, but we could certainly have caused merry confusion at a drinks party. 'Weird, isn't it?' grinned one of me as we sat and stared at each other.

The suspect's lawyer came in, and after a brisk scrutiny told the sergeant which of us he considered acceptable for the parade. I was the last one to be picked and felt both childishly pleased that I had passed muster and deeply ashamed that I was deemed to look capable of doing something 'very, very unsavoury'.

Since the suspect wore glasses, we were told to help ourselves from a pile of lensless, steel-rimmed spectacles — hurriedly bought from the local joke shop — and then make our way to a line of chairs at the far end of the room. The lawyer took some time to determine the order in which he wanted us to sit, before finally consenting to his client being produced. We had been warned beforehand that the fellow was rather volatile and that we were not to engage him in conversation or even to look at him. He certainly did look a bit loopy — as, clearly, did the rest of us. He took his place in the row and looked around insolently, while we looked at our feet. The two doors in front of us were then pulled together to reveal a fulllength two-way mirror, which reflected the villainous-looking bunch of desperados that we were. I felt as hard as nails.

Lowered voices from the other side of the mirror indicated that the first witness had been brought in, at which point we were instructed to stare straight ahead. For a surreal moment or two, I couldn't even find my own self in the reflected line-up. It was a curious sensation looking at oneself in multiple and knowing that one was being scrutinised and discussed by faces unseen. After a few minutes the doors were opened, and the suspect was asked whether he wanted to change his place in the row before the next witness was summoned. His lawyer advised him to stay put. Before each viewing, a policeman took our photograph (to be produced in court if anyone queried the validity of the parade), and after the second snap the suspect raised his arm. 'Can I have a copy? As a souvenir, like. I really, really want one,' he insisted menacingly, rocking in his seat.

The doors were closed again, and once more we stared ahead. I glanced quickly along the line and noticed that all of us — except the suspect, who seemed detached and unconcerned looked deeply shifty. Moments later, the doors slid open and the suspect was escorted out, muttering to himself. The rest of us were thanked for our time and, on signing a receipt, were each given our 'expenses' of £12.50 in cash.

I asked one of the policemen what the suspect was alleged to have done, but he refused to say. Nor could he tell me whom among us the witnesses had singled out. I suddenly felt a wave of panic and asked him what would happen if I had been the one picked. 'Well, if you were the guilty party, it's unlikely that you'd have agreed to come along to the ID, isn't it? Unless you were bluffing, of course, in which case you'd better get your alibi sorted.'