How I managed to stay undetected so long as a child and teenage runaway.


How I managed to stay undetected so long as a child and teenage runaway.
By Ben Westwood. 

Perhaps explaining a bit about my journey might help explain a little, the mindset of a young runaway like I was. 
How did I stay undetected for so long as a child in his pre-teens and then for often long periods of time as a teenager, without being found and taken back home.

Never underestimate the passion and dedication of a kid I guess is the point of this post.
In this post, I'll try to give you a breakdown of some of the tips and techniques that I used in the book. Perhaps this will be useful for not only worried parents, but also social services and even the police to help find young runaway's that may find themselves in some vulnerable and dangerous situations 

The early days

I guess I'm even surprised myself of how determined I was as a youngster to stay undetected by police.
From the age of around ten I was walking to all sorts of places, often from town to town.
Eating and sleeping for some reason just wouldn't be on my mind, in the early days sometimes I'd go for weeks at a time whilst perhaps getting half an hour or so sleep in often not the nicest of places, such as public toilets and sometimes I'd sleep hidden underneath bushes.

My first time ever running away overnight, I'd actually slept in a ditch at the side of a main road.
But how did I not get spotted on the way to these places, often walking from town to town in the middle of the night?
Simple. I stayed out of sight. (Some nice unintentional poetry there!)

When you're on the edge of town at 3am in the morning, and you can hear a car coming for miles at that age I'd simply get myself hidden out of sight before I knew that the headlights would shine on me.
Whether it be heading into someones driveway and hiding behind a wall or a bush, or wedging myself between some wheelie bins, as long as I knew that they had no reason to look backwards as they passed me, I knew I'd be OK.

Of course there were times when I had nowhere to hide, whilst on some of the country roads, and once or twice out there I was indeed picked up by Staffordshire Police.

Personally I'm surprised by how many people had seemed to believe me and and not question  if I was a runaway, I guess I tried not to let them probe too deep into my personal life. If anyone ever asked, then I was seventeen and had been kicked out from home.
Whilst hitch-hiking across Staffordshire and the West Midlands at eleven years old, when I look back in hindsight at the age of thirty-two, I wonder why no-one said anything like "Have you ran away? Do you have personal problems at home? Are you fibbing about your age?"

Perhaps I pulled it off well, I dunno. But it really wasn't hard at such a young of an age to hitch-hike around the country and be dropped from place to place. In the picture I have on this blog post above, I was around thirteen or fourteen I think. Perhaps I could have indeed looked seventeen at the age of eleven? I dunno, don't ask me, it boggles my mind!

I was however extremely lucky at that period of my life, if not blessed to not have been picked up by someone with sadistic tendencies. I guess I can sort of see now the worry that  I had put my mum though whilst going missing.

As I'm writing this post, I'm thinking "well what can we do about this then?"
Perhaps if you find yourself in this situation, picking up a young person like I was, telling you that they are seventeen, then perhaps strike up a conversation about something from that era that only a seventeen year old would know.
There's ways to test people if you're a tad suspicious. I mean, you don't have to test people all the time, I'm not saying be uptight, but just I mean, it wouldn't hurt for a few seconds if you think its for the greater good right?

For a second whilst writing this I'd thought to myself "I hope I'm not giving any peadophiles any tips here to help spot a runaway" but the truth is, these sorts of people already know these tricks. Believe me from experience, that these people often spot a runaway before the rest of us do, which is even more reason why we need to keep our eyes peeled for young runaways, and get them somewhere safe where authorities can help.
It's important to realise that whether if you believe a young persons point of view is right or wrong, confusion and loneliness is often what they are feeling.

Try to put yourself if their shoes. How would they be feeling from the stuff they are saying?
It's a shame there's so much family breakdown in our society I guess, but for many of us care leavers, it's just the way it is.

Getting used to it

As soon as I returned back for the first time after going missing in London, it hadn't been so long until I was back hitch hiking again and bunking trains. I guess train toilets was, and still is, an easy one. Except twenty years ago these train stations didn't always have barriers so I guess it was a tad different back then.
I'd often find myself getting dropped off in places such as Reading, where I'd get on a train into London Paddington, often there were no conductors checking for tickets on the way there, and if there was I'd simply head into the toilets.

I guess because I'd told most people I met that I was seventeen, eighteen or whatever, a lot of people just wanted to help me out when I told them I'd 'been kicked out from home' and had 'fell out with my mum'.
It was my regular excuse, even whilst I was running away from foster parents and children's homes.

By the time I ended up in Whitechapel, in the east end of London, after developing a friendship there and knowing that it was somewhere I could head back to, I had to develop a way of staying undetected by people after my first time back because the police had picked me up from the Royal London Hospital, so everyone now knew that London was where I may head back to.

So I went around with a fake London accent for a while, and called myself... Toby Sycamore. 

Learning the tricks

I'm not sure how The Dellow centre, The Connection at St Martins (homeless day centers in London) and The Big Issue feel about the fact I was able to blag their services as a teenage runaway.
I'd been stopped a load of times by police and had to go through numerous CRB checks.

My trick was to use the opposite letters in my name. So instead of using Ben Westwood, I used a host of names that I'd make up, of which one was Toby Sycamore. There were indeed many others.
I'd make sure not use a real date-of-birth obviously and after a few years I'd mastered it.
I guess speaking in a host of accents was just something to cure my boredom I guess, but it did help!
I can't be the only kid capable of this surely, so remember that!

It had got to a point where if they said "Do you have any scars or tattoos?" and I'd reply "Yeah I've got a wound on my thigh where I was stabbed with a screwdriver."
I actually had never once been stabbed with a screwdriver, it was in fact just some stretch marks on my leg and I think a mark where a spot or something once was, but before I'd even got to the point of showing them that, as I began to pull on my trousers to show them - they'd reply "no it's alright mate" and just seem to take it as fact.

By the time I was fourteen, everything had felt pretty natural. In my mind I was eighteen, and free from the burdens of being moved around by social services or feeling a pain in the arse for those at home.

 So around that time, in order to blag a Big Issue badge, I had to first blag a letter from a day center to confirm I was known and homeless. Of course I gave a fake date of birth to the day centre, no-one could know I was under sixteen. But that piece of paper helped fool the Big Issue office into getting me through the induction and getting a badge. (And some great work experience!)

I was also able to blag it into hotels and bars, as you can read from my poem Free Drinks on Haymarket about how somehow despite being around fourteen the bloke in the Sports Cafe seemed to believe I was actually a Walsall FC reserve football player like I said I was.

My thoughts

Well firstly, a massive thank you to the homeless day centers that I managed to fool my way into. Without those places what could have become of me?
Desperate and hungry, no shelter, no washing, no cheap food, no socialising with other young people. They did in many ways help save my soul.

In it's own way I guess a naive mind is somewhat strong...for those moments. I don't believe youngsters at that age, especially boys, are so easy to be able to grasp depression and emotions. I seemed to be on autopilot a lot of the time I think.

If a runaway doesn't want to be found, this is how determined they can be.
Somewhere still maybe on the Metropolitan Police archives, there is a video of me being filmed whilst being woken up in Piccadilly Circus by the police, being searched and giving a fake name and date of birth.

I think also a young mind like mine obviously isn't often aware of the dangers out there too.
It's easy to be informed on drugs, but I think often even an in-school talk by police on drug pushers and manipulators doesn't always necessarily register when spoken so vague.
The education on hard drugs awareness is starting to open up in the cities it seems, but the same problems have now spread to smaller towns in the UK and so need to be addressed there too.

How was a twelve year-old even to imagine on his first night he'd be robbed, and then a few months later be kidnapped and held up with a machete.
I guess kids think they're invincible ay. It's hard to truly teach them about some of the dangers some people face in the world without polluting their mind with too much crap.

But the point of this post, is never underestimate the determination of a young person. I'm hoping this may give a little faith to some of those parents that find their teenagers missing.

You can read fourteen of the sixty poems from my book by CLICKING HERE (opens in new tab)

You can also purchase and find out more about Poems From a Runaway by CLICKING HERE (opens in new tab)

I hope this post has given people a little more understanding into the mindset of a young runaway like I was.
If you have any questions about my story then feel free to ask me on Twitter @PoemsFaRunaway 

Take care, and keep your eyes peeled for those that might not see so well the roads ahead.

Big Love.

Ben Westwood.

Toby Sycamore. A true story about a runaway with a fake name and a pretend London accent.

Something had happened to my previous blog post, so finally once again here it is.

Toby Sycamore
A true story from Poems From a Runaway.

 Again I’m in London, and I’m back on the run,
And because I was grassed up before,
I need to stay undetected, so that nobody finds me,
I’m going to have to try more.

No-one can know that my real is Ben, and that I’ve ran away
from care,
Folk will be asking for me around Whitechapel, so it’s best
they think I’ve not been there.
So I speak a fake accent, a pretend East End cockney, from
the moment I wake up, until night.

For the whole next four months, with everyone that I meet,
just so I know that I’m alright.
Or else they might find me, when Old Bill ask questions,
someone might say, “I know him”.

So if everyone thinks that I’m from round here,
The chances I’m caught are quite slim.
One day plain-clothes police pulled me outside Victoria station,
asking people outside for spare change.

They were gonna release me, but decided they couldn’t, as I
was young and my story seemed strange.
The address that I gave, just didn’t exist, which I’d said in
my fake cockney voice.

And two-and-half hours later, they still wouldn’t release me,
I knew I did not have a choice.
“Hands up I’ve been caught, I’m not really from here”,
I said like I spoke when back home.

I thought they’d go mad, but in the end I was glad,
it all ended in humourful tone.
“You did have us fooled, we thought you were local,
it was just the address that you gave,
Which had made us suspicious, or else we would have
released you out onto your way.”

Well its more lessons learnt for the next time I guess, as I
wait to be brought home by escort.
If you need to stop for the bog, they’ll walk you right to
the door, but the lift home there’s time for some thought.
A few hours later I’m well on my way, and I know at least I’ll
get a warm bed.

Once I get back to the kids home where I live,
I’ll wash all my clothes and get fed.
But everyone knows that I’ll soon be back, via hitchhiking or
bunking the train.
And I’ll always choose a different way to get there; it may be
unwise to pick the same.

From Winnersh Triangle, Watford Gap, Oxford, Milton
I’m searching for my independence.
Nothing stops these dreams.

I know that I can make my way, back to find Joanne.
Just go the way they least expect, was usually my plan.
Often I would walk through town, through Pinner, St Johns
As long as no-one knows I’m Ben, I’ll reckon I’ll be good.

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