How my ‘bucket list’ prank made an ass of the law: When terminally-ill retired lecturer Darrell ‘mooned’ at a speed camera, he never dreamed of the ordeal it would lead to. Now he shares the story that will make you despair for police priorities
- Darrell Meekcom, 55, wrote up a bucket list after receiving a terminal diagnosis
- He mooned at a mobile speed van, which was flagged as an ‘indecent exposure’
- Police came to his home and six officers wrestled him to the ground in an arrest
- Mr Meekcom, who uses a wheelchair and zimmer frame, was cleared in court
Devastated when he was diagnosed with a rare terminal illness, Darrell Meekcom set about drawing up his ‘bucket list’.
The retired lecturer and former A&E nurse vowed to create precious memories for his young family before, he says, ‘I become a prisoner in my own body’.
Topping the list were a trip to Disney World with wife Sarah, 37, and daughters Phoebe, 11, and Molly, nine, tickets to see pop star Adele in Las Vegas and a Mediterranean cruise.
Next came a ‘big-game’ fishing trip, a vintage car road trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and circuits around Brands Hatch in a racing Jaguar.
Lastly, he joked, he’d like to ‘moon’ at a speed camera — payback for the few occasions he’d been caught out in his more humble Ford Focus.
Darrell Meekcom, 55, drew up a bucket list of things he wanted to do before he dies after being given the tragic news he had multiple system atrophy (MSA)
‘I never dreamt, in a million years, that I’d ever actually do it,’ says Darrell, 55, whose neurodegenerative disorder means he has a life expectancy of between six and nine years.
Just three weeks after his diagnosis of multiple system atrophy (MSA), however, a seemingly irresistible opportunity presented itself.
Driving home one Friday lunchtime, he pulled into the Tesco Express on Stourbridge Road in Worcestershire so that his wife could pick up a loaf of bread.
While Sarah popped into the shop, Darrell spied a mobile speed camera van parked up nearby and, well, ‘You only live once, don’t you?’
‘It was spur-of-the-moment,’ he says of that day last November. ‘It was quiet, there was no one around, so I walked over towards the back of the van, quickly pulled down my jeans to show a bit of builder’s bum at the camera in the rear window.
‘I had no idea if there was anyone in the van. I couldn’t see anyone. It was just a laugh; the kind of silly prank you might do as a schoolkid on a coach.’
Cheered on by a bunch of real-life builders who exited Tesco in time to see the full moon, Darrell returned to his car feeling ‘very smug’ at having ticked off a bucket list item to a round of applause.
Sarah, a former nurse, but now her husband’s carer, recalls: ‘I never imagined it would be the start of a nine-month nightmare.’
Terminally-ill retired university lecturer Mr Meekcom was later arrested by six police officers in his back garden after baring his bottom at a speed camera
But nightmare it was: three police cars descended on their Kidderminster home barely 20 minutes later.
Wrestled to the ground and handcuffed in his own back garden, Darrell and his wife say they were — given his health — left fearful for his life. His arrest on suspicion of indecent exposure and dangerous driving, which a distressed Sarah captured on her phone camera, made headlines.
Lying on his front, hands cuffed behind his back, Darrell can be heard calmly telling officers: ‘This is ridiculous. I mooned at a speed camera… I’m terminally ill, I’ve got a very short time to live.’
Months of stress followed, but the nightmare finally ended last Tuesday when magistrates cleared Mr Meekcom of the only charge brought to trial — obstructing a police constable in the execution of their duty.
Two further charges of using threatening behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress were dropped. West Mercia Police have launched a review into the incident.
This is the couple’s first interview since the verdict and it’s hard to disagree with their assessment that the case ‘beggars belief’.
Three police cars pulled up outside Mr Meekcom’s home in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, before he was wrestled to the ground by six officers during the arrest
Darrell compares the police’s actions that day to ‘taking a mallet to smash an acorn’. ‘It’s a huge relief to be cleared, but I just feel lucky to be alive,’ he says.
‘Another two or three minutes face-down in handcuffs and I’m convinced I could have ended up dead in my back garden.’
His defence lawyer, John Rogers, adds: ‘It seems to me that no one really looked at this sensibly. In my view, it could have been dealt with outside the court.
‘Mr Meekcom readily admitted that he had mooned at a police speed camera. They could have, in the circumstances, just given him a warning and said: “You’ve been a naughty boy; don’t do it again.” ’
Darrell is the first to agree that ‘mooning’ at a speed camera is a puerile, ill-advised thing to do. But he explains that it was his recent diagnosis of a terminal illness which made him throw caution to the wind that day.
MSA — which also afflicted the late Wales and British Lions forward Gareth Williams — causes gradual damage to nerve cells in the brain, affecting balance, movement and basic functions such as breathing, digestion, bladder control and blood pressure.
Besides MSA, Mr Meekcom suffers from heart disease, kidney failure and Parkinson’s Disease
‘The diagnosis was shattering,’ says Darrell, who had to give up nursing and his lecturing job at the City of Birmingham University in 2017 through ill health.
‘At 50, I was a fit man still playing rugby once a week. Within two years, I was so stiff I could barely get out of my chair. When you’re dying, you think differently. When I saw the speed camera van I just thought “Stuff it”.’
At first, Darrell thought the officer he spotted in his rear view mirror — taking down his car details — was a traffic warden. ‘I said: “What are you doing? I’m not parked illegally.” And then the penny dropped.’
What sounds like an almost farcical stand-off ensued, with — Darrell claims — the officer standing in front of his car to prevent him driving off, while Mr Meekcom manoeuvred around him.
When Sarah came out of the shop, the officer had already stepped aside. He would later say that he’d felt harassed and threatened by Mr Meekcom’s behaviour and offended by his bare buttocks.
‘We drove off and I thought that would be the end of it,’ says Darrell. ‘But before we could even make of a cup of tea there was a knock at the door.’
The officer told Mr Meekcom he wanted to speak to him about an allegation of indecent exposure and dangerous driving, but Darrell refused. Instead, he put on the Monty Python song Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, opened the window and started singing.
Mr Meekcom shows the damage to his back door after police forced their way into his garden to arrest him
Suddenly, Darrell says, his house was surrounded by officers, beating on the windows.
Poor Sarah eventually persuaded her husband to go out.
‘I’d just taken a couple of steps outside the back door, when they knocked through the side gate with a big, red, heavy hammer. It wasn’t even locked,’ he says.
Darrell admits he swore because he was upset over the damage, but insists he wasn’t physically aggressive or verbally threatening. Why, then, was he handcuffed? The Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidelines state officers should only use them when there is a risk of a suspect becoming violent or running away. Because of his muscle rigidity, Darrell says he was terrified of injury as they tried to put his arms up behind his back, so he tried to wriggle out of their grasp to protect himself.
Police officers, prosecutor Sarah Hurd told Redditch Magistrates’ Court, took Mr Meekcom to the ground. It was then, she said, that Mr Meekcom informed them of his very serious health conditions. Because of his condition, Darrell suffers from gastroparesis — a paralysis of his digestive system causing a distended stomach which puts upward pressure on his lungs — so he was struggling to breathe lying on his front.
Sarah watched on in horror from the kitchen window. ‘I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,’ she says. ‘I really thought he could die in front of me, but was worried that if I went out to intervene, I’d be arrested, too.’
After Darrell told the officers about his medical condition, the court heard, the handcuffs were moved to the front to help him breathe better.
He was then taken to the police station for around three hours, before two officers drove him home and Sarah took him to hospital to be checked over. Darrell was later invited for interview under caution, arriving in his mobility scooter, having already provided a medical report confirming his terminal illness. He never faced charges for the alleged offences for which he was originally arrested.
That, however, was not the end of it. Mr Meekcom — who has lodged a complaint over his arrest — faced charges of public order offences instead, which he denied in court.
‘It’s a huge relief now to be cleared of all wrong-doing, but I feel very saddened it came to this,’ says Darrell. ‘I can’t describe the stress my family has been under.’
Chief Inspector Greg Tudge, of West Mercia Police, said: ‘We respect the decision of the magistrate in this case. We can also confirm that we have received a complaint in relation to the case, and this will now be reviewed by our Professional Standards Department.
‘We passed the file over to the Crown Prosecution Service, who were satisfied there was sufficient evidence to bring forward a charge.’
A CPS spokesperson added: ‘Our decision to prosecute Mr Meekcom was made in accordance with our continuing duty of review under the Code for Crown Prosecutors.’
This week, the Meekcoms fly to Madeira to tick off another item on Darrell’s list — sea fishing. ‘I really don’t know how much time I have left,’ he says. ‘We need to start making those memories.’ And try to forget those of the past nine months.