Episode 9 A1: Britain's Longest Road


Episode 9

Documentary series centred on the A1. A runaway van careers down an embankment to leave the road in total gridlock, and police race to a multiple-car crash near Newcastle.


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Transcript


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The A1 - Britain's longest road...

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..stretching almost 400 miles from the City of London

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to the heart of the Scottish capital.

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Connecting two nations and passing through 18 counties,

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it's an unrivalled highway

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used by hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day.

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We're going southbound down the A1,

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on the northbound carriageway.

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But not all journeys go to plan.

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I thought, "I am going to lose my life."

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Cars are coming close.

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It is a dangerous place to be.

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Lives can hang in the balance.

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The rear end of that vehicle is unrecognisable.

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This is actually the bodywork of the car.

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24 hours a day...

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It's not a safe place here.

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..there's a team of people who keep us safe from harm.

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The police...

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..response teams...

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We don't know whether we've got the road closed, or...

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We don't know what's happened.

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..and traffic officers.

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Keep going.

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Keeping Britain's most iconic road...

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-Get out!

-..on the move.

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Substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.

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The A1, the monster that it is, will start to return to normal.

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Coming up -

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a runaway van crashes down an embankment...

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-Police are all in the slip, so...

-We need to keep going.

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..and leaves the A1 in total gridlock.

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The race to get to a multiple crash near Newcastle.

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Injuries sustained in road traffic collisions

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are quite often life-changing.

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And the risks for road workers clearing up the A1's graffiti.

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We're right on the bend. It's very, very dangerous.

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I mean, you can hear the traffic going past us now.

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At nearly 400 miles long,

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the A1 runs through country more diverse than any other British road.

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From the heart of London, it heads north, past Peterborough,

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Grantham and the industrial heartlands of Leeds and Newcastle.

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In all, it sees 18 counties

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before it finally ends in the City of Edinburgh.

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7.30am, rush hour, near Newcastle,

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and while thousands of commuters slowly edge their way to work,

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an emergency call means A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside

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needs to quickly jump the queue.

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At the moment, we're right at the start of

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morning rush hour on a Tuesday morning.

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It's two Celsius, we've got freezing fog,

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and we've just had a report that the A1 is blocked southbound.

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But it's what's blocking the road which is worrying Alan -

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there's been a three-car pile-up in the fast lane and the potential

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for injuries is massive.

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A real priority here is to get to the scene, to assess any injuries,

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and try to get this road opened as quickly as possible.

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My own personal fear is always the level of injury,

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that people aren't too badly injured. Cars can be replaced,

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vehicles can be replaced, people can't.

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Injuries sustained in road-traffic collisions are quite often

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life-changing and life-lasting.

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Alan's colleagues and firefighters are already at the scene.

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Two of the cars have crashed into each other in the fast lane,

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causing some serious damage, and a third vehicle, a silver Kia,

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has ended up 50 yards down the road.

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What we're looking at now is a collision, which is reasonably

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typical of rush-hour traffic.

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Three vehicles have been travelling in the fast lane.

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For some reason, the traffic has slowed in front.

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The Volvo has reacted to that, braking heavily.

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Then the Vauxhall Corsa brakes, pushing the Volvo forward

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into the third vehicle, which is a silver Kia.

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Minor damage to the Kia,

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quite significant damage to the rear of the Volvo and to the Corsa.

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Sometimes when you get brake fluid, oil, oil especially,

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it gets quite slippy, especially on a damp road surface,

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so we need to get some cleansing down as well.

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Business manager Lee Kerswell was driving his Volvo to his office

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in Durham when he collided with the car in front.

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I put my brakes on.

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The car just started to slide. I nudged him,

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and then all of a sudden there was a big impact from behind

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and the air bags and everything went off and then from there,

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everything started to go crazy.

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Lots of people, lots of blue flashing lights.

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Just glad everybody was OK, I think that's the first thing.

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It was quite an impact from behind.

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The car had gone underneath mine.

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The other car was being driven by hairdresser Kathleen Watson.

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I was just driving along, happily driving along, going to work.

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And the guy in front just put his brakes on

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and I slammed my brakes on, and the next minute, crashed, that's it.

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There was nothing...

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I couldn't see anything untoward that was wrong on the road.

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Just cannae believe it.

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Bit shocked, I'm shocked, just shocked...

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that it's happened.

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I've been driving for a lot of years and...

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..never had anything like this.

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Haven't even got a point on my licence or anything.

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With no-one injured, Alan's priority is to clear the carriageway.

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Can I have the keys...?

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Is this yours, is it? Do you mind if I have a go at trying to start it?

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-Go for it.

-All right. It might do.

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And Alan's in luck.

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While the Volvo proves easy to move,

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there's little hope for Kathleen's car - it's a total write-off.

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Traffic's already stretching back six miles,

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and unless the car is moved, it could get a whole lot worse.

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Nearly seven billion miles are travelled on the A1 every year.

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With such a massive volume of traffic pounding the road,

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there's an army of workers dedicating to keeping the A1

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in tiptop condition.

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These caretakers of the road turn their hand to everything -

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from picking up litter...

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..to driving a gritter.

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And when the A1 cracks under the pressure...

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-Ready?

-..they're there to smooth things over.

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In County Durham,

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one of these teams is clocking on for their morning shift.

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At their depot just off the A1,

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Joe Wafer and Kev Taylor are preparing to take on a job

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which only a tin of masonry paint can solve.

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Whether it's vandalism or urban art,

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graffiti along the A1 is a real problem,

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with scores of incidents reported to Highways England every year.

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Hi, Kelvin. Sure.

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And during his seven years in the job,

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Joe has developed a critical eye.

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Most of the time, it's like an art type thing,

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people putting designs on, as you will.

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We have had graffiti with,

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"Jill, will you marry me?" and things like that,

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which is great for them, but, you know,

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it's not every Jill that comes up the network is deciding whether

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they're going to get married or not(!)

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So, it doesn't matter what graffiti it is,

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it's all got to be removed or overpainted.

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What people see as just a harmless bit of paint could turn out to be,

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you know, time-consuming and expensive to remove.

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And their job today is a huge one.

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They're tackling this sprawling eight-metre long section of graffiti

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under a motorway bridge near Bowburn.

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It's been freshly daubed on, but it's about to get another coat.

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To be quite honest, I've got better things to do with my time than

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actually come to a bridge and paint it for two or three hours.

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It's just one of those things.

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They paint it, we come out and paint over it.

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With Joe keeping an eye on the traffic,

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Kev gets to work with the masonry paint.

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For them, it's not just about getting rid of all the eyesores,

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but stopping accidents.

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We have to cover this up

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simply because the traffic that is passing,

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people tend to look at graffiti

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and they're obviously not concentrating on the road.

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So, we mask it off so it ends up grey and at a later stage,

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Highways England will bring in a company to remove it completely.

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There's a serious sense of deja vu.

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This is the sixth time they've repainted this bridge

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in the last year.

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Personally, I think it's a waste.

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I think it's a waste of time, money and effort.

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It's their type of art.

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To me, I'd sooner see a canvas hanging up in a museum.

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Even though the artist has painted his piece in an area easy to reach,

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it's still a step too far for Joe.

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I'll do some of the top stuff.

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I've got me colleague with us today.

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Kev's nickname is "the giraffe", and he can reach the high bits.

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See, I can't reach up there, Kev.

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I've got a higher standard, you see. I do all the heights.

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Kev's wife has just been on the phone.

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He's got to do a painting job when he gets home.

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Apparently, your kitchen needs painting, Kev.

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It's obvious Joe doesn't know me.

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After an hour, Joe and Kev have managed to conceal the graffiti.

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But with slogans being repainted regularly,

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they know it's likely they'll be back here, removing them again soon.

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As you can see, it is time-consuming.

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But it's got to be done.

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And hopefully,

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we won't be revisited here for a while.

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Now that is a work of art. Nice and clear.

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That's a face of pride, that.

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That's one for Highways England.

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The boys are back.

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However, their next paint job isn't going to be as straightforward,

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and they'll definitely need a head for heights.

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Just a few miles up the road in Newcastle,

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PC Alan Keenleyside is still trying to reopen his section of the A1.

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A three-car crash in the morning rush hour is causing traffic chaos.

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With just one lane moving,

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Alan is trying to clear the vehicles

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and reopen the road as quickly as possible.

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Right now, we're probably looking at around about five to six miles of

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slow-moving traffic behind us.

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So we're really moving as quickly as we can to get this cleared.

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Business manager Lee Kerswell, who was caught up in the crash,

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has taken the brunt of motorists' anger.

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We actually got quite a few people shouting abuse out the window,

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obscenities and that, because obviously,

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we deliberately crashed this morning, that was the aim,

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to spoil everybody's commute to work.

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It's quite disappointing.

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You know, somebody could have been seriously injured.

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And that's the kind of attitude we were getting.

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With the smashed-up Corsa still blocking the fast lane,

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it's going to need a police 4x4 to shift it.

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It's clearly going to move, cos we've got the power

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in this to pull it. But we need to do it safely,

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make sure we're not going to get right across the road

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and then a wheel is going to fall off.

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While Alan stops the frustrated commuters one last time,

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the car is finally dragged off the carriageway.

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And it's a race to clean up and get the road back to normal.

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We need to look at bits like this - if a member of the public

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comes along in the hours to come, on a motorcycle...

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sees these bits, they might react to it, and if they react,

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could cause a collision.

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Right, that's it, we're ready to reopen.

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It's taken 20 minutes to clear the accident.

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Now Alan and fellow officers

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have to deal with the people involved in the crash.

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-Are you all right?

-Yeah.

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Part of this is making sure the drivers are breathalysed.

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I certainly don't suspect any of these drivers being impaired

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through alcohol or drugs, but in Northumbria,

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if you are involved in a road-traffic collision,

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you will be breathalysed as a matter of course.

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For the drivers caught up in the incident

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in sub-zero weather conditions,

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it's been a learning experience in more ways than one.

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It's a little bit chilly this morning.

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A good day not to have your coat with you.

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When you're defrosting your car, maybe it's a good thought to

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actually make sure you take your coat with you.

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Need to think that in future, always make sure there's a coat in the car.

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Traffic's finally flowing again past the scene,

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although the knock-on effects from this smash will ripple down the road

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for hours to come.

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That now, the A1, the monster that it is,

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will start to return to normal.

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Unfortunately, mornings like this

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will probably never fully recover from that incident.

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That backlog of traffic will remain in some form,

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but that's the harsh reality of it.

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One incident that's lasted 20-25 minutes has a knock-on effect

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for many, many hours.

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The average cost of a minor collision on the A1

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is around £15,000,

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so this three car pile-up, which held up rush-hour traffic for

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almost half an hour, could easily run into the tens of thousands.

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But with more than 500,000 vehicles using the A1 near Newcastle

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every week, it's not only police officers like Alan

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who keep motorists moving.

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When problems crop up, it's also the job of

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Highways England traffic officers Peter Senior and Scott Wilson

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to be in the right place at the right time.

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For motorists travelling along the road,

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a stray object can prove potentially deadly.

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There's a possibility, if someone strikes it,

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it could blow their tyres out, it could possibly throw it up

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and strike another vehicle.

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I've heard stories of the actual hook digging into the tyre

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and then the strap wrapping around the axle,

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or wrapping around the wheel.

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Unfortunately for Scott and Peter,

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this latest item is right in the middle of one of the fastest-flowing

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sections of the A1.

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To remove it safely means they're going to have to stop the traffic.

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You just find a gap, and we'll go for it.

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-Get it on now, mate.

-You ready?

-Yeah.

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Lights and "don't pass" displayed.

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Hotel, Alpha, Charlie, Lima, 4-1,

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we've now implemented the block just adjacent to Washington services,

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over.

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For traffic officers like Peter and Scott,

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the rolling road block is a well-rehearsed manoeuvre.

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4-1, we've taken a position lane two.

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We have full compliance.

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Got traffic speed down to 5-0, over.

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It allows them to slow the traffic down

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and bring it to a halt just before the debris.

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We've got control of the traffic, but we've still got to be

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watching that traffic just to make sure no-one comes past.

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Just need to get control of the traffic off this slip now,

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which we've got.

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We'll let that van get away.

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4-1, we've now got traffic at a stop.

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Just going to remove the debris now. Stand by.

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While Peter collects the lorry strap,

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Scott watches his back to make sure no vehicles jump the block.

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We'll be releasing it in a minute, mate. Won't be long.

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When traffic's at its peak,

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a road closure can cause a jam that builds out a mile a minute,

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so it's important the debris is cleared as quickly as possible.

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So, we'll just slowly run the traffic away

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now the debris is removed.

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Traffic has been held up for only three minutes -

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a small price to pay for keeping the A1 safe.

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Job well done. Job very well done.

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Traffic officers like Peter and Scott pick up nearly 2,500 obstacles

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from along the A1 every year.

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It's a tiny part of the role they play,

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but they still have their fair share of critics.

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Certain people maybe haven't perceived us well.

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Some celebrities have maybe mentioned us as Day-Glo Wombles,

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-or whatever.

-Jeremy Clarkson.

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If them people could come out with us and see what we did...

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We don't just put cones out and close lanes for the fun of it,

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or for practice. We're doing it for a reason -

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to help people or to make something safe.

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I believe he has been offered to come out on a patrol with us

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and he declined.

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From stray animals to breakdowns and serious accidents,

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traffic officers deal with more than 10,000 incidents

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on the A1 every year.

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With such an unpredictable job on the front line,

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Peter and Scott know just how quickly things can change.

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It's rush hour on the outskirts of Gateshead,

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and reports are coming in of a major crash.

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4-1.

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1-1-3, yeah, received. We're just approaching junction 68 now,

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so we should have eyes on very shortly, over.

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Within seconds, they are on the scene.

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The police are there, all on the slip, so...

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He says it's crossing... Across the full carriageway.

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-Of the...?

-Of the main carriageway, mate. Keep going.

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A van driver has plunged down an embankment

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and smashed into a lamp post,

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the only thing that stopped him ploughing across the motorway.

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He's being treated by paramedics for his injuries.

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We can confirm that police and ambulance are on scene.

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And with traffic already at a standstill,

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Peter and Scott will be pushed to the limit

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dealing with the aftermath.

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Managing an incident like this can be fraught with danger,

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but down the A1 in Durham,

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even a simple cleaning job can mean risking life and limb.

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Incident response workers Joe and Kev are continuing their crusade to

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rid the A1 of unsightly graffiti.

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It's a time-consuming and expensive job.

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Right, A1 in, northbound, between junction 61 and 62.

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This bridge has been riddled with slogans at every level.

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And you can see, just by the graffiti,

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we've got one on the wing wall, one on the wall itself,

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one on the wall there and one up on the wing wall, there.

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And there's actual graffiti on the bridge itself.

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So, for him to do that,

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he's either hung over the edge of the bridge

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or he's leant out from the side.

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It is dangerous, whichever way he's done that one.

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They want to get rid of a tag left by a prolific artist,

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but accessing it means going off-road.

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And once there, Joe's using the graffiti artist's favourite tool

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to blitz it.

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Well, I've got a hold of the railings.

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I've got a good hold on my feet, so I don't feel too bad.

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I'm not frightened of heights, or anything.

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We're never going to get it perfect,

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but what we'll do is we'll just blot out as much as we can.

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I mean, is it worth it?

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But the next cover-up job is in an even more dangerous position,

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just metres from speeding traffic.

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We're right on a bend.

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Heavy traffic nine metres away from the lane.

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It's very, very dangerous.

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I mean, you can hear the traffic going past us now.

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A job like this needs teamwork and trust.

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Start from here and work our way that way.

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While Kev blitzes the graffiti, Joe acts as their eyes and ears.

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If you don't have a lookout system, we've got nothing.

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We won't know anything is happening until the last moment.

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But if I've seen a car coming down the hard shoulder, I can tell Kev,

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so it's just like an early warning system.

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If a vehicle is coming that way, you would head that way

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and get round the corner as quick as you can.

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But with the sun dropping fast,

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the situation is growing riskier with every passing minute.

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This is under the shade.

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The drivers are coming from strong sunlight farther up the road,

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so it's getting to the point of the day now where we don't really want

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to be on a corner on a hard shoulder.

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We've got a large load coming down the motorway now.

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Luckily enough, he's moved across.

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If he can't get across, his overhang might be into the hard shoulder.

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Luckily enough, we're OK, there.

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But this is the sort of thing that happens.

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With the light too low to continue,

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Joe and Kev will return tomorrow to finish the job.

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But with dozens of cases a year to tackle,

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their war on A1 graffiti goes on.

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Nearly 20 miles north on the A1 near Newcastle,

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the emergency services have a much more serious battle on their hands.

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SIREN WAILS

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This van has careered down a grass bank and smashed into a lamp post,

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knocking it across two lanes of the road.

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Traffic officers Peter Senior and Scott Wilson are battling through

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the traffic to get to the incident.

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We can position our vehicle in the middle of the road.

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The traffic will make attempts to get out of our way and let us

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filter through the middle. What you've got to be watching for now,

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though, is the driver who doesn't see you coming.

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A mile down the road,

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police and firefighters are trying to work out how this van ended up in

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such a bizarre position.

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DISTANT SIRENS WAIL

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Amazingly, motorcycle patrol officer Ian Scott was just metres away when

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the van came plunging down the bank.

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It started to come through the traffic.

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As I was coming through, this white van just came down the slip,

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hit the lamp post. It just blocked all three lanes off.

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So, everybody just stopped.

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It didn't actually clip any cars?

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-No, it didn't.

-How lucky is that?

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And at the time, this was three lanes of solid traffic,

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so I don't know how the lamp post didn't hit anything.

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Paramedics are treating the driver for his injuries.

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Police don't know yet what caused the accident,

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but it's already had a massive impact,

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causing five miles of tailbacks.

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With Scott and Peter now on the scene,

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they've got to find a way of getting thousands of vehicles safely past.

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The police have sorted the lamp post that was

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across lanes one and two. We're going to move everything that is

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currently in lane two into lane one,

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so we can open lanes two and three, and help traffic keep flowing by.

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Opening another lane should halve the problem.

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So, now we've got two lanes of traffic available

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for traffic to use.

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It's just, they are a bit like sheep following each other at the moment,

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they're just using lane three.

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But once they've realised we've adjusted things,

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they'll start dropping in.

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We'll get a higher volume of traffic past the scene.

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Scott is keen to discover just how the van has managed to end up in

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such a bizarre position.

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He appears to have gone up the V part where the two barriers are.

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That's launched him in between the two posts.

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I think he's been a bit lucky.

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He only seems to have a cut on his nose,

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and he's saying he's got a few neck problems now,

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but it could've been a lot more serious than what it actually

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appears to be at the minute.

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It's been nearly an hour

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since the crash brought the A1 to a standstill.

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But finally, with the inside lane cleared,

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Scott and Peter can fully reopen the road.

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Hotel, Alpha, Charlie, Lima, 4-1, to Charlie, Tango, 4-1.

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You can release the block. Our ETM's been taken in

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and we've left the scene, over.

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The stranded van will be dealt with later by a recovery team.

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It's been a busy and varied shift for the pair,

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which deserves a reward.

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So, that was a job that we weren't expecting on a Friday, Pete.

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I think it's about time for a kebab to get my fitness levels back up.

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Get them calories back into you.

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Peter's doner is going to have to be delayed, though,

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because even at the end of the busiest shifts,

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the routine jobs still need doing.

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They way we work as a team, you know, it's all down to teamwork.

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Scott does the washing and I just have a look

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to make sure he's done it right.

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It's cos I'm still younger, that's what it is.

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I don't want him to wear himself out.

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The youngest always cleans the car.

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I know I look a bit younger than him, but...

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SCOTT LAUGHS

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The van driver was later questioned by police,

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but no further action was taken.

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And after returning to the bridge for a second day,

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Joe finally covered up all of the graffiti.

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Hopefully, I won't be back again.

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