It’s May 1982, holidaying in Somerset, where new friendships in the making were overshadowed by the Falklands War. Faith, Pam, Mark, Sally, Denise and Barry …
Each day we bought and read together the Times newspaper, the broadsheet format detailing the horrors of war, the loss, the gains, the heartbreak of lives sacrificed, the images of destruction. The Falklands War will forever be etched in my memory. We all kept in touch for a few years, but then we all went our separate ways.
Fast forward almost 40 years.
I’m sat at my computer engaging in a zoom conversation with Barry Thacker, Deputy Chief of Police of the Falkland Islands. Reminiscing about that holiday back in 1982. Barry was 18, I was 17 with our lives ahead of us. Never knowing that all these years later our paths would cross again.
Tell me a little about your family background.
I am from a small mining village on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border. My dad, a miner all his life, died prematurely at 69 with pneumoconiosis. My mum is still going well at 90. I am the youngest of 4 and had a comprehensive education. Life was a little tough during 1984 and the UK miners’ strike but as a family we got through it. My wages kept us and some friends afloat.
When you left school what was your first job?
Fruit and veg assistant at a local wholesaler. It was where I met Ivan Bamford, my supervisor, who was a special constable. After a few weeks, an opportunity arose on a government YTS (Youth Training Scheme) at the police station, I felt it would give me experience into a career I really wanted to pursue. It wasn’t long into the YTS that I was taken on full time as an admin clerk and when I hit 18 there was no recruitment so I joined the Derbyshire Special Constabulary working for Ivan again.
Why were you unsuccessful in joining the Police Cadets, did you ever think of giving up and choosing a different path?
I know it is a cliché, but I always wanted to be a cop after receiving a police pedal car for Christmas one year. When I left school there were still paid police cadets, so when I was in the 5th year (Y11 now) as Nottinghamshire police were recruiting cadets, I applied and was successful with the entrance exam. However, I wasn’t successful in my ‘O’ level (GCSE) English so was told to wait until I was 18 and try straight for the regular police.
You eventually started working for the police by finding another route. Do you think that part of your character is to not give up but find alternatives to situations?
I am a big believer in things happening for a reason and although not knowing at the time as you reflect on your life things become evident. Whatever setbacks we have in life I always try to see the good and by entering the police at the bottom, so to speak, I can appreciate the frustrations of all ranks. It is that emotional intelligence which I like to think has got me to where I am today looking after the policing for 3 overseas territories, The Falklands, South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands.
You were presented with a silver baton, explain what that was for.
I attended my initial 14-week training at Ryton on Dunsmore police college. As it had taken me many setbacks to get where I wanted to be I was determined to prove myself, I focused my efforts and became class leader and never scored less than 90% on my weekly and course exams. At pass out I was awarded the Commandant’s baton for top student on the course.
My initial posting as a regular PC was the East of Derby City, a multicultural deprived area of the city.
Being brought up in a small Derbyshire town was a far cry from working in Derby. What were some of the challenges you faced?
The innocence and trust I was used to in a small village was a far cry from inner city Derby. I wasn’t averse to deprivation and need but the support of a village wasn’t always there in an often faceless city.
It was my first time away from home, living in a small council owned flat. Initially I had litter, food and other unmentionables posted through my letter box, everyone knew it was a police flat. The anti-social behaviour towards me was short lived, I became established in the estate, I think like life in general it’s very much how you interact and deal with people that gets you results; yes, I was a cop, but I was their cop and they often sought my advice ‘off the record’ but with the understanding I was still a cop and on occasions had to take action on what they told/asked me.
Over your 32-year career with Derbyshire Constabulary, you received 8 commendations for your work. Can you expand on a few?
As a young cop I was sent to a boy/girl friend splitting up and when I arrived the young man had poured petrol over the girl’s car and was going to set it alight. Following a struggle which resulted in us both getting covered in petrol from the can he had used I had, for the first and only time in my career, struck someone with my truncheon – proportionate force – to make him release the lighter he was trying to use to set us and the car alight.
A businessman was kidnapped as he left his factory in Leicester and driven to Birmingham with a demand for £1.5m from his family for his safe release. I was appointed negotiator coordinator for the 5 counties of the East Midlands and had to staff this incident through mutual aid between all the forces, as well as maintain trained negotiators to respond to others calls for negotiator input. At one stage I was managing the kidnap in Leicester and 2 suicide interventions in Nottinghamshire and Northampton. This was I think one of the most stressful yet rewarding parts of my career, saving all lives. The 3 offenders from the kidnap received a total of 90 years imprisonment.
You received a Certificate in Counter Terrorism from St Andrews in 2007, what led you to study?
As part of my role as County Partnership Inspector, part of my portfolio was that of the prevent part of the government’s Contest anti-terrorism agenda, the other parts being prepare, pursue, and protect. I had to coordinate police and partner agency resources to prevent the threat of terrorism within the county. So, to increase my knowledge and support my role as a Home Office terrorism trainer, I did the course.
Serving 32 years with the Derbyshire Constabulary is quite a commitment
Yes, I had some good times with amazing people and some truly inspiring leaders. The police service isn’t just a job but a calling, a family atmosphere of mutual respect and willingness to help and support each other; there are some terrible incidents officers witness. I’ve had numerous ones. For example, I’ve been handed a severed head in a carrier bag, you need that support to get you through. There is a lot of media negativity and society kick back to the police, but we are the ones who are there to always give that help and support to others putting our own feelings aside until the job is done.
You took retirement around your 50th birthday. Did you plan it that way?
That is the way the police pension works; you pay in 14% of you pay throughout your 30-year career to retire at this age. I did the extra 2 years to establish a project I started of a multi-agency web-based information sharing system.
From having active roles in the community for so long how did it feel for that chapter in your life to close?
It was difficult and takes time to get over the fact you have no powers, handing over my warrant card after so long was a big thing. But the constabulary try to prepare you and, as I have said previously, the support of family and network of friends gets you through it.
How important has it been for you during your police career to be authentic?
I owe a lot to my humble beginnings and how my parents raised me and the standards and morals they instilled in me. My faith has been tested at times but I have always come through and grown through life lessons; at times it was the only thing keeping me going.
Retirement did not last long as you “missed the buzz of the Police” So, you applied for a very unusual position, far away from friends and family and initially became Senior Constable with the Royal Falklands Police on a 2-year placement. So, what changed as you are still there?
I saw the advert on LinkedIn and fancied an adventure and the experience of a Southern Hemisphere life. I also thought of the experience I could bring to the role and so an enriched service to the community. I thought what an opportunity to forget about budgets, staffing, politics, policies, etc and returned to the role of Constable where I started many years ago.
The Falkland Islands is a truly awesome location. The scenery, wildlife, sunrises and sunsets, and amazing stars at night together with a lovely community. So a 2-year contract was signed. After just 9 months I was promoted to deputy Chief of Police and a further 2 year contract was signed, so I’m currently in my 3rd year here finishing at the end of 2022. Then let’s see what the next chapter of my life has in store.
I have had the privilege of meeting the Chiefs of the other Overseas Territories and I feel blessed to be looking after the ones I do, but who knows? Maybe somewhere a tad warmer next?
How different is policing on the Falkland Islands?
I have policed deprived areas, I’ve policed affluent areas, and everywhere in between. Each area is unique and there is good everywhere, sometimes a tad more difficult to find but it will always be there. The Falkland Islands has a population of around 3,000 (by comparison Derbyshire Constabulary had more staff working for them) is very much a community that people reminisce of; the community is great and most people know each other.
There is very little aquisitive crime and people are honest and genuinely care about their lifestyle, each other, and the environment they share with the wildlife. There is also a military camp and I have developed an exceptional working relationship with them, something I couldn’t have done in the UK and the experiences I would never have been exposed to in the UK.
Being personal friends with His Excellency The Governor and his wife are, again, the sort of opportunities I couldn’t even dream about in the UK. However, with the island being so law abiding, any breaches of the law are magnified in ways which they never would be in the UK.
I am very much aware of the privileged position I hold and the additional restrictions that puts on my social life in addition to those of a regular police officer.
You once wrote “I am passionate about community work especially giving a voice to the most vulnerable and believe in the encouragement and mentoring of young people helping them to achieve their full potential” how are you able to put this into practice where you are now?
I continue to believe in community which I hope I have demonstrated throughout this conversation. During my time as Senior Constable here I took on the role of school liaison. I have been able to be there for these young people, helping them continue their studies in the UK and have enjoyed watching some of them grow into independent adults.
If I can help guide and break down any barriers between young people and the police then that must be a good job – as with the rest of the community – to be appreciative of their lives, to take an interest but be firm and fair; enforcing the law without fear or favour, malice, or ill will.
To summarise I have had a fulfilled career as a UK officer and still doing the job I love helping and supporting people in need.
We all carry hang ups, problems and insecurities and not everyone knows how to deal with their own issues and interactions with others. Someone once told me people will forget what you say to them but not how you make them feel.
Compassion and understanding go a long way to endear us to each other.
All photographs used with the kind permission of Barry Thacker